The Government Summit, which will close this evening, is an opportunity for dozens of governments around the world to share ideas about how they perform and how the future will look. But the opening address on Monday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed went beyond communicating to other government leaders and offered a vision for all Emiratis and residents of the UAE. It was an inspiring speech from someone whose voice is perhaps not heard frequently enough in public.
Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, was both optimistic about the future and honest about the challenges facing the country. “In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad?” he asked. “If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment.”
Sheikh Mohammed was clear about what it would entail to prepare for that day: remaining united as a country, wisely investing the current abundant wealth, both in the country and in the people, and diversifying the economy for a post-oil future.
The value of such a speech should not be underestimated. Meeting the challenges of a country without the natural resources we now enjoy will be something in which everyone will need to play a role. Having the leadership set out a vision of what is needed, what the plan to achieve that vision is, and explain how that plan is being implemented, is invaluable. There was also the subtle but clear expectation that government could not provide everything: Sheikh Mohammed stressed education as the essential component for a post-oil future. It is only education that will allow Emiratis the flexibility to meet the challenges of that new era, challenges that none of us can forecast.
Nor did Sheikh Mohammed shy away from recognising the worrying reality of the Middle East today. “We are definitely, in the region, going through a very difficult time,” he said. But he stressed that the country was able to meet the security challenges.
Taken as a whole, Sheikh Mohammed’s speech was both appreciative of the effort that Emiratis have put into the country – he read the names of 20 nationals who had insisted on performing military service despite being exempt – and a call for the country to come together and aim for a bright and bold new future. The leadership may set the direction of travel, but it will take the effort of all of us to reach these goals.