Canada’s new ambassador brings an international background and outlook to the UAE

Masud Husain, a lawyer who studied in Quebec and at Montreal’s McGill University, assumed his first position as an ambassador a couple of months ago before presenting his credentials on Sunday last week.

Masud Husain, the Canadian ambassador to the UAE, says the two countries have shared values. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Born in Ottawa to Indian and German parents, married to a Moroccan woman with children born in Jordan, the new Canadian ambassador to the UAE is the perfect representation of his country’s multicultural embrace.

Masud Husain, a lawyer who studied in Quebec and at Montreal’s McGill University, assumed his first position as an ambassador a couple of months ago before presenting his credentials on Sunday last week.

With previous postings in New York, Jordan, Syria, the United Nations and the Netherlands, Mr Husain hopes to work closely with the UAE on issues of security and education.

“One of the key concerns for us in the region is going to be security,” he said. “There are conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, so we are looking to work closely with our partners and the UAE is an extremely important partner for us on the security side. Security and stability in the region is important for all of us and it impacts all of us.”

The UAE recently announced it would take in 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years, as have countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, and Canada was no exception.

“We have shared values in terms of diversity,” Mr Husain said. “The message of tolerance that the UAE is sending is an extremely important one for Canada. Finding a way to live peacefully in the region is going to be extremely important; we are going to need voices and models of peaceful coexistence and I think the UAE is a great model for that.”

With up to 45,000 Canadians living in the Emirates — Canada’s largest community in the Middle East — the ambassador is hoping to increase the number of Emiratis studying in the country from only a few hundred. “We should be having far more than that,” he said. “Canada is a great place to go to university and it’s going to be those connections that will make our relationship grow. It’s a very secure and welcoming place for people from this region.”

Between 15 to 17 Canadian universities will tour UAE schools in a couple of weeks as part of an education fair. “People tend to look to the US and the UK but we want to change that a bit and get people to think about Canada,” Mr Husain said.

He also praised the UAE’s openness and tolerance. “It’s a country that is so open to different people and wants to get expertise and experience from the best in the world,” he said. “That struck me. There’s also an incredible desire to innovate here; they are willing to take risks, invest and think forward into the future.”

A number of political trips are planned between both countries, with Canada’s foreign minister expected to visit the UAE within the next six months.

Relations between the countries have rebounded after disagreements a few years ago over landing rights for flights to Canada.

“The UAE is Canada’s largest trade partner in the region today and it continues to grow,” said Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “The UAE can serve as a critical launch-pad and operating base for Canadian businesses as they expand into new markets in the Middle East and Asia.”

Political analysts say Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has been promoting a more tolerant country and one that is less “pro-Israel” than it was two years ago.

“All this opens up new opportunities for cooperation between the UAE and Canada,” said Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. “This is the time to increase the level of cooperation on all [fronts], whether security, defence, cultural or economy.”

He called Canada a vital partner for the UAE, with a lot of interest in the Gulf. “We expect it to be more involved in Gulf issues,” he added. “This also comes out of the [UAE’s] need to diversify our security portfolio, no matter how small or big the contribution is, it is needed now more than any other time.”