What does it mean to be a young Emirati? That is, in essence, the question Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has called on his ministers to answer through the creation of a series of youth councils across the country. The councils are among the initiatives of the 100-day plan passed in his meeting with Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs.
By actively asking young Emiratis about their values, aspirations and expectations, we are seeking to avoid schisms of the kind being played out in the United States, where many young voters feel ignored by the two main parties. This has been demonstrated in the presidential race by these disenfranchised voters throwing their support behind anti-establishment candidates such as Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democrat one.
But determining the defining characteristics of a country is a difficult task for anyone, regardless of age. What values are core to Emirati culture and which ones ought to be considered malleable, changing and evolving in step with the country’s development? How do you find an answer to Sheikh Mohammed’s question that will be as acceptable to an Emirati striding the stage of world business as it is to their rural counterpart who lives in a small settlement in Al Gharbia?
However, the complexity of the task is also the justification for ensuring young voices are heard. These are the people who will build on the legacy begun by Sheikh Zayed and consolidated by leaders of Sheikh Mohammed’s generation.
We ought to expect that core values such as tolerance and coexistence that have characterised this country since federation will be endorsed by the generation coming of age now. But other issues – such as finding the right balance between work and family, or in foreign affairs – can be much more vexing.
But if there is one thing all Emiratis have experience of, it is adapting to change. The exceptionally rapid development of this country in less than 45 years has imbued a willingness to embrace change and turn it to our advantage. Young voices are perfectly placed to help show how that process can continue.