Double enclave!

Double enclave: It’s the geopolitical equivalent of a double rainbow, a country within a country within a country – a concentric circle based territory. There are only a couple in the world. One is on the East coast of the UAE, so of course we went to visit.

One leg in each camp: Fiona does her best to stand in the UAE and Oman at the same time.
One leg in each camp: Fiona does her best to stand in the UAE and Oman at the same time.

First there’s Madha, a 75km2 territory of Oman that is completely surrounded by the UAE. Then, there’s Nahwa, an even smaller UAE territory inside an Omani territory inside the UAE.

There’s not much to see, though of course we made the most of the excitement when license plates miraculously changed from white to yellow and back again, and cheered when there was an observable split in bitumen on the road. But truth be told, aside from the one border that was marked, I had to keep close tabs on the GPS to determine what country we were actually in. There are no border posts and sadly, no petrol station pumping Omani petrol with massive state subsidies.

The double enclaves came about because when the British Protectorate ended in the Gulf, individual families where able to choose whether to join Oman or the UAE. Back then a few neighbours in Madha were like “Oman!” and now they’re probably like “Oh, man!” because the UAE vasts exceeds Oman’s per capita wealth.

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Asking individual families which country they want to live in is a novel and in some ways admirable way to draw borders. The alternative is simple borders that don’t really fit with national identities. But complicated borders bring their own problems too, and, as the map above shows, there are a range of quirks in the demarcation between the UAE and Oman.

One problem that has recently developed is the burgeoning tourism industry in Omani Dibba on the north east coast on the Gulf of Oman, right about Emirati Dibba. The UAE has become frustrated that this other country is challenging its dominance of tourist services, resorts, snorkeling, trekking and the like. To make life tougher for the Omanis they’ve introduced an official border. They now require visas and the payment of a fee to cross the border. It seems petulant. But I guess that’s what protecting your borders fundamentally is.

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