Perhaps many of our readers, Emiratis and expatriates alike, will wonder at the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Government of Abu Dhabi. Celebrations are common for leaders and nations, but for the government of one emirate? Yet there is a good reason for the celebration and to understand why requires returning many decades back to the 1960s.
In the early 1960s, Abu Dhabi still had only modest oil production. The UAE didn’t yet exist and life in the emirate was still uncertain. There was no bureaucracy or civil service. There was no real government yet. If there were problems, they were solved between individuals or with communal mediation.
The founding of the Abu Dhabi Government in 1966 marked a change and a statement of intent by the new ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed. Sheikh Zayed, as is now well-known, had immense ambitions, not merely to build a modern state in Abu Dhabi, but to bring together seven emirates into a federation.
The Abu Dhabi Government was the first step. It professionalised the development of the emirate, creating an administration, different departments and ministries, and giving each responsibility for a particular aspect. Roads, schools, hospitals and police. Security, agriculture, electricity and justice. Each of these now had a department to oversee its development.
This was a significant change and must have seemed to many in the emirate at the time – there were merely tens of thousands, Abu Dhabians and expatriates – as excessive. But this was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, that Abu Dhabi would become a modern emirate, marked by rapid development, and that development needed a strong organisational foundation.
This is the situation that the emirate, now part of a federation, finds itself in today. In every respect, Abu Dhabi has changed. The population now is over two and half million. The capital is the very definition of a modern city. The functions of government are smooth and divided: it is clear which department handles what. Those things are worth celebrating, because a professional civil service is necessary for the functioning of a modern state.
In one thing, however, Abu Dhabi has stayed the same. Those at the top of government are still part of the community. The government has become a bureaucracy, but it is certainly not faceless.