Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cui bono?

International and emirate borders across the UAE exhibit a strange and wacky arrangement. It’s largely the fault of the pesky meddling British who, way back in the days of the Trucial States, sought to establish once and for all the limits of each tribe’s influence. Teams of squaddies toured the region and interviewed each tribal leader, wali, with one fundamental question: “To which sheikh do you owe allegiance?”

The teams went back to headquarters and presumably stuck coloured pins in a huge map. Then someone drew borders between areas of different colours, picking mountain ridges or other geographical features where nobody lived, so that the situation of “But I live exactly on the border between…” should never arise.

And that’s why there’s Nahwa, an enclave of Sharjah, UAE completely surrounded by a doughnut-shaped exclave of Oman which is, in turn, surrounded by Sharjah, Fujairah, and Ras Al Khaimah all of the UAE. The northernmost tip of the Musandam peninsula is an enclave of Oman, only accessible by land via the UAE.

This brief geopolitical lesson goes some way to explaining the strange arrangement over at the towns of Dibba in the north east corner of the UAE. Dibba Al Fujairah is the southernmost of three Dibbas; Dibba Al Baya in Oman is just over the border and represents a gateway to the Musandam. Sandwiched between the two is Dibba Al Hisn, which is part of the Sharjah emirate. There have been various border disputes among the Dibbas, but Wikipedia (source of all true knowledge and wisdom) asserts that these were resolved in the 1990s.

And now:this! Women who wish to travel to Dibba Al Baya must, it has been decreed, obtain written permission in advance from a male relative or employer before they’re allowed to cross the border. That’s women who don’t hold GCC passports or UAE tourist visas. The latter can continue to do what blokes do and simply show up at the border with a passport and/or Emirates ID card. (Whether you need one, the other, or both depends on the border guard). Apparently you sometimes need evidence of a hotel or dhow trip booking before the Omanis will let you in.

But this new inconvenience has been brought to you by the Government of Sharjah. It’s impossible to get to the border post without crossing Sharjah territory, and the whole thing looks like being inconvenient for shits and grins. It can’t be for morality reasons because guys, GCC passport holders, and tourists aren’t affected, and the border crossing isn’t being upgraded to a full ‘You are now leaving the UAE and entering Oman’ with visas and passport stamps.

What is probably nearer the mark is the tourist trade. Dibba Al Baya is the base for lots of diving and sightseeing dhow trips up the Musandam. Presumably the plan goes something like this: if getting a hair’s breadth over the border involves an unreasonable pile of paperwork, tourists will instead choose to use dhows based at Dibba Al Hisn. And they’ll drive up the night before and stay in a dry Sharjah hotel instead of a Fujairah or Oman one where ‘special refreshments’ are available.

The linked article from The National says that the Omani ministry of tourism was not available for comment. Curiously, the same story picked up by Explorer says that the new rule is Sharjah’s doing.

I wonder how long it’ll be before the Omanis come to some arrangement with Fujairah and simply pick up their divers at Dibba Al Fujairah?


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