Accounting for the UAE's achievements

  • 3 January 2017

Over the past two years, I have written articles on personalities and events that changed the world. My theme this year is "when the UAE makes history", focusing on the country’s achievements, successes and initiatives that have become icons of the strong will and symbols of excellence under the leadership of the President, Sheikh Khalifa.

This series will focus on achievements as well as pioneering and inspiring initiatives and policies that have become models for other nations. My aim is to make the current and future generations more aware of the greatness of their country and how it truly makes history.

The first criterion for making history is that the activity should involve unprecedented steps that express innovative visions and creative thinking. Among these initiatives are the innovative and smart government policies adopted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai; the moral education initiatives announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; our renewable energy initiatives; and the creation of a Ministry of State for Happiness.

The second criterion is that the impact of the activity should not be limited to the local level, but instead extend to the regional and international levels. Examples of this include the UAE Water Aid Initiative (Suqia), to provide drinking water for five million needy people in the world; the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, which has recognised the status of serious authors and researchers not only in the UAE, but in the entire Arab region and beyond; and the humanitarian work initiatives through which the UAE has managed to change the concept of humanitarian work at the global level.

The third criterion is that the activity should help position the country as a model for neighbouring countries to follow. The UAE has done this by being a force for positive change in matters such as the empowerment of women and youth and education reform.

The fourth criterion is that the activity should involve futuristic thinking. Many pioneering initiatives are part of the preparation for the post-oil stage. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed clearly expressed this trend in his historic speech before the Government Summit in Dubai in 2015, when he said: "Fifty years from now, there will come a time when we load the last barrel of oil aboard the ship for export. The question is – are we going to feel sad? If our investment in our human resources today is right, I bet we will celebrate that moment."

The fifth criterion is that the activity should involve progress. The UAE has never accepted the idea that only selected countries have a monopoly over progress. It believes that progress is achievable by any country that possesses the necessary tools, knowledge and a pathway.

The sixth criterion is that the activity should not interfere with national traditions and customs. The UAE doesn’t view traditions and customs as a hindrance to progress. Rather, it considers the "conflict" between tradition and modernity as artificial and the reconciliation between the two possible and available for anyone who wants to break free from the shackles of false dichotomies.

The successful efforts of the UAE in dealing with this duality are part of its success in providing conclusive answers to questions that have been raised in our region since the 19th century about the position towards heritage, the role of women, the status of religion in society and the view towards the "other" who are religiously, ethnically and culturally different.

The seventh criterion is that the activity should add to the stability of the nation. The UAE, home to more than 200 nationalities, has managed to maintain its stability in a region plagued by religious, sectarian, ethnic and political conflicts and tensions. This has positioned the UAE in the region as a beacon of hope and proof that extremism, terrorism, violence and fanaticism are not a prewritten fate or historical inevitability.

The UAE has confidently pushed forward on its path, guided by the thoughts of the leadership and the will of the people. Some societies have accepted being in the margins of history – trying to conceal their failures by surrendering to backwardness, celebrating bygone glories and blaming "foreign conspiracies" for their inability to progress and succeed. These societies lack initiative and innovation as well as confidence in their abilities and potential.

Meanwhile, other societies, such as the UAE, make history and engrave their unique accomplishments in the story of their nation. Indisputably, the UAE is at the heart of history-making at the regional and international levels and has been blessed with a leadership whose lexicon does not include the term "impossible".

Finally, in writing about my theme, I will look at the luminous Arab experience in which the entire Arab world takes pride and considers to be an example. The Emirati experience provides evidence that Arabs are capable of establishing a strong presence in the arena of international advancement and that they are not a burden on modern societies, as their adversaries sometimes claim.

Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, is a monthly columnist