Like Jebel Hafeet itself, the UAE has hidden treasures

Jebel Hafeet. (Sarah Dea / The National)
Jebel Hafeet. (Sarah Dea / The National)

I shall spend today, National Day, as I did yesterday, engaged on a study of the country’s largest cave, deep inside Jebel Hafeet. It’s an absorbing task, inspecting beautiful stalagmites and flowstones that formed hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago, and the study will gather valuable data about the past climate of Arabia. It’s one of many scientific projects under way throughout the country that are of international, not just regional, importance.

The project – and Jebel Hafeet itself – offer, to my mind, a vivid metaphor of the United Arab Emirates on the occasion of National Day. The mountain may fascinate those interested in its geology and its natural history, but, at a first glance, it’s a barren massif, with no indication of what lies therein.

So it was 43 years ago, when the UAE came into being. The seven emirates had an interesting history and the people had long been accustomed to struggle to survive in its harsh environment. Thanks to the commencement of oil exports from Abu Dhabi a few years earlier, it was evident that the country was well-endowed with natural resources. Yet, emerging into statehood in a troubled region, where modern development had only recently begun to get under way, few outsiders believed that it would survive – let alone that it would thrive over subsequent decades and become one of the most rapidly growing countries in the world.

The fact that it has been able to do so is not simply because of its natural resources or because of its fortunate geographical location between East and West, but because of an innate strength that outsiders were unable to perceive – that of its leaders and of its people.

The late Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, along with his brother rulers, had the vision to recognise that although the country might seem, on the surface, to have an unpromising future, this could all be changed if the right attention was paid to what he described as its “real wealth”.

He set about the task of providing the people, men and women alike, with education, social services, employment, a modern infrastructure – everything they needed to equip them to play their part in the building of the new state.

He recognised, too, the need to bring in external expertise, just like the geologists now studying Jebel Hafeet, so as to make the best use of the resources available to the country, both natural and human.

Endowed with the capacity to take the tough decisions required from a leader and to inspire others to follow, Sheikh Zayed created the foundations of the modern UAE that we enjoy today. Never resting on his laurels, he continued throughout his life to encourage the people to make the best use of the opportunities offered to them.

His successor as President, Sheikh Khalifa, ably supported by Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, his fellow rulers and by his Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has continued on the same path, guiding a people that have recognised and are making use of the talents and determination that they, like their ancestors, have in abundance.

Few would have imagined, 43 years ago, that the UAE would become what it is now, thanks to the determination of its leadership and the ability of its people to rise to the challenges placed before them. As the country continues to innovate in the search for excellence, who knows what lies ahead?

So, back to my metaphor. There are, I am sure, many more surprises still hidden in the depths of Jebel Hafeet, to be revealed as our study continues. Together with this country’s dedicated leadership, the people of the UAE represent this country’s innate strength and there will certainly be more surprises in store for themselves and for the rest of the world, as they continue to grow and to thrive. Happy National Day.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture

Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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