British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, the admirer of Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, is an example of the fascination of the charming East in the imagination of westerners in the past and perhaps in the current century!
People of Arabian oases and sands knew him as Mubarak bin London. Thesiger, who was born in 1910 and who died in August 2003, had good ties with the great builder of the edifice who is a source of pride to Arabs, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
The main success in Mubarak bin London’s accomplishment of his dangerous and entertaining journeys is due to Sheikh Zayed himself when he resided in the town of Al Muwaiji and governed in Al-Ain when Mubarak endeavored on a journey from Salalah to Abu Dhabi with a group of Bedouins of whom the most famous are Salim bin Kabina and Salim bin Ghabaisha of Al Rashidi branch.
Thesiger used his favorite Leica camera to take photos and document the extinct era of Arabs before there were airplanes, cars, asphalt and air conditioners and when the camel was the means of traveling in the Arabs’ deserts and lowlands. These are the old days, and today I am talking to you about one of the east’s western “romantic” symbols. Places distant from the “pollution” of the industrial western products were among the many motives behind the adventures of some westerners to discover remote areas.
People of Arabian oases and sands knew him as Mubarak bin London. Thesiger, who was born in 1910 and who died in August 2003, had good ties with the great builder of the edifice who is a source of pride to Arabs, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.Mashari Althaydi
Zayed, the founder of the UAE, was keen on the rise of his people and on gaining the reasons of economic, scientific, military and political power and he worked hard towards that. There is a story that expresses this contradiction between the personal and sentimental aim of a western explorer and the general and objective aim of an Arab leader.
In brief, Thesiger met with Sheikh Zayed after the emirate of Abu Dhabi kicked off its journey of modern renaissance and Sheikh Zayed asked him: How do you see our situation today? Thesiger replied: “It’s developed but I fear you will lose the innocence, simplicity and naturalness which I saw you have.” Sheikh Zayed then said: “What you see is different than what we see. You are a traveler, an adventurer who’s passing by while we want our people to possess all the reasons of power and civilization, and at the same time we will not abandon our past and history.”
We do not know if this answer convinced this great explorer but what is known about him is that he remained hateful of life in the city and was fond of wildlife as he more than once said that he prefers to live in Kenya and that he only visits Britain when it’s necessary. Perhaps it’s good to recall this motive, among of course other motives, in interpreting some of the campaigns against Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh and which target them the more they adhere to the path of the strong and modern future.
They admire you when you are in the position to be observed and to feed their romantic and sentimental hunger, nothing more!
This article is also available in Arabic.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy