The UAE was born into precarious conditions. I still have vivid memories of how hard Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, had to work when dealing with international observers and diplomats. They doubted that the nation he had envisioned had any of the infrastructure necessary for statehood, and they were concerned for the turmoil, conflict and violence in the regional environment. In their view, his conviction that the federal union would provide prosperity and well-being for its citizens and bring peace and stability to its neighbours was a misplaced fantasy. In 1971, there was indeed a huge amount to accomplish, all at once, and starting from scratch. However, our 50th anniversary confounds the sceptics.
Today, the UAE is a major financial and trading centre. It has sophisticated institutions to govern the economy and society, and to maintain health, education, security and well-being. Its population has access to rich physical and cultural resources. It is a multicultural community strengthened by values of respect and tolerance and pride in its heritage.
As we prepare for the next 50 years’ journey, we recognise that existential challenge is today a global experience. All nations are unsettled by climate crisis, geopolitical uncertainty, an eroding international order, the imbalance between population growth and resources and the fear that digitisation will undermine the workforce. Whole regions suffer conflict, violence, division and distrust. Wherever we look, we see poverty of some kind: lack of education, food, security, energy, health, governance or infrastructure. We are losing our vibrant ecological ecosystems and sense political, social and economic disruption everywhere.
This is the context for the UAE’s development in the next 50 years. It is in this context that the leadership’s vision for 2071 becomes significant and the 10 guiding principles for action set out by our Government in a presidential decree published in October become meaningful. For the UAE to become a world leader in all fields in the next 50 years, we must address challenges that are global in scale.
In taking on this ambitious undertaking, it is important to bear in mind the distance travelled from our raw beginnings. It is equally important to remember the reasons for our success. If the future ambition and challenges feel a little daunting, a look back to our own history reminds us that we have succeeded once, and we will again succeed if we adhere to a set of values and convictions that remain essential.
Our present-day success speaks to the strength and capacity of the people, and the transformative power of Sheikh Zayed’s leadership. He was emphatic about his vision and standards, and he had every confidence in the potential of the people. Sheikh Zayed was always confident in his ability to make things happen. As a leader, the word “impossible” was never part of his vocabulary, and nothing but the best would do.
Sheikh Zayed was able to motivate people to collaborate, to combine their energies and to persevere. He gained people’s trust because they saw that his vision, his actions and his convictions were driven by a set of humanitarian values. His agenda for the country was to ensure collective well-being and to alleviate suffering. He knew that if people would work together, they could meet every challenge and achieve prosperity, security and happiness.
Sheikh Zayed left a legacy of ambition and humanitarian values that is honoured by our present leadership. They teach us to seek global horizons, and they instruct us that to do this, we must advance sustainable well-being for all nations. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that no one nation or leader can provide solutions to challenges that are global in reach. The fight against climate change, manifested most recently at Cop26, is motivated by recognition of the collective responsibility of nations for the plight of our planet. At this point in our own nation’s history, we depend on global co-operation to address the challenges of the 21st century. Once again, we require transformative leadership led by humanitarian values.
The 10 principles set by our present leadership continue the legacy of Sheikh Zayed. The two primary principles are to strengthen the union and to foster a vibrant and dynamic economy. Three further principles identify the tools we must use: developing human capital, expanding the frontiers of our digital, technical and scientific excellence and continuing a foreign policy based on multilateral co-operation.
The remaining five principles present an ethical framework to guide the use of these tools. They ask us to practise the principles of good-neighbourliness, openness and tolerance and humanitarian aid. They instruct us to advocate for peace and harmony, and to use negotiation and dialogue as the means to conflict resolution.
The principles are exciting. They speak to the importance of developing intellect and knowledge, innovation and research and international collaboration. They demonstrate the wisdom and integrity of Sheikh Zayed, when he said that the most important investment a nation could make was to educate the next generation so that they are prepared for their future.
Today, education must prepare our children to address a future in which change and existential challenge are global in scale. This implies that schools, universities, vocational institutes, research centres and lifelong learning are increasingly essential. Our young people must never cease to learn, to invent or to innovate.
The principles suggest that it is also essential to promote our cultural and creative industries. Here we will find activities and aspirations that cultivate diversity, tolerance and peaceful co-existence. They involve the experience of difference and the requirement to understand other peoples’ meanings and perspectives. They build dialogue, relationships and respect between peoples.
The UAE 2071 vision and the 10 principles are anchored in our tradition of international responsibility. They recognise that national success can only be achieved under conditions of global sustainability, peace and solidarity. They are also rooted in our humanitarian heritage. They teach us that we are only strong and secure if the weakest amongst us is safe, healthy, educated and happy. Our quality of life depends on our ability to work together for our collective well-being.