HM Queen Elizabeth and the Middle East: A tribute to the special relationship

A look back at the British monarch’s historical state visits to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

As the world mourns the death of HM Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth, we look back at her special relationship with the Middle East. Her Majesty travelled more widely than any other British monarch, and undertook many historic overseas visits. The monarch visited the Gulf including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and received admiration from its leaders. Here’s a look back at The Queen’s state visits to the Middle East.

The Queen’s first state visit to the Middle East took place in 1979, and she visited the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. The itinerary originally included a stop in Iran, which was later cancelled due to safety concerns. 

The Queen’s tour was historic. Not only was the first trip to the Gulf by a British monarch, but the first time by a female head of state. The Queen was accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the pair boarded a Concorde jet from London Heathrow for the Gulf. 

Queen Elizabeth and the Middle East

The Queen’s state visits to the UAE

The Queen first visited the UAE as part of her Gulf tour in 1979. The first glimpse of her came when the royal yacht Britannia docked into Das Island, Abu Dhabi. The monarch was welcomed by a crowd of well-wishers, which included two girls presenting her with flowers and the founding father, His Highness President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. 

The royal tour included a visit to Al Ain University, camel racing in the Garden City and a barbecue lunch in the desert. The Queen then travelled from Al Ain to Dubai, and attended a service at Holy Trinity Church in Bur Dubai. Plus, she visited the top of the Trade Centre, the British Embassy in Dubai, and opened Jebel Ali port.

Queen Elizabeth and the Middle East

The Queen and Prince Philip visited the UAE once more in 2010. At the invitation of the late President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, she carried out her second state visit to the country. On the trip, she was accompanied by Prince Andrew, The Duke of York and Foreign Secretary William Hague.

On the royal tour, The Queen and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, were greeted by the public at Emirates Palace. The pair attended a ceremony commemorating the construction of the Zayed National Museum, and this was the first time that the design of the museum was made public. The Queen attended the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and paid respects at the tomb of the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed. 

It is rumoured that The Queen made a third visit to the UAE in 1974, as her aircraft stopped in Dubai for refuelling. Across the region, The Queen has also visited Iran in 1961, Jordan in 1984 and Oman in 2010.

The Queen’s state visit to Saudi Arabia

The Queen only carried out one state visit to Saudi Arabia in her lifetime, and this was part of her Gulf tour in 1979. She took a Concorde to Riyadh and Dharan, and was welcomed by King Khalid. The Queen enjoyed a desert picnic as well as state dinner at Maathar Palace, which included 120 guests. In return, she hosted the Saudi royal family on her royal yacht Britannia.

Queen Elizabeth and the Middle East

Gulf leaders’ visits to the United Kingdom 

Over the years, the UK and UAE have shared a special relationship. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has often been seen with The Queen at Royal Ascot in the United Kingdom, as the two shared a passion for horse racing. 

During The Queen’s reign, there were four official visits from Saudi heads of state to the United Kingdom. In 2003, Saudi Arabia’s future king, Crown Prince Abdullah visited Balmoral Castle, Scotland, and had the pleasure of being driven around the estate by The Queen in her Land Rover. 

 In 2018, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman had a private audience and lunch with The Queen at Buckingham Palace. Mohamed bin Salman also dined with the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge at Clarence House. 

Following the announcement of The Queen’s death on 8 September, leaders from across the Middle East have shared their condolences. The Queen is succeeded by her son Charles, who will be known as King Charles III.

GO: Follow @theroyalfamily for more information.

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