Friday, March 28, 2008


Here is my theory. The government conspired to minimize and obfuscate the scale and extent of the 11 March highway tragedy. There are a couple of strong indications of this. One, no mention was made (allowed) in the media of the approximately 80-car pile up that took place near Al Rahba. How can something of this magnitude go unmentioned even if the 200-car pile-up at Ghantoot was obviously a more dramatic story?

Two, it would appear that there are a number of other patches of scorched roadway on both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway, much smaller, but similar to the massive patch of scarred tarmac at the site of the 200-car crash. These include one, some 10 kilometers before the Ghantoot crash site (Dubai bound), and two others on the Abu Dhabi bound side of the highway, one not far from Ghantoot and another not far from the Al Rahba crash area. I had travelled this highway daily for 3 months prior to the 11 March tragedy and never noticed these patches of burnt tarmac. It appears, therefore, that there were fiery crashes at at least 3 other points on the highway.

Although I can only speculate on whether any other fiery crashes occurred, there is little reason to believe that, had these accidents indeed occurred, they would have been reported by authorities. The approximately 80 crashed cars that I drove past that morning failed to merit mention so why should a few other small crashes here and there get acknowledged? Scattered patches of extremely dense fog could have led to numerous smaller accidents all along this stretch of highway and along other highways as well. In fact, a newspaper reader that day commented in an online post that there was a 14-car pile up in Abu Dhabi's Western Zone, near Tarif. Unfortunately, the true extent of carnage that took place on the roadways of Abu Dhabi on 11 March 2008 will most likely never come to light.

Official reports had said that there was a 200-car pile-up on the Dubai bound highway at the Ghantoot exit, resulting in some 30-burnt cars, 300 plus injuries and 3 deaths. Wow, that is a big story, which had plenty of dramatic photos and video footage to accompany it. Such an event was hard to keep under wraps, so it made the headlines. The authorities, it would seem, would take advantage of all the attention this event garnered to keep a lid on reports of any other incidents. Their strategy worked. I only know about the separate pile-ups involving 80 cars because I was there. I know about the 14-car pile-up on the Tarif road because I came across a comment online. I can only speculate on the three other possible fiery crashes along the Abu Dhabi - Dubai highway.

What about other crashes that did not result in fires? What about other possible incidents along Abu Dhabi's other highways?

Why Not the Truth?

Image... reflex... Abu Dhabi is not Dubai. It is conservative and it is used to obfuscation. It's hard for an old dog to learn new tricks. Does it really make sense to downplay the dangers of fog and less than careful driving? All news is bad news, I suppose, is a dictum that the powers-that-be pay homage to. That would have certainly been the case in an Abu Dhabi that began in the 1970's its rapid transformation from scattered tribal communities to an urban metropolis. The family (the ruling tribe) would control everything including the news, as any good feudal leadership would do. Some 30 years later, this manner of leadership is on the wane in the UAE, but it still exists.

Although the rulers still rule by fiat, other voices can be heard and the leadership's focus appears above all (more so in Dubai than in Abu Dhabi) to be on the development of a modern prosperous economy, which is likely to benefit all, not merely the rulers and their clans. Nevertheless, many of the old bad habits persist, among them the effort to keep critical and unflattering reports out of the press. The reflexive reaction is to deny that anything else happened on the highways that fateful morning.

Had the melee occurred on the Dubai side of the border, I believe a more complete picture would have emerged. Read the local dailies, for example, and note that the nation and crime pages report almost exclusively on events in Dubai. What about Abu Dhabi--is it so much more safe and quiet here? Do domestic disputes not take place, do workers labor in tranquility, are petty thieves and crime gangs non-existent? There is a lingering climate of secrecy and press manipulation in Abu Dhabi, much stronger than exists in a Dubai which seems to have had, even historically, a more open and liberal climate.

As a case in point, on the morning of 26 March many in Dubai found themselves rising to the powerful blast of an explosion on a warehouse site. A mushroom cloud rose into the sky and a large portion of city skyline was shrouded in black. Reports of the extent of the tragedy were largely unfettered. It was being reported that 80-100 warehouses were burnt resulting in as much as 600 million AED (163 million USD) in damage. I cannot imagine that any similar degree of unfettered reporting would have taken place had this tragedy occurred in Abu Dhabi.

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