Strong international bonds were forged from a simple beginning

Abu Dhabi's unequivocal commitment to renewable energy is proof of a vision for the future, says Jaime van Zeller Leitão. Christopher Pike / The National
Abu Dhabi's unequivocal commitment to renewable energy is proof of a vision for the future, says Jaime van Zeller Leitão. Christopher Pike / The National

My wife and I arrived on an early morning in the beginning of January, 2011, ready to take up my appointment as the ambassador of Portugal to the UAE. The weather was unexpectedly mild, like late summer in Portugal.

We were met by two charming gentlemen from the protocol office who accompanied us to a hotel in Abu Dhabi. Yes, we had no house, no office, no staff; only a strong will to start building an enduring relationship between our two countries.

I was the first resident Portuguese ambassador in this country. This was the way our adventure in this vibrant country started. This is also the reason why after more than five years it is hard for us to leave – because we have been building these foundations from scratch. It has been an honour and extremely exciting to see every day that our work had resulted in the strengthening of political relations, increasing commercial flows and more and more people interested in visiting Portugal.

The reality is that in a challenging environment we could only work hard in the direction of finding our position and our goals, and achieve something that seemed impossible in the beginning.

The UAE is a place where hard-working men and women can find their goals and leave a positive mark. I didn’t have to wait long to experience first-hand the sensation that the future is here. In fact, just two weeks after I arrived, the prime minister of Portugal was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the World Future Energy Summit.

Undoubtedly, the unequivocal commitment to renewable energy, making Abu Dhabi the hub of innovative green projects for the world, is itself proof of a vision for the future. Masdar is supporting brilliant researchers and is a home to strategic industries.

Irena, the international agency for renewable energy, has been developing new projects to make energy accessible to populations that until now did not even have electricity.

As a common person, what is immediately evident and – consequently, what fascinates me more about this country – is the concern the Government has for its people. It is unique that the wealth from this nation’s natural resources is used so efficiently for the well-being of its citizens.

As a diplomat, I highly appreciate the engagement of the Emirati leadership in alleviating the suffering of people all around the world and the channelling of one of the largest budgets for international cooperation.

The UAE’s vision is not one that is centred in this country’s well-being alone – it is also a global partnership.

As a citizen of the world, worried about the growing insecurity that is now everywhere we go, I have great respect for the role that the UAE is playing in defending legitimate causes, even with the sacrifice of many Emirati lives. Moreover, it is important to highlight the fact that we and our families can live here with a sense of added safety and tranquillity that is rare to find in other places.

Finally, as a foreigner from a somewhat different culture, I admire the tolerance and respect for the various creeds, habits and beliefs that coexist here.

In fact, I feel that diversity and understanding is indeed the greatest wealth that the UAE has to show and offer, and it is therefore not by chance that the first international Expo in the Middle East will take place in Dubai in 2020 with the crucial main theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.

I leave this country already missing the strong bonds we have created, having much more to learn along the way and thus saddened by the fact that I cannot experience and witness the exciting future you will experience here.

However, I feel proud of the legacy I have left here. These include all the cooperation agreements that were negotiated and signed in the fields of economic and financial relations, culture, education and health, among others; the creation of an essential mechanism in the business relations of our Portuguese companies here, which is the Portuguese Business Council, incorporated earlier this year; as well as the implementation of the important joint commission.

Repeating what I said in the farewell gathering that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised for me, I would like to publicly express my gratitude to the authorities of this country, and especially to Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, for the support I have received from that very first January morning of my mission.

Jaime van Zeller Leitão is the departing ambassador of Portugal to the UAE

Published: September 25, 2016 04:00 AM

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