A new decade presents new opportunities for the Middle East

The region has much to look forward to but its people need to be given a chance at living a decent life

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 1, 2016:    New Year fireworks above the skyline of Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi on January 1, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

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As 2019 comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the events of the past year and look forward to the next decade.

The Year of Tolerance has reinforced the qualities of coexistence and peaceful understanding in the UAE, touching the hearts of residents and visitors alike, many of whom flocked in their thousands to Abu Dhabi to see Pope Francis last February during his first ever visit to a Gulf nation. Tolerance will continue to be a core value of the UAE beyond 2019, as the country witnesses the completion of key projects aimed at bringing people from different backgrounds and religions together. One such mammoth undertaking is the construction of the Abrahamic House of Fraternity in Abu Dhabi, a space that will bring together the people of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Also moving forward, the UAE is set to celebrate grand milestones in the new decade. Expo 2020 Dubai is expected to bring millions of visitors to the country and the Emirates Mars Mission aims to send a probe to the "Red Planet" by 2021, an exciting feat of science and technology that will bring us closer to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. Such initiatives will no doubt allow for the Middle East to tell its own story from the perspective of the people who live and work here. The region has known successes that deserve to be showcased for the rest of the world to see.

That is not to say that shortcomings of the past should be brushed off. The region endured more than its share of tragedies in the 2010s. We must reflect on them to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the decade to come. The past decade kicked off with the Arab uprisings of 2011 as people across the region took to the streets to demand a better life. Some of these protests ended in bloodshed and war, with the conflicts in Libya and Syria entering a new phase. We must come together to help restore peace and stability to these conflict-stricken nations.

Fortunately, positive stories have emerged from the region in the past year, which can inspire us to find new solutions. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, Sudan has morphed in less than a year from one of the Arab world's least developed countries, ruled by a dictator; into a beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere. After overthrowing Omar Al Bashir in April, protesters negotiated with the ruling Military Transitional Council and came to a power-sharing agreement for the next three-year transition period. And now, Sudanese authorities are working hard to mend old wounds. Mr Al Bashir has been sentenced to two years in jail and security forces responsible for the death and torture of a protester have received the death penalty. Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok has drawn up agreements with rebel groups in regions that have long been neglected and abused by Mr Al Bashir. We can only hope the same spirit of reform and dialogue will prevail in Algeria, where protesters are struggling to make their voices heard. Newly elected  president Abdelmadjid Tebboune must strike a delicate balance between his own campaign pledges, the demands of protesters and the country's powerful military.

In Iraq and Lebanon, people have risen up against corruption, a sectarian political elite and sky-high unemployment. Iran's influence is being challenged in both countries, where its proxies have entrenched themselves. Iraqis in particular have rejected Tehran's grip over their everyday lives, with slogans such as "Iran out, freedom for Iraq". Meanwhile, the Iranian regime is being challenged from within. Since November, thousands of brave Iranians have taken to the streets demanding political change. More than 1,500 have perished in the country's bloodiest crackdown since the 1979 revolution.

We hope that the new decade will be one of justice and equal opportunity for the people of the Middle East. There is immense potential waiting to be unlocked in the region, if only all the people are given a chance at living a decent life.