Queen Elizabeth was a 'warm and wise' friend to the UAE

UAE ambassador to the UK looks forward to new era built on late monarch's strong foundations

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As millions mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II here in the UK and across the world, it’s fitting to pause and reflect on how Her Majesty meant many things to many people.

For Emiratis, she represented the very best of British identity and character. For that reason, many of us, myself included, felt a deep sense of affection towards her. The UK is an important friend and ally, and the queen served as monarch for the entire history of our country. So today we feel profound sadness, as well as gratitude.

Our nation joins the UK in mourning the passing of an incredibly beloved monarch. Our thoughts are, of course, with the British royal family, and with British and Commonwealth citizens around the world.

The queen’s passing is also a moment for personal reflection. As ambassador to the UK, I was fortunate to meet the queen on several occasions. I will cherish the memories of the times I spent in her company. On every occasion I found her to be warm, thoughtful, wise and kind.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth is projected upon the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. AFP

I have been struck, reading the many tributes paid to her in recent days, how many other people experienced the same. For someone to bear so much responsibility for so long and still to inspire such a reaction in those who met her is incredible.

But beyond these personal memories, the passing of the monarch also presents an opportunity to reflect on the strength of the relationship between our two nations.

The queen was a close friend to the UAE and for that we will always be grateful.

Her first visit to our young nation, in 1979, saw her welcomed by our Founding Father, H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This visit, in the years after the relationship between the Gulf and the UK had changed so significantly, did much to establish a friendship between us and set a positive course for the decades ahead.

I remember well her second visit, in 2010, and in particular the iconic images of her visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Her presence there was doubly significant, as in her capacity as Supreme Governor of the Church of England she was the first leader of another religion to visit the mosque. This visit did much to underline to the world the shared values of dialogue and tolerance that our two nations hold.

November 24, 2010 - Abu Dhabi, UAE -   Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, on Wednesday November 24, 2010.  (Andrew Henderson/The National)

When I was appointed ambassador some years later, the memory of these visits, and the pride I felt in the strength of our relationship with the UK, served as an inspiration. In the decades since that first visit in 1979, we have found many opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

We have deepened our ties and strengthened our friendship. Working with her majesty’s government we have signed various impactful initiatives and agreements, most recently the Partnership for the Future and the Sovereign Investment Partnership, which will benefit a wide variety of sectors from energy and infrastructure, to education and cultural development, in both our nations. Our trade ties will be further intensified through the GCC-UK Free Trade Agreement, for which negotiations have started.

As monarch, Queen Elizabeth II presided over all these major milestones, and the UAE is grateful for the direction she so skilfully set.

British and UAE national flags fly at half mast in Dubai. EPA

We can look back on the Elizabethan era with fondness and pride, and we can look forward with confidence that more opportunities lie ahead.

Leaders inevitably change, but leadership can be constant, built on the strong foundations laid by predecessors.

In the United Kingdom, a new Carolean era has begun under King Charles III where the UK will continue to thrive as a modern, multicultural and multi-faith society.

In the UAE, H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was appointed President of the UAE earlier this year following the passing of our former President, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed will ensure that the UAE too will continue to flourish as a diverse, tolerant society.

Having experienced the profound sadness that overwhelmed our nation when H.H. Sheikh Khalifa passed, we very much empathise with the British people at this difficult time. It is in these momentous and unforeseen developments, that we see another, unexpected parallel between our nations’ histories and paths forward.

From my perspective, I am confident that under the leadership of King Charles III and H.H. Sheikh Mohamed, the friendship and partnership between the UAE and the UK will continue to thrive – a true testament to the legacies of Queen Elizabeth II and our former President, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The UK mourns Queen Elizabeth II - in pictures

Updated: September 14, 2022, 1:17 PM
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