When the U.S. Embassy is Closed: Feelings from the United Arab Emirates

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american-embassyAs a member of the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), I have received numerous emails over my past three years here in the United Arab Emirates, all with the same general message.

The messages warn us not to gather in large groups, to watch out for suspicious activity in underground transportation, to take caution while traveling, etc.  I think these messages can apply to anyone, anywhere, as the world is a different place these days.  Nonetheless, these emails have never worried us, we knew we were safe where we were.

But what happens when you’re not safe?  What happens when we need to leave immediately?  Would we really know what to do?

This past weekend, on August 1st, I woke up to two messages from the United States Warden, one with an alert for Abu Dhabi, one for Dubai.  Both messages issued warnings of possible threats against the U.S. Embassies, and therefore, the U.S. Embassy is closed on Sunday the 4th.


“The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps. It is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis.”- Embassy of the U.S., Abu Dhabi

On August 2nd, I woke up to two more emails, again from the Warden, stating a worldwide travel alert…including the words “terrorist attacks.”  Now it was serious.  Two days in a row, four emails from the U.S. Warden, issuing some pretty serious alerts.  I’d be lying right now if my first thought wasn’t to get on a plane and go somewhere safe.  Safe?  Where is it safe these days?  Honestly, I’d rather stay in my home on the outskirts of the city, than drive to the airport and board a plane right now.  I think we’re safer that way.

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”- Embassy of the U.S., Abu Dhabi

Then, on August 5th, another email from the U.S. Warden graced my inbox, stating what I pretty much had already concluded.

“The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates to close for days not previously scheduled as holidays in the period Monday, August 4 through Saturday, August 10.”

So, now what?  As I read article after article, I realize the hub of the potential terrorist activity, could stem from my next door neighbor, Yemen.  That’s close…really close.  However, I read about the people of Yemen, NOT involved in Al Qaeda, worried about their country and what might happen.  Even the British Embassies have decided to close in Yemen, urging their citizens to leave now, as flights could be grounded depending on events.

Being on the Arabian peninsula right now, for the first time in our journey, is definitely interesting…concerning.  The most disheartening part of it right now, is the attacks are planned for when Ramadan concludes.  Ramadan, a beautiful time of giving, family, charity, celebration and prayer.  How can something potentially so awful happen at such a time of reflection?

“Al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), were discussing “something big,” sources say…the source said the sense of the directive from al Qaeda leadership was pushing for AQAP to move forward with an attack. The source said that the urging was to have the attack coincide with the conclusion of Ramadan and to ensure that it was a “big” attack.”

My friend in the U.S. texted me with the following, “Soooooo scary!!!!  You should come home!!!  I’m freaking out!  What if they don’t open?  Who will protect you?”  Good questions, I’m wondering the same thing right now.  For the first time since we’ve been here, I’m forced to think…who will help us if something did go wrong?  What if this isn’t embassy specific, what if it’s more widespread?  What is my family’s plan of survival, escape?  We’ve mentioned it before, that we need an emergency plan, but we keep putting it on the back burner.  I think this has made planning a little more urgent.  What if I’m at the store, my kids are in school and my husband is at home, and something happens.  What should each of us do?  Where do we go?  That’s just it, none of us know…we don’t have a plan.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re still going on with daily life right now, this message of embassy closing hasn’t impacted us per say.  My kids are playing, walking to their friends’ house and we’re enjoying time out in public.  But don’t think I’m not checking the news a little more frequently this week.  Yes, many could say I’m paranoid, many say nothing will happen…but how many have said that before in other horrible instances?  We all think we’re safe, its what we want.  What I’m gaining from this experience is that its time to make a plan with my family, because the truth is, we do live on the Arabian peninsula, where, unfortunately, things COULD happen.  What’s your plan?

Emergency Information:

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is located at Embassies District, Plot 38, Sector W59-02, Street No. 4, and P.O. Box 4009. The telephone number is (971) (2) 414-2200. Information regarding services to U.S. citizens can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://abudhabi.usembassy.gov.

The U.S. Consulate General in Dubai is located at the corner of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed and Al Seef Streets on the Dubai Creek in Bur Dubai. The telephone number at the Consulate General is (971) (4) 309-4000. The web site for the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai is http://dubai.usconsulate.gov/.

For after-hours emergencies involving U.S. citizens in Dubai, contact the Consulate General’s Duty Officer at (971)(4) 309-4000.

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