Union Day is a moment to celebrate the UAE's astonishing diversity

Unity under a common vision has, since the country's inception, been at the heart of its mission

December 2, 2023 marks 52 years since the UAE's founding. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Fifty-two years ago this Saturday, the rulers of six emirates along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula emerged, led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, from a meeting at a small building now known as Union House, and raised, for the first time, the flag of a new nation. Two months later, they were joined by a seventh, Ras Al Khaimah, and the United Arab Emirates as we now know it was born.

The spirit of uniting different peoples under a common vision has been embedded deeply within the UAE’s national fabric ever since. Union Day, formerly known as National Day, takes place this year as Dubai hosts Cop28 – an international climate summit that epitomises that principle on a global scale.

The UAE has championed, in its role as Cop28 host, making inclusivity and open-mindedness central components of the summit’s discussions. The voices of groups too frequently underrepresented on the world stage – women, people with disabilities, indigenous people and youth – are expected to be amplified. Residents of the Emirates will remember that only four years ago inclusivity was at the forefront of the national conversation, when the country celebrated 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance”.

In an increasingly fractured, polarised and inward-looking world, the UAE bucks the trend

In that time, the UAE population, already home to nine million foreign residents hailing from more than 200 nations, has grown to become even more diverse. The opening of new churches, synagogues and Hindu temples, alongside mosques, is a testament to the spirit of fraternity that comes with having a global population. And the introduction of a long-term residency programme untethered to residents’ employment has reinforced the notion that diversity is a permanent feature of the country’s identity.

In an increasingly fractured, polarised and inward-looking world, all of this bucks the trend. Financial crises, refugee crises, trade wars, military wars and a pandemic have closed borders and had politicians in many countries that were formerly paragons of openness publicly questioning the value of diversity and cosmopolitanism. The “global village”, expounded in the 1960s by the philosopher Marshall McLuhan, seems in many corners of the world to be in decline.

Not so here. The UAE’s real-life Global Village, a cultural attraction and marketplace for food, clothing and handicrafts from around the world, has seen a record nine million visitors in the past year. The country has become central to the global political economy, as an entrepot, a source of capital and a promoter of dialogue. Openness and curiosity have positioned the Emirates as a leader in emerging fields like sustainable energy and artificial intelligence. In its own region, it is a beacon of stability; for 11 years running, the UAE has been named by respondents in the Arab Youth Survey as the top country young Arabs would like to live in.

None of this would have been possible without the statesmanship and values embodied in that foundational meeting of rulers on December 2, 1971. Union Day is a reminder to all of the UAE’s residents what unity means, here and around the world: that different peoples can and do have shared values and common interests, and when they come together they can achieve extraordinary things.

Published: December 01, 2023, 3:00 AM