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Sheikh Saqr

During my stay in Sharjah as an employee of International Aeradio Ltd (IAL) I met both the ruler Sheikh Saqr ibn Sultan al-Qasimi and his successor Sheikh Khalid ibn Muhammed al-Qasimi. Sheikh Saqr was a quiet, reserved individual and I suspect at heart a traditionalist, whereas Sheikh Khalid was very modern young man and much more brash. A colleague of mine was in the habit of simply addressing him as Khalid, and he didn't seem to object. (Although what Sheikh Khalid thought privately is another matter.)

My first meeting with Sheikh Saqr was difficult.

I had returned to the UK for a few weeks to get married, and on Ann and my return to Sharjah we found that my apartment had been burgled and some possessions stolen. It was mainly my own fault as I had been advised to put the possessions in storage at Sharjah Fort during my absence. But as I was to be away for such a short time I ignored the advice. And I was young and rash - ignoring advice was par for the course.

There was no police force in Sharjah and I had no idea what to do. The Manager of IAL Sharjah recommended putting my case before the Sheikh who could launch an investigation. Each morning Sheikh Saqr held court outside the front of his palace, receiving local dignitaries who came to pay their respects, and of course petitioners such as myself. So the next morning I found myself waiting outside the palace for the Sheikh and his entourage to emerge.

In retrospect the IAL high panjandrum should have accompanied me and introduced me to the Sheikh. He had paid his respects to the Sheikh many times, had some official standing, and knew the protocol expected. But like most overseas IAL managers, he was hardly a bundle of energy and being pro-active was not part of his makeup.

I was green. I had only been in the Middle East a few months, and knew little about the culture. At first I hung around the palace door, getting some odd looks from the men who came out carrying chairs which they placed in a line outside the palace. Eventually out came Sheikh Saqr and I made the mistake of trying to speak to him then. But the Sheikh was probably used to dealing with gauche foreigners who didn't know the ropes and politely indicated I should accompany him as he headed for the chairs. A slow and stately process in which I felt distinctly out of place.

Protocol dictated that I should have arrived later, paid my formal respects to the Sheikh, and then have joined the line of other petitioners on the chairs to wait my turn for a personal audience. But the Sheikh was probably keen to get me out of his hair. He immediately indicated I should sit beside him, and after I had explained my problem, provided one of his bodyguards to accompany me into the soukhs to look for the missing goods.

We made our way through the soukhs: an Englishman who hadn't a clue what to do, and a hulking Arab bodyguard complete with ammunition bandolier and a Lee Enfield rifle left over from World War II who knew exactly what to do. Poke about officiously and bully the tradesmen until one of them confessed.

It was clearly getting us nowhere, and when the bodyguard started to bully my houseboy, I called a halt. To hell with the stolen stuff. This was not my idea of a criminal investigation.

My second (very embarrasing) meeting with Sheikh Saqr is related in Ray, oilman, so I won't repeat it here. But it reinforced my view that Sheikh Saqr was a mild mannered individual who would never resort to violence. It just shows how wrong you can be!

See Assassination of Sheik Kahlid.