Looking forwards 50 years takes us to 2069. Looking back is to 1969. For Dubai these dates will represent a century determined by the vision of one man.
Even as he marks the anniversary of his 50 years of government service, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid is planning far into the future. It is an extraordinary prospect in a world where the decisions of governments are often motivated by short-term expediency.
This week, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai revealed the details of what he is calling a “Fifty-Year Charter”, a blueprint that will touch the lives of everyone living in the emirate.
It contains broad ambitions expressed by Sheikh Mohammed for Dubai to be “a city governed by law and bound by the spirit of compassion, love, harmony and tolerance”.
It also gives us an idea of some of the specifics, divided into nine articles or principles that, while not replacing existing government strategies, should allow “implementation, follow-up and accountability”.
They will be personally overseen by Sheikh Mohammed and the Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, in another sign that it is a project not just for this Ruler of Dubai, but the future Rulers too.
The first article speaks of a Dubai Silk Road, a reference to the ancient trade routes that connected Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Dubai’s role on the 21st-century Silk Road is to connect not just east and west but north and south as an international crossroads, revitalising the entire region.
Its airport is one of the busiest in the world, with routes to 200 cities, while Dubai also owns and operates about 80 ports worldwide. The charter’s goal is to expand this network with what the document says are “friendly neighbours who share our vision”.
“Our region has historically been a region of civilisation and trade, and this role must be restored,” it says.
Article two proposes a geo-economic map for Dubai. This is a radical change to the existing management of the city and will divide it into specialised but integrated economic zones, already reflected in areas such as Internet City and the Design District.
In the future, each of these districts will be managed and marketed by its own council, whose format and membership are yet to be announced.
Each zone will have a governor “to oversee the achievement of its goals, as well as its progress and success”.
Parallel with this is what the third article calls the “first virtual commercial city”. This opens up Dubai beyond its physical borders by granting commercial licences to investors who do not live there.
They will also be able to open bank accounts and obtain what the charter calls “e-residences according to best international laws and regulations”.
The objective is to have 100,000 companies operating in this “virtual city”, although no timetable is given.
Article four tackles education for citizens by creating a database that will document the qualifications and training of each person. The objective is to enable the government to create what it calls “customised education plans for our citizens that suit their personal skills”.
“Our goal for our citizens is to have a lifelong learning so they can continue to improve their skills and capacities to adapt to the rapid global changes in the world,” the charter says.
The message of article five is simple: “A doctor for every citizen.” It proposes to do this by creating a global network of thousands of medical specialists who can be consulted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and managed through an app.
“Our goal is to transform the medical system to bring doctors closer to individuals, enhance awareness and use top medical minds globally to serve the health of our citizens,” it says.
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Article six combines education and business, noting that “Dubai’s foundation is rooted in trade”. It proposes turning public and private universities into free zones where students will carry out “business and creative activities” as part of their studies.
“We want our universities to not only graduate students, but also create companies and employers,” the charter says.
Article seven addresses self-sufficiency for citizens, a crucial issue for a city where water resources are under increasing pressure and most essentials are imported.
The aim is make at least one in 10 homes self-sufficient for water, food and energy, with the additional objective of changing the way people live and improving the environment.
Article eight addresses Emiratisation, this time by improving the quality of some services through privatisation but also establishing citizen-owned co-operative companies in what it calls “vital sectors”.
The object of what is described as a “long-term programme” is to “provide new sources of income to our citizens”.
Finally, article nine addresses the responsibility of those who achieve economic success towards the less fortunate. It proposes annual increases in funding for philanthropic initiatives that will equal the percentage of economic growth, which is forecast at 3.6 per cent for Dubai this year.
“Charity is indeed a major factor in the happiness of societies and the continuity of progress and prosperity,” the document reads.
Sheikh Mohammed has said that progress will be reviewed every January 4, the charter’s launch date. But much remains to be explained about the proposals’ implementation, which will have far-reaching implications for citizens and residents.
Suddenly 50 years does not seem such a long time.