A nation’s flag is not just a colorful piece of cloth with some symbols crested on it, its representation is more than that. In most cases, these colors and symbols have some underlying meanings that represent the country’s values and what binds it (its strengths and weaknesses). The story is no different for the UAE’s flag as its colors were not selected out of ignorance but were perfectly selected with absolute consciousness. The flag of the United Arab Emirates is much of a symbol of pride for the Emiratis (the Emirate nationals). To stress its importance, a day is set aside by the country annually, dedicated to honoring its flag known as the “UAE Flag Day” (3rd November ). On this day, the people get to raise the UAE flag flying high to renew their dedication, love, and allegiance and also show their solidarity with the union established by the country’s founding fathers.
In this piece, we will talk about the contextual meaning the colors of the UAE flag represent, the former flag used in the region as the Trucial States (before its Union in 1971), the reason behind the selection of these particular colors, the year the flag was first hoisted and of course, the designer of the flag. We will also take on overview of flags generally in the world, what they depict and what they are used for. Finally, we will look at the Rules guiding the hoisting of the UAE flag (Dos and Don’ts). Meanwhile, do you know the Emirates that make up the UAE also have flags other than the general union flag? that also will be covered here. Trust me, it is worth the time.
Though the United Arab Emirates is rather a new country with 50 years of history post-independence, the flags of UAE can tell us what was happening in this place before the country was born. Who ruled the land and how they did it. When did the British intervene and how long they stayed.
Trucial States Flag – Brief history of the UAE flag
In the year 1820, the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al-Quwain joined together alongside some other states to create the Trucial States allied with the British. The flag adopted by the Trucial States to represent the alliance during that time was a “Red-White-Red” horizontal triband having a seven-pointed gold star. In 1825 Dubai, Kalba and Fujairah also joined the alliance. Before the formation of the Trucial States, the region was known to fly a plain Red flag in which a white was added to represent the Peace treaty between the Trucial States and the British Empire.
The United Arab Emirates was founded on 2nd December 1971 when six of the emirates of the previous Trucial States came together to create a single independent country (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Quwain). Ras Al Khaimah joined the union in February 1972, to make up the seventh Emirate under the union.
The current flag of the country which has the colors, Green, Red, White, and Black has been in use since the union in 1972. By description, it is a green-white-black horizontal tricolor with a vertical red band binding the other three colors together.
Official credit of raising the UAE flag for the first time goes to the country’s founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Every year, the country celebrates its Flag Day on 3rd November, the flag day was introduced in 2013. It is a day that represents elements of happiness, peace, and prosperity for all Emiratis and expatriates alike, the flag is placed in almost every part of the country. Meanwhile, asides the UAE Flag Day, the people in the country raise the flag over their houses, in private offices, and at some public places. The government and private schools raise the flag and play the national anthem alongside.
Design of the UAE flag
The flag of the UAE is a 1:2 proportioned design, the length of which is twice the width. A green-white-black horizontal tricolor with a vertical red band on the right binding the other three colors together. The country’s flag was primarily designed by a young engineer named Abdullah Mohammed Al Maainah. The design was submitted by him after the government announced a contest that involved designing its union flag. Abdullah Al Maainah’s design was chosen to be the best amongst 1030 entries in the flag design competition.
The designer of the flag, Abdullah Mohammad Al Maainah, didn’t realize his design had been chosen until it was raised on the flagpole in 1971.
Abdullah Al Maainah went on to become a member of UAE Cabinet and has served as the UAE ambassador for different countries.
What do the colors in the UAE flag represent?
The UAE flag has a total of four colors juxtaposed side by side which are pleasing and symmetrical to look at. All of these colors symbolically present the basic priorities and values of the country. So, it is not just a coincidental combination of different colors but indeed a very thoughtful one, these are colors quite common to the Arab world. They are traditional Pan-Arab colors. The horizontal triband consists of three of those colors: green at the top, white in the center, and black at the bottom. The vertical band at the hoist of the flag is red. The four colors therein (Red, Black, Green, and White) has its meanings as it relates to the country’s integrity.
The colors, which he believes can mean various things, were initially used by Al Maainah differently. He said, to Gulf News, he used black to signify the oil that transformed the country, green to symbolise fertility and prosperity, and the red and white were included as they were already present in some emirate flags
The red in the UAE flag represents courage, bravery, strength, and unity (Hashemite Dynasty). The white is for cleanliness, honest, peace, and purity (Umayyad Dynasty). The green is for prosperity, hope, joy, love, and optimism (Fatimid Dynasty). and the black represents the strength of the mind (Abbasid Dynasty).
They also have historical pan Arab significance as they represent different Arab dynasties as mentioned in the brackets.
Meaning of the colors of the UAE flag
Red: perfectly placed on the side of the flag it represents bravery, courage, and strength. It portrays the ability to fight for what is right and to defend what must be safeguarded. The vertical red band is also interpreted as binding all the other meanings together in unity. Historically red represents the Hashemite dynasty.
Green: It stands for hope, joy, Optimism, and love. It symbolizes prosperity and fertility. The warlike red is immediately counterbalanced by the top green stripe placed horizontally across the flag. Green can also be interpreted as representing Islam which is the official religion of the UAE. Historically green represents the Fatimid dynasty.
White: this color is believed to reflect many attributes (always good). Throughout history, white has stood for purity. It represents peace and honesty, it is known to also symbolize the generosity and humanitarian works carried out in the UAE. White is the purest amongst colors and is interpreted by some to symbolize cleanliness. Historically white represents the Umayyad dynasty.
Black: this is the color of solidarity and mental strength. It signifies the defeat of enemies and also the strength of mind it also complements the red stripe on the flag. Historically black represents the Abbasid dynasty.
Reasons behind the choice of colors:
Here, you should know the reason behind choosing these colors. What inspired the designer to choose these colors? The popularly accepted opinion is that Al Maainah intended the four colors to reflect Arabian unity. The theme of the design is an excerpt from “few lines of a poem by Safi-u-ddin Al Halli” where he refers to ”acts as clean as white, the fields filled with greenery, the battles dark as black and the swords as dangerous as the sign of red”.The poet wrote about the hard-fought historical battles of the land, with deeds and intentions that were white (i.e mild), but the vigor of the battles were black(i.e strong), while the lands were vast and green, and the gallant swords were stained with red blood
Now, correlating the Emiratis with the symbolic interpretations of the flag colors. First of all, the red color in the flag represents the bravery, strength, and courage of UAE citizens. If you put the flag in the right position (horizontal), the red strip stays vertically on the left side. On the other hand, the white color in the flag presents the purity, cleanliness, and honesty, the presence of white color adds dignity to the flag. The black color highlights the defeat of enemies and the strength of the mind. As you can see the green color is also there, it effectively shows the hope, joy, and optimistic behavior of country people.
Rules Guiding the Hoisting of the UAE flag
The UAE is a country that represents dignity, having total respect for its flag. it has various rules the protect its flag and enjoins the people to heed by the laid down rules whenever the country’s flag is being hoisted. Below are some of the main dos and don’ts of the country’s flag-raising etiquette, as stated on the UAE Ministry of Cabinet Affairs guidebook. Any form of disrespect or abuse of the flag is deemed a criminal offense.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, the UAE flag law states: “Any person who publicly drops, damages or in any way insults the Union flag, the flag of any member emirate in the Union on the flag of any other country as a result of disgust or contempt of the powers of the Union, the emirates or the relevant countries, shall be punished by prison for no more than six months and a fine of no more than Dh1,000.”
The material of the UAE flag
- One must not raise a damaged flag.
- One must not raise a flag where its colors are faded
- Instructions of the guide must be followed while hoisting the flag. Hoisting a flag wrongly is prohibited.
- Nylon is the preferred material for the UAE flag. The material chosen must be durable. The material must be able to survive the country’s weather and humidity.
- The material used should be able to flutter in the wind.
- The colors/dyes used must be picked to withstand the country’s weather conditions.
- Flags must be regularly changed to maintain its original look.
UAE Flag and flagpole sizes
- Flag size varies depending on where the flag is hoisted.
- On top of a building – the flag size should be 1.5×3 m and flag post size should be 8-10m.
- In front of a building – the flag size should be 1x2m and flag post size should be 10-12m.
- Inside a hall or office – the flag size should be 1x2m and the pole size should be 4-6m if it is in a hall and 2.5m in an office.
Color of the flagpole
- The flagpole should be white
- The rope that raised the flag should also be white
- The flagpole must be strong and built-in mind to survive strong winds
- The circular metal bit on top of the flag should also be white. Its size should be proportionate to the flag pole
In addition, there are many minute specifications about the flag pole based on where it is posted. The space in front of the building, the building height, the building size, and so on.
Flag placement and positioning
- Red on top and black part of the flag to the left
- When the flag is put up on the street on strings
- When the flag is put up on a building entrance
- Flags can be put on street-light posts on national holidays. Flags must be placed horizontally with red on top. It is prohibited to place any other flag in the same street.
- In situations where there are multiple flag posts such as in front of a hotel
- UAE flag must be on the far left if the number of flags is even
- UAE flag must be placed in the middle when the number of flags is odd
- In multi-story buildings or nongovernmental buildings, flags can be hung diagonally from the balcony. The flag size has to be 1.5m in length ad the post must be 2.4m in length.
- All ships, trading boats or warships, must hoist the UAE flag when it is in UAE waters. The position of the flag must be upright from the center when sailing and on the stem when it is docked.
- The flag must be placed just behind the speaker’s right slightly higher than the speakers’ head on the left side of the podium during a speech.
- When adorning a coffin, the red must be on top. The flag must not touch the floor and after the ceremony, the flag must be removed, folded, and handed over to the deceased’s family.
- When the country is morning the flag must be placed half-mast. If the pole was empty, the flag must be first raised high and then brought down slowly to be placed at half-mast.
- This is done in official places such as embassies, domiciles of permanent delegations of the country to international and regional agencies, consulates, and ambassadors accommodations.
What to avoid in the use of the flag colors?
- it is not acceptable to use the flag colors directly in house painting.
- It is prohibited to use the colors for decorative purposes on cakes
- Avoid hoisting the flag Upside down, thereby placing the green at the bottom (instead of the top)
- It must not be used for floor decorations as it disrespects the dignity of the flag
- Avoid using the flag colors with any other logo
- It is not acceptable to use the colors for car decoration
- The flag colors should not be worn as clothes.
All these prohibited acts should be avoided as they tend to degrade the flag, and the UAE government is very strict with its punishments regarding disrespect of its flag.
All these prohibited acts should be avoided as they tend to degrade the flag, and the UAE government is very strict with its punishments regarding disrespect of its flag.
Color codes of the UAE Flag – Pantone, CMYK, RGB and Hexcode
The UAE presidential flag
The Flag of the President of the United Arab Emirates is the national flag defaced by the Emblem. This flag is known to represent the president. Under no circumstance should it be hoisted on the outside or inside of any building as it is only he who has the authority to use it.
UAE Flag Guide Book
The UAE flag usage guideline can be found in the United Arab Emirates Government Portal. The guidelines are at the moment available in the Arabic language only.
UAE Flag in the United Nations
A few days after the union and the formation of the modern United Arab Emirates, the country’s flag was raised in the United Nations headquarters in New York. On December 10, 1971, then minister of the state of United Arab Emirates, Adnan Pachachi, did the honor. He had flown to New York on December 2, hours after the UAE was formed to submit an application for the country’s membership to the UN. A week of talks with China and Russia to convince them to not Veto the request was required before the UN General Assembly and Security Council approved the UAE application.
The flag was raised in the presence of Adam Malik, President of the General Assembly at the time (left in the photo), U Thant, Secretary-General (can be seen reading the statement in the photo), and Mohamed Abdul Latif, Director of the Department of International Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the UAE.
Flags of the Emirates in the UAE
As mentioned earlier, asides from the union flag, the Emirates also have flags they fly. The seven emirates before unified were either part of the Hinwai or the Ghafiri tribal league. These tribal groups, both, used to raise a plain red banner representing the Hashemite Dynasty and allegiance to prophet Muhammed. The Qasimi rulers also had a flag of their own which was a green, white, red banner that distinguished them as a maritime power.
Then the conflicts started or rather we could say the existing conflicts peaked. And the British arrived to mediate and ensure peace and stability in the region. Major General Sir Percy Zachariah Cox was the British Indian Army officer who was appointed the Colonial Office administrator of the Middle East. He is credited as a major figure in the creation of the current Middle East. Thus the Maritime Treaty of 1820 was signed between Sheikhdoms and the British.
The council had an unofficial flag of Red-White-Red with a star in the middle. Following the treaty, the British tried to impose flags on all emirates and various versions of the red flag came into existence. The British recognized two of these variations. In Addition, the council itself had a red-white-red flag with a gold star in the middle. Below are the flags that represent each of the emirates.
Flag of Abu Dhabi
The flag of Abu Dhabi is red with a white rectangle on the top left. Previously Abu Dhabi used the all red flag that represented the Hinwai and Ghafiri tribal confederations prior to 1820. After the formation of the Trucial States, the British tried to persuade Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan to adopt the Trucial States flag unsuccessfully. However, instead Abu Dhabi adopted a new flag with a white rectangle on the top left to distinguish itself from the other surrounding Emirates.
Flag of Ajman and Dubai
The flag of Ajman and Dubai is said to be identical. This was a plain red flag with a white bar at the hoist. The British named it the Trucial Coast Flag No 1. They also called it the White-Red halved flag. Abu Dhabi and Umm Al Quwain were expected to adopt it which never happened. The flag was adopted to distinguish themselves from the Al Qawasim of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaima
Flag of Fujairah
Fujairah never signed the 1820 maritime treaty and hence continued to use the plain red tribal flag initially until 1952. Later the emirates’ name was added to the flag to distinguish from surrounding emirates. Thus a plain red flag with the name Fujairah calligraphed in Arabic in white color became Fujairah’s flag. This continued from 1952 to 1961. The emirate went back to using the red flag from 1961 until the union and formation of the UAE.
Flag of Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah
Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah are ruled by the same Al Qasimi dynasty which is one of the oldest ruling families of the Persian Gulf. After signing the Maritime Treaty of 1820 with the British, they were forced to adopt the White Pierced Red flag which is a white flag with a large red rectangle in the center. The British called it the Trucial Coast Flag No 2.
Before the treaty, the Al Qasimi dynasty has a unique flag that would recognize them as a maritime power of the region. It was a green white red flag with Arabic calligraphy in the center that reads “A victory from Allah and an imminent conquest”. As per the treaty, the Qasimi rulers could use this original Al Qassimi flag only in times of war.
Flag of Umm Al Quwain
Umm Al Quwain was supposed to use the flag that Dubai and Ajman adopted as a part of the maritime treaty which the British named the Trucial Coast Flag No 1. However, Umm Al Quwain did not do that instead created a variation of that flag. Umm Al Quwain flag was red with a white stripe at the hoist. In the centre of red section, a large white star and crescent was placed as a symbol of Islam.
Understanding a flag is like understanding the country and its people. Having studied the flag of the UAE, it is a fact that the country is indeed a great one. Despite its historical odds and climatic difficulties, the country stands with what its flag represents and this indeed has been a plus to the country and has projected it to its position in the world of today.
While performing national duties flags are important. The value and worth of a flag is not the material they are used to make or the design they are adorned with, instead, it is the values and the history of the people who the flag represents. The flag has the power to unite the people and bring in a sacred appeal and sense of duty that communicate the character of the nation and its people, politics, and the founding values.
This is why every time there is an achievement as a country, the nation’s flag is raised. It could be an Olympic medal or a space achievement or anything else. When the flag is raised, the people of that nation senses victory and pride.
On a final note, do you know the UAE flag day corresponds with the date His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan became the president of the country? Now you know.