From the Year of Innovation to the Year of Zayed, the core message is the same

Each 12 months carries a reminder that building a better society is the responsibility of all

Two Etihad and Emirates planes, followed by the Al Fursan aerobatic team, perform a display show over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to celebrate the UAE's 47th National Day and the Year of Zayed, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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It began with the Year of Innovation, then the Years of Reading and of Giving. 2018 has been the Year of Zayed. The next 12 months will highlight Tolerance.

Five subjects that at first glance might seem worthy but disparate. Yet collectively they reflect the ambitions of the Government to build a civil society; one in which official institutions and citizens - including residents - work together to develop the country.

When the Year of Innovation arrived in 2015, it was to a background of falling oil prices that would end with their lowest since 2009.

It was a stark reminder that unless they rapidly diversify, Gulf economies remain dangerously dependent on income from oil and gas receipts.

It was a message hammered home by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, near the end of this year at a government summit in Dubai.

“An outstanding government views every citizen as a national resource,” Sheikh Mohamed said.

“Building the nation should not be shouldered by the government alone but is rather the duty of every citizen and resident in this beloved country.”

Yet with the right measures, the future was bright, the Crown Prince continued. He predicted that if the UAE continued to play a clever hand, the country would celebrate its sale of their last barrel of oil.

“There will be a time, 50 years from now, when we load the last barrel of oil aboard the ship,” he said.

“The question is, 50 years from now after we have loaded this last barrel of oil, are we going to feel sad?

“If our investment today is right, I think - dear brothers and sisters - we will celebrate that moment.”

UAE carriers join hands to celebrate the UAE’s 47th National Day and the Year of Zayed. Courtesy Emirates
UAE carriers join hands to celebrate the UAE’s 47th National Day and the Year of Zayed. Courtesy Emirates

But innovation cannot flourish without knowledge. 2016 was declared the Year of Reading and while literacy is high in the UAE, there was a broader message for the Arab world.

This time it was Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who made the point. “We have a literacy crisis in the Arab world and changing course to knowledge-based development means getting our youth reading.” he said at the start of the year.

“Our goal is for the UAE to be a beacon of science and knowledge, as Andalusia, Granada, Baghdad and others were sources of enlightenment.”

All the topics selected for focus over the last 12 months have a similar resonance. And with good reason.

It is not just literacy, but also innovation, knowledge, and certainly tolerance, that are failing in many countries in the Arab world, often with a catastrophic effect on their societies.

For wealthier countries of the Gulf, the challenge is to show the way. And it is a tough challenge. The Economist magazine pointed out earlier this year that despite their wealth, countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were still punching below their weight in terms of scientific, cultural, and technological innovation.

While they enjoyed high levels of income, and had invested heavily in domestic infrastructure, they scored poorly in the annual Global Innovation Index, failing to make the top 20, with the UAE, while ranking top in the Arab world, down in 38th place worldwide.

The Gulf countries on the list "lag far behind comparably wealthy countries on measures of the strength of government institutions, human capital, business sophistication and modern technological output," The Economist noted.

The finding underlines the significance of the Government’s strategy of designating a topic to each of the past five years and to the future.


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When 2016 was given the title of the Year of Giving, it underscored the generosity of the UAE in terms of international donations, whether disaster relief and supporting refuges or funding vital health programmes like protecting children against polio and malaria in some of the world’s poorest countries.

As President Sheikh Khalifa pointed out in his message to launch the Year of Giving, the Emirates took its commitment to assisting others seriously.

“The UAE has global accomplishments in the field of humanitarian aid and we seek to boost this culture as it represents one of the most important merits of the UAE’s personality and its institutions,” he said.

“True citizenship does not mean to take always, but also means sacrificing precious things for the sake of the homeland.

“Serving it is a shared responsibility between the Government, individuals and private sector.

“Our goal is to instil the culture of voluntary service and service to society as a higher value in our institutions and our citizens.”

The realisation that this year marked the centenary of Sheikh Zayed was not a deflection but rather a reflection of the messages of previous years.

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - September 15, 2016: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (L), meets with His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome (R), in the Papal Library at the Apostolic Palace. 
( Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi ) *** Local Caption ***  20160915RC_C164701.jpg
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed meets Pope Francis in Rome in September 2016. The two will meet again in Abu Dhabi in 2019. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi 

Adored by his people, the Year of Zayed was not just a celebration of the Founding Father of the UAE, but also an opportunity to reflect on his values.

The past 12 months have highlighted much of the progress that has followed previous years, from the launch of the country’s first homegrown satellite, to the naming of the UAE’s first astronaut and the hosting of an international health conference to promote an alliance for global vaccination and potentially save millions of lives.

It has also been another reminder of what Sheikh Zayed expected from his people. “The Emirati citizen was the most important element of development, as Sheikh Zayed's main objective was to invest in building the Emirati person, believing in his or her ability to actively participate in the building of the nation,” his son, Sheikh Mohammed, said at the announcement of the commemoration.

The Year of Tolerance, 2019, is a natural continuance of the Year of Zayed but also of previous years.

It will be a reminder of the core values which built the country while also carrying a wider message to much of the Arab world.

It will see the visit of Pope Francis to the UAE and the hosting of the Special Olympics in just the first three months.

Tolerance, as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid put it this month “is the cornerstone of advanced societies, intellectually and humanely, and is one of the tools of empowering civilisations and ensuring stability and flourishing of nations”.