President Sheikh Khalifa has declared 2021 as the "Year of the 50th", as the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee and plans a route to its centenary, 50 years on from now.
For most governments around the world, five decades in the future would seem a long way off. Political realities mean that most are more concerned about getting to the end of the news cycle, than they are about planning for a distant future. Things are different in the UAE, which has stated its ambition to be the "best country in the world" by 2071. With this as a goal, 50 years suddenly feels like a much shorter length of time.
Realising this ambition by the nation's centenary is going to require a great deal from society. Governmentally, continued agility and openness to innovation will be needed. Over the past few years, a number of cabinet reshuffles have taken place, which have typically involved the merging of different ministerial portfolios, or the creation of entirely new ones, constantly learning from experience to create a more efficient public sector. Last year, Abdullah Al Nuami, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, spoke of the country's approach to governance as "one house", in which officials could move portfolios with the same ease as someone could transition room to room in a home. This commitment to efficiency has led to achievements ranging from a world-leading Covid-19 response and vaccination drive, to the success of the country's Hope probe, which entered the Martian orbit last February.
Nimble governance has boosted the country's expanding private sector, another pillar in the UAE's centenary goals. Business, which relies on certainty, has been challenged globally by Covid-19. Last month, in early steps towards a new normal for the private sector, the UAE, under stringent Covid-19 regulations, welcomed the world to some of the first major in-person gatherings since the pandemic started, one being Abu Dhabi's international defence summit Idex, the other Dubai's Gulfood, which brought together leaders in the culinary and hospitality industry, so devastated by the pandemic. In the midst of all this, the government is mandating private sector inclusiveness, just this week announcing that all listed companies would need at least one female board member.
This all feeds into a country that showcases itself as a centre for efficiency, business, and most importantly, openness, inclusion and tolerance. In a world that seems to be backsliding in this regard, the UAE has pushed an agenda that pits itself against this worrying trend. In 2019, the country hosted Pope Francis on the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula in history. For young and talented people across the world, the government announced the expansion of its Golden Visa scheme, which allows gifted individuals in certain fields to pursue their talents in the UAE. For expatriates already living in the nation, a series of legal reforms have been announced, for example, allowing foreign residents to divorce according the law of their home country.
The country consistently ranks among the top countries in the region – and often in the world – on major rankings including ease of doing business and passport strength.
If 50 years feels an intimidatingly short period of time to become the best country in the world, perhaps looking back on these achievements can reassure all those who wish the UAE well that the impossible will still be possible in the future.