Palace in Abu Dhabi

by Garry Craig Powell

Here is one of the late President Zayed’s palaces, in Abu Dhabi. I’m not sure how many palaces he had, but it’s customary to have a house for each of a man’s wives, and Zayed had children with six wives, though of course he never had more than four wives simultaneously. I believe that this palace was the residence of Sheikha Fatima, his senior wife. I believe he had twenty-seven children. The eldest, Khalifa, became sheikh of Abu Dhabi Emirate, and President of the UAE, on his father’s death in 2004.

The huge families of the sheikhs constitute the aristocracy of the country. There are not only royal families for each of the Emirates–Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Quwain and Fujairah–but in addition there are sheikhs of other places, like Al Ain; these might be compared to counts or barons, perhaps. Most are very wealthy now, but only fifty or sixty years ago would have been tribal chieftains commanding a few dozen warriors.

In Stoning the Devil, Badria claims to be from a “good family”, which means noble birth, and such claims are very common. Sheikhs and sheikhas are certainly treated with the greatest respect, and even fear. When my son James punched a young sheikh  who was in his class at school–this was a fifteen year-old who already had a Ferrari and his own palace guarded by armed men in HumVees–everyone was convinced that he, my son, would go to jail or be exiled, but this didn’t happen. However, it’s not generally a good idea to make an enemy of a sheikh. This is still a very traditional society, in terms of social structure.