UAE is a force for good at home and abroad

To mark 100 years since the birth of the country’s Founding Father, 2018 has been declared the “Year of Zayed” by the President, Sheikh Khalifa. Courtesy Al Ittihad
To mark 100 years since the birth of the country’s Founding Father, 2018 has been declared the “Year of Zayed” by the President, Sheikh Khalifa. Courtesy Al Ittihad

The symbolism could not have been clearer. Gathered together in a castle that had stood for 500 years, the Cabinet declared its willingness to build a foundation for the country that would last for hundreds of years.

It was symbolic of two things that the country remembers this National Day: the past and the legacy of Emirati forefathers, and the vision and ambition of this generation.

Both were embodied in the person of the founding father, Sheikh Zayed, who had the vision and ambition to bring together seven emirates into one nation, while also recalling and building on the legacy of those who went before him. That is a vision and a legacy worth recalling.

Next year, 2015, will be a year of innovation. Already, in a few short decades, the UAE has gone from being a small, proud country on the Arabian Gulf, to a world leader, shaping events across the world and even – as the Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid made clear – preparing to make its mark on space.

Innovation, the country’s leadership made clear in remarks yesterday, comes in many forms. In his National Day statement, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, spoke of the need for the country to continue its “search for energy alternatives through supporting scientific innovations and research projects”. His views were echoed by the Vice President, who celebrated the nation’s “sons and daughters” who qualified in nuclear science and other advanced technologies, and promised the country would “prepare and equip our generations” to contribute to a technological future.

But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid also gave prominence to a “happiness” index that ranked the UAE as the happiest country in the Arab world. This is the second aspect of innovation, making sure that the technology, whether created here or imported, works in the service of the people, and not merely the other way around.

It is particularly important today to reflect on the “Emirati model”, in a region beset by problems, by conflicts and by tensions. Even countries blessed with natural resources, in both our region and elsewhere, have not been able to avoid the curses of instability and tensions with neighbours. The “Emirati model” is not merely about using wealth and resources wisely. It is also about allowing the flourishing of its citizens.

This year, Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot, received wide acclaim when it was revealed she was leading the UAE’s mission against ISIL targets. Maj Al Mansouri is a symbol of the changing reality of women in the Middle East and the opportunity to flourish in the UAE. No country in the region offers such opportunity to its female citizens and the results speak for themselves: the UAE has women at the top of government, business and the arts. They are literally high-fliers, bombing the warped ideologies of ISIL.

That message has been conveyed quietly through actions at home and institutions such as the UN. But Maj Al Mansouri’s work was a powerful way of demonstrating the UAE’s commitment to gender and it resonated around the world. Taking to the skies, after all, requires a firm foundation at home on the ground.

Internationally, as the President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pointed out on the eve of National Day, the UAE is “among the ranks of the world’s most advanced nations”. This is the proud reality, 43 years on, as demonstrated by the happiness index and other benchmark assessments of quality of life, social cohesion and security and stability.

Doing well and doing it right is a fairly unbeatable combination and makes for deep contentment at home and quiet confidence abroad. This is not lost upon the wider world, which is increasingly dropping in for consultations on some of the region’s most intractable and troubling problems because, as has often been said, the UAE wants for all Arabs what it wants for itself.

And then there is the UAE’s growing self-assurance on the world stage, whether it be a fearless and principled participation in the international alliance to fight terrorism or the consistent championship of efforts to boost development in the Arab region and beyond.

Indeed, it is this country’s commitment to development that is increasingly seen as one of the great success stories in a region that has perilously few. “Development and terrorism,” as Sheikh Khalifa emphasised, “are like parallel lines that will never meet … Development is the essence of security.”

This is so, even in a world that is changing with dizzying rapidity. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed has said that our world is so much smaller now and so much more interconnected that our interests are “increasingly shared”. The UAE cannot isolate itself from the rest of the world – not that it would ever want to – and it is in our interest as much as everyone else’s that the region’s security challenges be seen in the context of developmental issues.

This is why the Arab world desperately needs Egypt to be stable and successful; for legitimate state institutions to be bolstered in Libya, Yemen and Somalia; for Iraq to achieve broader reconciliation in its quest for security, and for the Syrian bloodshed to stop in concert with the start of a political transitional solution.

But for peace to truly break out, Iran would need to meddle less in the affairs of the region and be less stubborn about its nuclear programme. For now, Tehran continues to pursue a policy agenda that is profoundly unhelpful.

Sheikh Khalifa summarised foreign policy as follows: “Our state occupies an advanced place in the network of forces for good in the world.” This is a big achievement for a small country in a fractious region but as our far-sighted forebears realised, it is our unity that anchors us firmly as we bring the Emirati way of dialogue and development to the world’s chanceries.

The symbolism of the Fujairah fort could not be clearer. Creating a fortress of security requires planning and hard work and cannot be undertaken by one person or one group. The same applies today to building the UAE’s future: it will take Emiratis pulling together, hand in hand across the emirates, to build the future they aspire to and the future they deserve.

Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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