Madam Ambassador: the UAE's Hend Al Otaiba steps on to the world stage

As country's envoy to France, Ms Al Otaiba joins a select group of senior female Emirati diplomats

Hend Al Otaiba is the UAE's new Ambassador to France
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The UAE's new ambassador to France is a woman passionate about telling the story of the nation, and championing the role of women in public life.

A fluent French speaker and a strategic communications expert, Hend Al Otaiba has spent her career promoting the UAE to the wider world, either through arts and culture or through public relations and diplomacy.

In her most recent role she created and led the first strategic communications department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation. The department is responsible for promoting the country’s foreign policies and interests through both the international media and the UAE's diplomatic missions.

Before that, Ms Al Otaiba, who was named ambassador on Wednesday, worked as director of communications at Abu Dhabi Media, and also alongside Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation until 2019, as an adviser on issues of international diplomacy.

Ms Al Otaiba's appointment comes at a time of historically strong relations between the UAE and France.

Last week the two countries discussed bilateral co-operation in a virtual summit between Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, and Francois Delattre, secretary general of the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

On the agenda was increased trade and investment into areas such as clean energy, as French companies are in discussions to develop hydrogen projects in the UAE.

A life of public service

Growing up in a family steeped in statecraft – her father is Mana Saeed Al Otaiba, a former Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, and her brother Yousef Al Otaiba is UAE Ambassador to the United States – Ms Al Otaiba chose public service over the private sector early in her career.

After graduating from university in London where she studied psychology, she received her Master’s degrees from the Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi and the UAE National Defence College, an institution only attended by the Emirates' brightest and best.

Ms Al Otaiba's first professional role was managing communications at the erstwhile Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, where she gained hands-on experience in diplomacy, as Department of Culture and Tourism negotiated with the French to bring a Louvre art gallery to the capital.

During her tenure she travelled several times to Paris with the curating team and art acquisition committee, and worked across all of DCT's departments to create an international narrative around the new museum.

The Louvre played a significant part in her private life as well, as it was during one of the first promotional exhibitions at the Emirates Palace hotel that she met her husband Salem Al Qassimi, who works for the UAE's Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development.

Ms Al Otaiba, along with their two young sons, will return to Paris next month to present her diplomatic credentials to the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

As a female ambassador, she joins a select group of Emirati women who already occupy roles on the world stage, including those heading up missions in New York, Brazil, Germany, Finland and Denmark.

Writing in The National last year she described Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s first female Permanent Representative to the UN and Reem Al Hashimy, director general of the Expo and Minister of State for International Co-operation, as her role models, and lauded their efforts in forging a path for Emirati women.

Gender equality is an issue close to Ms Al Otaiba's heart. She strongly believes in the right for women to work and earn financial independence, and to take up more prominent roles in the private and public sector.

In the past Ms Al Otaiba has highlighted the value of empowering women, noting that already more than half of staff at the foreign ministry and 40 per cent of UAE diplomats are women, an achievement also acknowledged by the UN in its Women in Diplomacy Index this year, which praised the UAE for the progress it has made in advancing female participation in diplomacy.

"Women make excellent diplomats," Ms Al Otaiba wrote, "particularly in the fields of conflict resolution and peace accords". Now Ms Al Otaiba will join their ranks, and colleagues say her strong work ethic and determination to further the UAE's interests will benefit the country.

Updated: July 07, 2021, 4:55 PM