The UAE's rapid development across many fronts is a central theme of the young country's story. Starting in latter half of the 20th century, a small population turned a largely empty part of the world into one of the most important global centres of commerce, finance, tourism and culture, in a matter of years.
As with other places, the UAE’s growth has been about more than physical and economic change. It is also about the transmission and evolution of its cultural identity and the consolidation of its moral values into a standard that can set a tone for the region in the 21st century.
There is no one metric to chart this process, but yesterday the UAE announced an important milestone for tolerance in the region when President Sheikh Khalifa unveiled plans to create a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).
The body, which will be based in Abu Dhabi, will help develop plans to promote and protect human rights in the country by facilitating discussions on the issue, tracking and addressing rights breaches and advising other areas of government. Architects of the new institution have consulted organisations such as the the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN's leading rights agency, which helped draft the new law.
The process of establishing the body has been underway since December, when the National Human Rights Committee began a consultative process to begin planning for the NHRI. But this specific process has not happened in isolation. The UAE is, on a wider scale, promoting respect for pluralism and tolerance, at home and abroad.
The country has very particular reasons for pursuing these goals. It is a hub for people from around the world who come to avail themselves of the range of opportunities that the country offers, and doing so is only possible in a society that embraces diversity, is young and ambitious and where women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
This diversity gives the UAE a unique chance to build a cohesive, multicultural country that can serve as a model even beyond its borders.
This important task requires a varied and ever-evolving approach. The UAE created the post of Minister of Tolerance in 2016 and designated 2019 as The Year of Tolerance, which saw the country host the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Today, construction is ongoing at the Abrahamic Family House, a religious complex that will host side by side a mosque, church and synagogue. The NHRI should be viewed as the latest step in this ongoing journey towards a harmonious, pluralistic society.
In 1975, the UAE's GDP was less than $15 billion. In 2019, it was more than $420bn. But the success of a country is about a whole mix of outputs, from economic to humanitarian ones. It is also about the day-to-day experience of people who choose to live there. This is a harder thing to measure, but human rights is an important part of keeping the UAE a place that so many people are proud to call home.