Today marks the 49th UAE National Day, which celebrates the formation of the Emirates on December 2, 1971.
Every year, citizens and residents enjoy a holiday to reflect on the country’s remarkable development over the past half century. This year has been different in two ways.
First, we are one year away from the country’s 50-year anniversary. The year 2020 has been a year to build momentum in advance of this important milestone. In just 50 years, the UAE has become a leader in energy, global finance, space exploration, geopolitics and the promotion of tolerance, among other things.
But the 49th UAE National Day will also be remembered for taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing the sense of resilience the country has fostered over the last half-century into stark relief.
Earlier this year, as first cases came to light, it soon became clear that weathering this storm would not be a question of avoiding the virus altogether, but rather how individual countries would deal with the inevitable crisis. Today, people across the world continue to live under difficult but necessary containment measures. They also live in fear of uncertainty. The path out of this unfortunate situation is effective government response. The UAE’s has been among the most effective.
That has been the product of a collective effort. In a speech yesterday, Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, praised frontline medical workers, and the efficiency of the healthcare system and its preparedness when facing emergency.
The UAE’s response has not just been about domestic strategies, but global ones as well. The Emirates has been a strong advocate for fair vaccine distribution internationally. Without this, worldwide recovery will be delayed.
But the crisis has not distracted from other historic initiatives, such as this year’s signing of the Abraham Accords, establishing relations with Israel and forging a path towards peace in the region.
And after Hazza Al Mansouri last year became the first Emirati to go to space, the UAE continues to expand its space programme, launching in July the Arab world’s first Mars mission.
Closer to home, the country has recently announced a series of new measures spanning major legal reforms for expatriates, as well as increasing the country’s Golden Visa system, which will attract waves of talent as the UAE enters the next 50 years.
All of this shows the country is firmly en route to fulfilling its UAE Centennial 2071 programme, the main pillars of which are future-focused government, providing excellent education, a diversified knowledge economy and a happy and cohesive society. The nation’s motto, "impossible is possible" is testament to the can-do attitude that has defined its success.
The UAE is rare among nations in that many of its citizens were alive at the time of its foundation. The National's Memories of '71 series documents some of these stories. Eighty-year-old Buti Al Mazrouei remembers a time when, to earn money, people would dive for pearls for up to four minutes on one breath, knowing that they often drowned doing so.
Stories like this remind us how hardship builds resilience and the drive to create a better future. This year has taken its toll on all of us. But, as has happened before, hardship can drive and clarify a vision for the future.