By working as one people we have built the UAE

By working together, hand-to-hand, we have turned fishing villages into magnificent metropolises, writes Khalaf Al Habtoor

Unity is the hallmark of this country. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National
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December 2, 1971 was much more than a simple signing of a treaty. It changed our lives forever. It broke down not only physical borders and barriers, but over time it brought the leaders of seven neighbouring states together as one body, moving in the same direction towards peace and prosperity. And what an incredible journey it has been! Some call it miraculous.

Working hand-to-hand, we turned desert wastelands and small fishing villages into magnificent modern metropolises. Whereas we once dug wells for water, today we have spectacular fountains, waterways, vast green spaces and flower-lined streets. Every modern innovation is available in this land of opportunity, the envy of the region and the world.

Most importantly, Emiratis and foreign residents alike have the advantage of living in safety in a country that perfectly balances freedom with security, a country that is free of corruption, one that is admired for its honesty and transparency.

It always saddens when I hear foreign human rights organisations criticise the Emirates for running a tight ship in a climate where danger lurks ready to strike. This is a country of laws. We have rules meant to keep people safe, so they can enjoy life to the full without fear. Such laws and rules are well publicised and those who wilfully break them know they will face justice.

We are not an open house for criminals or spies. We do not accept our children to be harassed by drug dealers. We welcome all visitors with open arms as long as they respect our cultural norms. And at a grave moment in history when Europe is vulnerable to terrorist attacks and rightly pulling up the drawbridge, due to sheer geographical proximity to the terrorists’ breeding grounds, our government is right to deal harshly with those seeking to do us harm before they have an opportunity to implement their plots.

In truth, were the Arab countries now splintering from terrorism, sectarianism and secessionists to emulate the inclusive spirit of the United Arab Emirates, where people of all nationalities and religions live together in harmony, the area would be devoid of conflicts.

Wars not only destroy a nation’s economic growth and its infrastructure, they envelop the souls of its citizens with a cloud of hopelessness and pessimism and consume their inherent love of country. The Emirates is always willing to assist its fellow Arab states to emerge from a dark tunnel.

And once the bombs stop falling and the nests of terrorists are eradicated, it is my hope that they will look to our country as a shining example and seek our expertise in bringing people together, pulling in the same direction instead of pulling apart.

That requires a certain type of leadership, one in which the needs of citizens are paramount. People need to be educated and made to understand that western-style democracy cannot be transplanted. We have seen how that has worked in the years since the misnamed “Arab Spring”, which turned reasonably stable Arab states with rich natural resources into impoverished hotbeds of violence and terrorism. When we look around us, our hearts go out to the suffering of so many of our Arab brothers and sisters, but at the same time we must thank our lucky stars that we are not in the same boat.

For this we owe our abiding gratitude for the initiative of the UAE’s Founding Fathers, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. These great men understood the importance of unity and together they strove to achieve what to others seemed like an impossible dream. They treated all citizens like their own children. They nurtured our soil as if it were their own gardens. Their legacy of care was inherited by their sons who guide us ever onwards and upwards today.

They taught us that with strength of will combined with imagination there is no mountain too high to climb. I was privileged to know them. Their wise words of advice will always be inscribed on my mind. They exchanged separation for solidarity and it is that feeling of one for all and all for one that binds us so tightly together that we are invincible. The close collaboration between Emiratis, people and leadership, is not only exemplary, but also rare and especially so in the troubled neighbourhood in which we live.

November 30, “Commemoration Day”, was to remember our courageous martyred soldiers’ selfless duty and reminds us that some of our bravest and best are no longer with us. I fully understand the importance of service to the country. I was ready to take up arms during 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait had I been called on to defend my country. I am proud that some of my grandsons have recently enrolled in the UAE army where they are learning self-discipline, brotherhood and greater love of our precious soil.

Finally, I salute our leaders, our young men in uniform prepared for the ultimate sacrifice, and our people, who have committed their talents over the past 44 years to making the United Arab Emirates a success story beyond parallel. I pray for the safety, security and sustainability of our growth and the leading position we are forging in the world. And I am sure that whatever fate throws in our way our unity of purpose will ensure we will always prevail.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is chairman of Al Habtoor Group