Abu Dhabi // Emiratis have a "legitimate right" to live in a country in which they are "the mainstream, the pioneers and owners of the common language and integrating identity", Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed said in his National Day address to the nation. The President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi identified the population imbalance as a major challenge, promised democratic reform and stressed the importance of preserving the nation's identity. Sheikh Khalifa also urged Iran to respond to the UAE's determination to regain the three islands which the Islamic republic has occupied since 1971, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs. He also stressed the need to bring an end to conflicts across the Middle East as a vital step to undermine terrorist activities. "When we called last year for dedicating the year 2008 for national identity, we did not intend to link our national identity to a timetable," said Sheikh Khalifa. "Identity is not a symbol for a specific period but a comprehensive frame in which our cultural and civilisation heritage serves as a compass that guides our interaction with our surroundings and preserves our uniqueness and character. "Our goal was to encourage initiatives and identify means and mechanisms that help the development of components of our identity." The need to preserve national identity has emerged in recent years as the most prominent challenge to the Emirati society. UAE leaders and intellectuals have warned that the growing impact of globalisation has been eroding the national heritage and culture. Sheikh Khalifa acknowledged that the "openness that characterised our development and the spirit of tolerance that permeates the Emirati society were a source of material and spiritual enrichment to our experience". He said, nonetheless, that openness had its costs and that there was a "population imbalance". However, investing in the capabilities of the nation, including those of Emirati women, would help overcome the problem. "All discussions about the strengthening forces of our national identity revealed that what deserves our prime attention is the work for the development of national capability. "That requires increasing the competitive capacities of individuals, institutions and sectors." On political reforms, Sheikh Khalifa said he was looking for people's participation in economic and social development. "The federation has gone a long way in economic and social development, which has resulted in deep-rooted institutions," he said. "As we work on continuing the building process with the same momentum, we are looking for people's participation in this effort. "This comes as part of our belief in the importance of building an interactive relationship between the two pillars of our political entity [the people and the Government]. Therefore, we are keen to continue the democratic process, and develop it, so we can bring it to the level of participation that we aspire." Since 2006, half of the Federal National Council has been elected. These members are chosen by a group of Emiratis hand-picked by the Government, who vote from a list of pre-approved candidates. The other half of the FNC is appointed by the rulers of each emirate. A number of the members have recently urged the Government to step up the democratic process by giving them more parliamentary powers and voting rights for citizens. Speaking of the three occupied islands, Sheikh Khalifa stressed the UAE's right to regaining them and said Iran had three options to pursue: direct dialogue, international arbitration or the International Court of Justice. "We have made a pre-commitment to accept the results of such arbitration whatever they may be." Sheikh Khalifa said continued construction by Iran on the three islands was "sorrowful" and a "losing bet". "We hope that Iran would respond to our peaceful pursuit. It is sorrowful to see the measures the Islamic Republic of Iran is taking to change landmarks of the islands and realities on the ground. Sheikh Khalifa also outlined the UAE's foreign policy efforts to maintain stability in the Middle East. He said he had hoped the recent decline in violence in Iraq would mark the "beginning of its exit from the whirlpool of violence". He referred to the UAE's initiatives to support the war-torn country, including the cancellation of its debt to the Emirates, which amounted to nearly US$7 billion (Dh25.7bn). On the Palestinian question, he said: "We see that the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian and Arab lands is a threat to the security and stability of the entire region. "We also believe that the failure in finding a just solution for this issue on the basis of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the Holy city of Jerusalem as its capital, will leave the region looted by instability and a source of threat to the regional peace." He urged the international parties, including the United States, to exert more efforts to "convince Israel to abandon its hostile policies and accept legitimate international resolutions." Sheikh Khalifa called on the international community to "work for solving explosive issues without leaving them for the terrorist groups to exploit for their private agendas, which have nothing to do with the supreme interests of the region." email@example.com * with input from WAM
Khalifa stresses national identity
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed uses his National Day address to the nation to stress the importance of preserving the nation's identity.