Drawn from the generation privileged to have witnessed the transition of the United Arab Emirates from one of the little-known Trucial States, when our lives were fraught with daily struggles to survive, on each National Day my heart swells with pride at my country’s astonishing achievements.
From small and uncertain beginnings, the seven emirates combated myriad trials and tribulations to emerge as a living template of modernity, peace and prosperity, riding high on the world’s stage in almost every field.
Like many others before it, this 45th National Day is celebrated with carnivals, firework displays and concerts, enjoyed by nationals, expats and visitors who flock to our shores. The atmosphere during this long weekend is electric with sheer happiness. The smile count is at its highest, punctuated with the laughter of children, including that of my own beloved grandkids.
But more than that, it is an opportunity for us sons of the soil to reflect and give thanks to God for our blessings and to the pioneers who inspired us to dream “impossible” dreams.
As a boy, I did not dare dream of anything beyond owning a small shop so that I could take care of my parents and siblings. My childhood fantasies centred upon living in a house with electricity and running water. Not in my wildest imagination did I visualize the transformation of my hometown, Dubai, blossoming into a dynamic futuristic metropolis that provides endless opportunities for all its citizens, or being recognized globally as a nation of firsts where excellence is not only prized but is the overriding goal of both government and people.
The Union, marked by the first unfurling of the UAE’s red, green, white and black flag on December 2, 1971, was crafted by men born in an unforgiving desert environment where water and food were scarce – and cooling shade even scarcer. They shared their brackish well water with their camels; they were disciplined, hardworking, honourable and ever loyal to their tribes and the women and children depending on them. Belief in the Creator’s benevolence sustained them through thick and thin.
The fathers of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s late ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the late ruler of Dubai Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, were the prime drivers behind the unification of seven emirates.
They were visionaries ahead of their time and with their hands locked together they spearheaded a revolution in economic growth, creating a solid foundation which their sons, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, have built upon so successfully together with the rulers of Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain.
They stand together, support each other, and have been rewarded by the genuine, deep respect, affection and trust of their people. More than that, their generosity extends beyond borders. They are givers, always ready to support other countries in their times of need.
From the beginning, our leaders have exemplified such qualities as loyalty, determination and innovation. Emiratis know without a shadow of a doubt that their wellbeing lies at the heart of every decision they take. The connection between UAE nationals and their leaders is an unbreakable bond solidified over many generations, providing continuity of purpose. Put simply, we are all members of the same Emirati family.
I have long stressed the importance of unity between all Gulf states. The formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council was a landmark step in that direction, and it is my fervent hope that the proposed economic, diplomatic and military union will reach fruition. Together we are strong. Together we can defend our lands. The close relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains one of the GCC’s prime pillars.
I take this opportunity to salute The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and his team for their commitment to our Saudi brothers and sisters and for their courageous efforts to help our region’s troubled spots regain their equilibrium and for their stance in fending off belligerent regional actors and terrorist plots. The King’s decisiveness has encouraged the leaderships of smaller states to coalesce behind him for the betterment of all.
Saudi Arabia is now a regional leader able to adapt to changing geopolitical and economic circumstances; one that protects not only our faith and Arab culture but also defends the interests of other loyal Arab nations.
With God’s help the UAE will continue on its upward path together with its people’s brethren in Saudi Arabia and in all Gulf states. United we will stand tall as never before.
Khalaf Al Habtoor is chairman of Al Habtoor Group