In a recent article, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman outlined how Arabs elsewhere compared their struggling situations to the social and economic progress of the UAE and more specifically Dubai.
In an article titled Did Dubai do it?, he outlines the growth of business, education and arts, the rise of government-backed ventures to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and new global media companies shedding light on the success stories from within the UAE.
For me, as a proud Emirati, his message resonates deeply. But he misses one critical element – and that’s our leadership.
Allow me, a simple citizen of this country, to paint a clear picture of what I have learnt through observing our leadership steer us in a different direction to that of some of our conflict-torn neighbours.
Firstly, I have learnt that our leadership’s strong connection with their people is a fundamental ingredient to creating a platform for growth, success and stability.
Under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed, the tribes were brought together to create the United Arab Emirates. Each needed the other, a fact our leaders and people understood. That lesson continues to shape how policy is implemented even today.
That connection between leadership, citizens and residents even finds it way into our regular lives. Our rulers are accessible. This is something unique to our country – and something that still catches people off guard when they visit – but sets the tone for a society where walls between classes are broken down every day.
Secondly, our leadership ensures that wealth filters down. Citizens are provided with education, employment, housing and even access to funding to start a business.
These schemes ensure that citizens experience the fruits of the wealth and opportunities our natural resources have blessed us with. If anything, they have an opportunity to realise their dreams, to prosper and live lives of purpose – all of which is key to building a stable and thriving society.
Last, and certainly not least, I have learnt that a leadership that is tolerant and respectful of others can attract the best and brightest minds.
Our leaders and people have opened their arms for all to come and better their lives. It’s hard to name too many other countries in the world where so many different nationalities live in peace and harmony and do so with similar goals of growing themselves and the nation.
I am grateful for Friedman’s story about the region. We don’t read much that is positive about the region in the western media these days, especially when the narrative is focused on minorities such as ISIL, who don’t represent the beliefs of the general public who just want to live lives of peace and dignity.
Put aside for a moment the glitz and glamour of our progress. We have been helped towards realising our true potential when the leadership and the people act as a united force. That I believe is the lesson we can all take away from the UAE’s model, because when all is falling apart around us, that is the only thing that has kept us together and pushes us forward.
Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati social commentator