The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

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Shukla at the Etihad Museum in Dubai and posing with the Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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Sheikh Zayed signing his name on a photo for a young Shukla
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Ramesh Shukla cradling his vintage Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Neel and Ramesh Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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Ramesh Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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Ramesh Shukla with his iconic image of the UAE's founding fathers. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Neel Shukla, Ramesh Shukla and Rawaa Talass. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)
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(Photo by Ramesh Shukla)
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Updated 02 December 2021

The photographer who chronicled the UAE’s history with a camera

  • The UAE’s National Day, celebrated on Dec. 2 each year, marks the unification of the emirates into a federation
  • Ramesh Shukla documented the UAE’s evolution from disparate sheikhdoms into an ambitious, modern nation

DUBAI: Veteran photographer Ramesh Shukla has lived in the UAE for the best part of five decades. He arrived from his native India just as the former Trucial States were approaching independence from Britain and embarking on a remarkable journey of nation building.

Now 84 years old, he witnessed firsthand the UAE’s evolution from a collection of disparate desert sheikhdoms and fishing villages into a global business hub synonymous with entrepreneurial dynamism, cosmopolitan cities and incredible skylines.

It is a transformation whose story he has diligently documented with his camera through the decades.




Sheikh Zayed signing his name on a photo for a young Shukla. (Photo courtesy of Ramesh Shukla)

His attachment to the country began by accident following a rather uncomfortable boat journey from Mumbai in 1965. At the time, Shukla was working for the Times of India newspaper, but the lure of exploration proved too great to resist.

Packing his most cherished possession, a Rolleicord camera, and as many rolls of film as he could carry, the young man, then in his twenties, set off on what would be a life-changing adventure.

“This is my camera,” Shukla told Arab News at Dubai’s Etihad Museum more than half a century later, carefully cradling his now-vintage Rolleicord.

“When I was 15, my father asked me: ‘What birthday gift do you want?’ And I said: ‘Papa, please give me a camera.’”




The old dhow wharfage in Deira in Dubai. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Despite his desire to see the world, Shukla, it transpired, was not well suited to sea travel. Shortly after his ship, the Dwarka, set sail from Mumbai he began to feel horribly seasick.

Desperate to escape the incessant rocking of the waves, he disembarked at Sharjah, one of the Trucial States that at the time collectively were an informal protectorate of the British Empire.

Here he found lodgings with a local, who urged the young visitor to go to the Sharjah camel racetrack where a big event was taking place at the time. Eager to witness the authentic sights and sounds of Arabia, Shukla duly went along, camera in hand.

There, squatting on the ground alongside the racetrack, he spotted a group of men who would go on to found the UAE. Among them was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who would soon become the new country’s first president, a position he held until his death on Nov. 2, 2004.




Ramesh Shukla cradling his vintage Rolleicord camera. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Shukla took 12 photographs of Sheikh Zayed watching the races, and returned the following day to present him with one of his portraits. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, now commonly referred to as the “Father of the Nation,” was so impressed, he signed the print and gave Shukla his pen as a gift.

“That’s when the first connection took place,” Shukla’s son Neel, an art director, told Arab News. “That was the first time he met his highness. From that point on, Sheikh Zayed said: ‘Don’t leave this region. Stay.’”

Determined to remain, Shukla brought his wife and their son to live with him in his adopted country, during its formative years.

“I was with him all the time,” said Neel. “Before taking a picture, he would take my picture to make sure the lighting was accurate and then he would take the shot.”




The clock tower in Deira, Dubai. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Entirely self-taught, Shukla developed a signature style of photography, capturing scenes of everyday life on black-and-white film, highlighting the simplicity of nomadic life in the country prior to unification and the oil boom.

Recurring subjects of his early work included hardworking Bedouin, herds of camels, traditional abra boats on Dubai Creek and Deira’s clock tower, photographed from above. He also documented the early days of Dubai’s first commercial airport and the city’s first museum.

“This was life in the UAE; there was nothing. There was no light and no water in my house,” Shukla said, highlighting the contrast between the limited amenities available then and the advanced infrastructure in the country now. Even the water he needed to develop his photos had to be drawn from a nearby well.

Though his lifestyle was modest, Shukla built a strong rapport with the UAE’s leaders, earning the informal title of “royal photographer.” His prized access to the royal courts meant that his photographs were much sought after, especially by the Indian news media.




Ramesh Shukla with his iconic image of the UAE's founding fathers. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

Much of Shukla’s collection has been preserved for posterity thanks to his wife, Tarulatta, who carefully archived her husband’s negatives, protecting them from the humidity and dust, at their modest home in Deira, which consisted of a dark room, a kitchen and a bedroom. The archive offers a compelling account of the UAE’s 50-year journey as a nation.

“He kept documenting history,” said Neel. “We are very careful about the collection. We don’t commercialize it — this is history. This is why he is loved more than anything else, because he’s keeping history sacred and close to him.”




A royal falcon keeper. (Photo by Ramesh Shukla)

Shukla’s business card features a miniature print of a photograph of which he is especially proud. On Dec. 2, 1971, he attended the historic ceremony during which the rulers of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al-Quwain came together to mark their independence from Britain and the establishment of their own unified country. Ras Al-Khaimah would join the union the following month.

It was here that Shukla captured on film what would become an iconic image of the sheikhs standing under the national flag of their new country. The flagpole stands to this day in Dubai’s Jumeirah district.

“There was great happiness,” said Shukla, recalling the day, half a century ago, he took the photograph under the same flagpole. “With one family, the UAE started.”

Union House, where the agreement that created the UAE was signed, is nearby. Shukla was there, of course, to capture on camera the historic moment when Sheikh Zayed added his signature to the document. His photo of the assembled sheikhs became the “Spirit of the Union” logo, which was widely used on the 45th UAE National Day five years ago.

Many of Shukla’s photos are displayed at stations along the Dubai Metro line. More recently, his image of Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement has featured in the Expo 2020 Dubai passports.




Ramesh Shukla with his son art director Neel Shukla. (AN photo/Mohamed Fawzy)

In recognition of his remarkable contribution to the UAE’s national story, the photographer was among the first of Dubai’s creative community to receive a coveted Golden Visa, which grants holders long-term residency rights without the need for a national sponsor, and 100 percent ownership of their own businesses.

Shukla has certainly led an eventful life, documenting the history of a nation from its very inception, including its natural and cultural heritage, its most pivotal and proudest moments, and even the lives of its heads of state.

Yet, he does not believe in retirement despite working so hard for so many years.

“After the age of 100, life starts,” he said.


Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

Updated 16 January 2022

Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

  • Ending of 3-month boycott serves an “external agenda,” analysts warn
  • Mikati said he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget

BEIRUT: A decision by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to end a boycott of Lebanon’s Cabinet has led to speculation that Iran is making moves to control Lebanon’s political system.

Lebanese Forces MP Ziad Hawat said: “The order came from Tehran, so the ‘disruption duo’ decided to set the Cabinet meetings free. These are the repercussions of external negotiations.”

He added: “The ‘disruption duo’ pawned the country to the outside will. But the parliamentary elections are coming and the hour of reckoning is upon us.”

The two parties said on Saturday that they would take part in Cabinet meetings after a three-month boycott.

The decision came as a surprise to many, and positively impacted the currency rate on Sunday.

Reacting to the announcement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as the Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget.

He added that the decision “aligns with his personal repeated calls for everyone to participate in assuming the national responsibility in a way that preserves the national pact, especially during these critical times the country is going through.”

Mikati’s office noted the need “to set a recovery plan to launch the negotiation process with the International Monetary Fund.”

Some political observers said that the two parties are facing a political stalemate and popular pressure accusing them of escalating crises.

Parliamentary elections are around the corner and the two parties “want to absorb people’s resentment before the date of the said elections next May.”

Other observers linked the decision by the two parties to “regional developments regarding the Vienna talks.”

They believe that “the decision to disrupt the Cabinet meetings served an external agenda, specifically an Iranian one, and that perhaps they ended their boycott to demonstrate flexibility in the complicated negotiations.”

The two parties said in their joint statement on Saturday: “We announce our agreement to participate in Cabinet meetings to approve the national budget and discuss the economic rescue plan, and all that concerns improving the living conditions of the Lebanese.”

They claimed that the decision came “following the acceleration of events and the escalation of the internal political and economic crisis to an unprecedented level, with the collapse of the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate, the decline of the public sector and the collapse of citizen income and purchasing power.”

Hezbollah and Amal also mentioned in their mutual statement that their boycott was due to “the unconstitutional steps undertaken by Judge Tarek Bitar in the Beirut Port blast case — the gross legal infringements, flagrant politicization, lack of justice and lack of respect for standardization.”

Instead of Bitar presiding over the case, the two parties have requested that a parliamentary panel should look into the matter.

This requirement, however, has not been executed yet, as the prime minister has refused to “interfere with judicial operations,” with his party firmly backing Bitar.

Phalanges Party MP Samy Gemayel said that Hezbollah and Amal “think they owe us a favor by ending the boycott.”

He added: “They paralyzed the country for a year to form the government they wanted and they boycotted it to prevent justice from prevailing in the ‘crime of the century.’

“The Lebanese people are the ones paying the price. There’s no work, no electricity, no heating, no bread and no medicine,” said Gemayel.

He added: “Accountability for humiliating people will be achieved through the elections.”

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi commented on the latest development regarding Cabinet sessions.

“In the democratic system, the procedural authority shall operate according to the powers conferred upon it by the constitution, without being subject to any illegal pressure or condition,” he said.

He warned against “resorting to the disruption of parliamentary and presidential elections — scheduled for next October — for suspicious personal objectives.

“The Cabinet disruption, the political escalation, the continued provocation, the use of justice to undermine the opponents and the inversion of priorities reassure neither the Lebanese people nor Lebanon’s brothers and friends.”

Internet services were disrupted in Lebanon on Sunday because of diesel shortages, adding another essential service to the list of casualties of the country’s economic crisis.

The Energy Ministry, however, categorically denied an Israeli Channel 12 report entitled “Washington approves an agreement to supply Lebanon with Israeli gas.”

The ministry said that “the gas supply agreement between the Lebanese government and the Egyptian government clearly states that the gas must come from Egypt, which owns large gas quantities.

“This gas will pass through Jordan, and then into Syria, which will in turn benefit from it.”


Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

Updated 17 January 2022

Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

  • The governor of Asadabad had ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of the blasts
  • Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Iranian authorities invited widespread ridicule on Sunday by insisting that large explosions in several areas in the west of the country were caused by thunderstorms.

Majid Mirahmadi, an official at the Interior Ministry, insisted: “After liaising with the relevant security and military agencies, it was determined that the sounds were caused by thunder and lightning and no special incident occurred.

However, the governor of the western town of Asadabad ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of reported loud blasts heard in several Iranian cities and towns.

One blast in the town of Asadabad caused panic among residents. “The intensity of the sound in some places was such that doors and windows of houses shook and people left their homes,” the Rokna news website said on its Telegram channel.

FASTFACT

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

After several similar explosions in recent months, authorities said the Iranian military was holding unannounced air defense drills amid rising tensions with Israel and the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

Two explosions at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility were clearly the result of sabotage.

Other explosions have taken place at missile sites, petrochemical plants, power stations and medical clinics. Previous explanations by the Tehran regime have included faulty safety procedures, human error, and, in one case, an earthquake.

Nevertheless, many analysts believe Iran is the target of a campaign of sabotage attacks by Israel as part of a “shadow war” between the two countries linked to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Most recently, in late 2021, there was a major explosion on an Iranian vessel docked at Latakia port in Syria, a fire broke out at an Iranian petrochemical factory on Khark Island in the Gulf, three people were injured in a fire at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps research center west of Tehran, and a cyberattack crippled gas stations across Iran.

Israel has long threatened military action against Iran if indirect talks with Washington and Tehran fail to salvage a 2015 nuclear pact that then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

(With Reuters)

 

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Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

Updated 16 January 2022

Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

  • “During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said
  • “They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally

KHARTOUM: Sudanese doctors protested Sunday against violent attacks by security forces targeting medical personnel during pro-democracy rallies following last year’s military coup.
“During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said at the rally in Khartoum.
“They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally, where medical personnel carried pictures of colleagues they said had been killed.
The demonstration was the latest in the crisis-hit north-east African country, where protesters in the north also blockaded roads to vent their anger against an electricity price hike announced last week, and that has since been frozen.
Sudan’s October 25 coup led by military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule, that had started with the 2019 ouster of strongman Omar Al-Bashir following youth-led mass protests.
The military power grab has sparked an international outcry and triggered a new wave of street demonstrations, with another rally expected on Monday.
During the turmoil of recent months, prime minister Abdulla Hamdok was detained and later reinstated but then quit, warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival.”
Deadly crackdowns have claimed the lives of 64 protesters, according to pro-democracy medics. A police general has also been killed in the street violence that has rocked Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries.
The UN World Health Organization said last week there had been 11 confirmed attacks on Sudanese health facilities since November.
The WHO said it was “also aware of the interception of ambulances, medical personnel and patients during their attempts to seek safety.”
It called for the attacks to “stop now,” pointing out that they threaten health care services needed more than ever during the Covid pandemic.
Covid-19 is a “grave threat” for Sudan, where 94 percent of the population has not been vaccinated, said the WHO.
Sudan has confirmed 93,973 coronavirus infections and about 4,000 deaths. In September, it said 64 percent of about 1,000 health workers tested had been found to be Covid-positive.
Sudan’s 45 million people have also been dealing with a severe economic crisis and inflation approaching 400 percent.
On Sunday, hundreds blocked key roads in the Northern Province, 350 kilometers (229 miles) from the capital, angered by recent news electricity prices would double — a move that was then frozen, but not officially abolished.
“No vehicle will pass until the authorities have canceled this increase, because it signs the death certificate of our agriculture,” protester Hassan Idriss told AFP by phone.
The protests that led to the 2019 ouster of Bashir had started after the government decided to triple the price of bread.
During the recent protests, Sudan has also often shut down the Internet and moved to limit reporting on the unrest.
In the latest move it revoked the license of Al Jazeera Mubasher, the live TV unit of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” coverage of protests, the channel said.
The United Nations is now seeking to organize talks involving political, military and social actors to resolve the crisis.
UN special representative Volker Perthes announced the bid last week saying it was “time to end the violence and enter into a comprehensive consultative process.”
The mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, said Sunday it would accept the offer of dialogue if it were to revive the transition to civilian rule.
Sudan’s military in April 2019 put an end Bashir’s three-decade rule, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the autocrat and many regime officials.
Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
An imprisoned former foreign minister under Bashir, Ibrahim Ghandour, has begun a hunger strike along with several ex-regime officials, his family said Sunday.
They will only end it “once they have been freed or brought before an impartial tribunal,” his family said in a statement.
The public prosecutor’s office had recently ordered the release of several ex-officials, but Burhan instead ordered they stay in detention.
Ghandour’s family decried the “interference in judicial affairs.”
The protester movement however accuses Burhan, who was Bashir’s ground forces commander, of helping old regime figures come back to power.


Houthis reject UN call to release hijacked UAE-flagged ship

Updated 16 January 2022

Houthis reject UN call to release hijacked UAE-flagged ship

  • Houthis seized the vessel carrying medical supplies from Yemeni island of Socotra to Jazan
  • Arab coalition announces killing over 300 Houthis, destroying 37 militia vehicles in 60 airstrikes

AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis on Saturday criticized the UN Security Council for demanding they release a hijacked UAE-flagged ship.

Militia official Hussein Al-Azzi Houthi rejected the UN’s calls to free the ship and repeated claims it had been carrying weapons for the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen.

“The ship was also not loaded with dates or children's toys, but was loaded with weapons,” he tweeted, accusing the UN of “misleading public opinion.”

The Houthis seized the vessel, which was carrying medical supplies from the remote Yemeni island of Socotra to the Saudi port of Jazan, on Jan. 3. 

Their defiance came as government troops, backed by coalition air support, on Friday and Saturday took control of new mountainous locations south and west of the city of Marib.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry and local media reports said there were intensified attacks on pockets of Houthis fighting in Hareb district, south of Marib.

Troops also pushed almost 10 km into Houthi-controlled territory in Juba district, mainly in the Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range.

The Houthis have suffered massive setbacks since the start of this year, when troops took control of three districts in the oil-rich province of Shabwa and later advanced into Hareb district.

The coalition on Saturday urged Yemenis not to drive through main roads linking Marib and Al-Bayda with Hareb, Bayhan and Ouselan districts, declaring them “areas of operations” amid fighting on the ground and coalition airstrikes.

The coalition also announced killing at least 345 Houthis and destroying 37 militia vehicles in 60 airstrikes over the past 24 hours in the provinces of Al-Bayda and Marib.

Yemeni Landmine Records, which documents victims of mines or unexploded ordnances, said Friday that Houthi landmines had killed 38 government fighters and civilians since earlier this month in Shabwa and Marib provinces.

Landmine specialist Musa Abdullah Al-Harethi was killed on Saturday while defusing a device planted by the Houthis in Ouselan district. Two children were killed in a blast caused by a landmine in Al-Khoka, south of Hodeidah province, the organization said.


Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

Updated 16 January 2022

Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

  • Adelkhah, 62, is an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France's prestigious Sciences Po university
  • She was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport and sentenced to five years' imprisonment

TEHRAN: French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was jailed anew for breaking house arrest restrictions, an official from the Islamic republic’s judiciary authority said on Sunday.
Her Paris-based support group had on Wednesday announced “with great shock and indignation” her reincarceration, which comes during sensitive talks in Vienna aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“Ms Adelkhah... has unfortunately knowingly violated the limits of house arrest dozens of times,” Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary, was quoted as saying by Mizan Online, the authority’s news agency.
“She has insisted on doing so despite repeated warnings from judicial authorities. So now, like any other prisoner who has violated the same rules... she has been returned to prison,” he added.
Adelkhah, 62, an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university, was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport.
She was sentenced in May 2020 to five years’ imprisonment for conspiring against national security, accusations her supporters have always denounced as absurd. In October of that year, she was placed under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.
The French foreign ministry said the reimprisonment “can only have negative consequences on the relationship between France and Iran and reduce confidence between our two countries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called the decision “entirely arbitrary,” adding that “the whole of France” was “mobilized for her release.”
Gharibabadi insisted that Adelkhah is “a citizen of the Islamic republic of Iran,” adding that Tehran “firmly condemns the intervention of other countries in (its) judicial process.”
Iran does not recognize dual nationality so denies French consular staff access to Adelkhah.
“It is very unfortunate that the French authorities... by issuing hasty statements, make baseless and unfounded remarks that are definitely unacceptable,” Gharibabadi said.
She is one of at least a dozen Western nationals believed to be held in Iran who rights groups abroad say are being detained for political reasons to extract concessions from the West.
Talks between Tehran and global powers on the 2015 nuclear deal entered the New Year with positive signals emerging, including the European Union saying on Friday that a deal remained possible.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman last week cited “good progress” but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday reiterated his view that the talks were progressing “much too slowly to be able to reach a result.”
Then-president Donald Trump had pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

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