(Special Feature By: Ex Ambassador Javed Malik | Editor-in-Chief)
For those of us living in the UAE, the month of December has always been special. It is special because with the advent of this month everyone, nationals and residents alike, is in a festive and celebratory mood to welcome the national day of a country that has, in a short span of 42 years, emerged as one of the most developed cosmopolitan societies in the modern world.
The UAE is in fact a model of progress, development and human cooperation that is the result of the innovative policies of its dynamic leaders. These policies have created an enabling environment that made it possible for the UAE nationals and residents from different countries to evolve a positive partnership through which they can collectively contribute towards the success story of this nation. The UAE is perhaps the only country in the world regarded as ‘home’ by people from more than 200 nationalities. They live side by side with the warm and hospitable UAE nationals and add colour to the country’s vibrant social fabric.
As we celebrate the progress and prosperity of the UAE, it seems almost unbelievable that just 42 years ago the world knew this region merely as a vast desert area called the Trucial Coast. It comprised of small states led by their own individual rulers, and known largely for pearl diving, fishing and date farming. Camels were at the heart of the region’s economy as they provided a means of transport. Even back then, the people of the Trucial states were known for their hospitality and warmth, and this tradition continues to remain a part of the Emirati society even today.
So, how did this relatively less known part of the world transform into one of the most talked about places on the planet in just 42 years? Well, it is all about leadership, and having the right leaders who lead with vision and commitment. The UAE was blessed with perhaps one of the most charismatic leaders in modern times in the shape of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who will always be remembered for his outstanding contributions to this nation. Together with the dynamic and visionary leader Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, they laid the foundations of what we refer to as “the Spirit of the Union”.
As an enigmatic leader with vision and charisma, Shaikh Zayed could visualise the future. He understood that the future progress of this region and its people lied in unity. Therefore, with his charismatic personality he was able to inspire people from all the seven emirates and unite under a single flag. On December 2, 1971, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al Quwain, Fujairah and Ajman joined together to form the UAE. The following year, Ras Al Khaimah also joined. Upon its formation in 1971, Shaikh Zayed was elected as the President of the Federation, and Shaikh Rashid became the Vice-President and Prime Minister. This is how the UAE started its journey towards greatness.
Under the visionary leadership of Shaikh Zayed, the UAE initiated a large-scale development programme to build state-of-the-art infrastructure. Schools, hospitals, roads and housing projects, airports, and seaports were built across the country so that people in all emirates can benefit from the country’s resources. Shaikh Zayed attached great significance to education and built first class educational institutions providing quality education and made knowledge as one of the focus areas of this growing economy. He was also a true believer in giving women an important role in nation building and encouraged women to study, work and engage in business. This is the reason why you see Emirati women playing an active role in education, health services, banking and holding key government positions. Shaikh Zayed also launched extensive economic reforms that opened the doors for business, trade and commerce to flourish and strengthen the nation’s economy.
Similarly, Shaikh Rashid, as the first Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE laid the foundations to position it as an international hub for business and trade so that the country can take advantage of its geostrategic location and natural resources. He welcomed people with expertise from different parts of the world. Like a true leader Shaikh Rashid led from the front, his vision, his strategy and his ability to inspire people were greatly admired by those who met him. He was often seen personally visiting various development projects to monitor its progress and remained in close contact with his people who were welcomed at his Majlis. This provided everyone with an opportunity to share their thoughts with the leader they admired and held in high esteem.
Today, The President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, carry forward the vision of their forefathers with renewed energy and commitment and have taken the UAE to greater heights with their wisdom and foresight. A key role has been played by General Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Under their leadership, the UAE has emerged as one of the most developed economies, having the world’s 7th largest reserves of oil and natural gas. It ranks high on the Human Development Index and regarded as a high-income, progressively developing economy by international institutions. The skyline of Dubai boasts the tallest buildings in the world that are marvels of architectural design, in addition to the largest man-made island, the Palm, which continues to amaze millions of visitors that travel through one of the world’s busiest airports. Similarly, the Saadiyat Island, Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi together with the majestic Emirates Palace are glowing tributes to the journey of progress and prosperity that started in 1971.
In its journey towards greatness, the UAE has also shown to the world how people from different backgrounds can work together positively if given the right environment and opportunities. Today, the UAE stands tall as a shining example of human cooperation. It is a “global village” that is home to people more than 200 nationalities, all welcomed without any discrimination. Festivals and social activities are occasions that unite people in the UAE and not divide them. Here, Eid, Christmas, New Year or Diwali are celebrated with equal fervour, and it doesn’t matter if you speak Arabic, English, Urdu or Tagalog, everyone feels equally at home in the UAE.
So therefore, as our Emirati brothers and sisters celebrate their 42nd National Day, they are joined by millions of people from different cultures, faiths and traditions to pay tribute to the founding fathers of the UAE and also appreciate the dynamic leadership of Shaikh Khalifa and Shaikh Mohammed.
Javed Malik is a former Ambassador. He is the President of The Diplomat Business Club & Publisher of The Diplomat Magazine based in London & Dubai. He can be reached on JavedMalikOffice@gmail.com and Twitter @JavedMalik