One nation, one vision

In this introduction to our special report on the United Arab Emirates’ 40th anniversary, UAE Minister of State HE Reem Al Hashimy reflects on the milestones that have made the United Arab Emirates the nation that it is, and considers the country’s future potential in light of its dynamic young population

As the United Arab Emirates comes together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UAE, the prophetic words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, serve to remind us that this is just the beginning. “In the race for excellence,” he said, “there is no finishing line.”

As I reflect on the numerous social and economic milestones of the past four decades, I am filled with humility and pride, and am inspired by the optimism and determination of UAE nationals and expatriates to strive further still as the country enters its 41st year.

Our great nation would of course be incomplete without the many nationalities that have helped weave its rich cultural tapestry over the past 40 years

Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State

From its humble origins in 1971 to the thriving cosmopolitan areas we see before us today, the UAE has expanded at an exponential rate to its current population of more than 8.26 million, with 65 per cent growth having occurred in the past four years alone.

Though our nation’s development has been swift, some things have remained constant from the start, namely the principles upon which the country was founded, a steadfast belief in the creation of excellence and an openness to the rest of the world. Tied closely to that is the notion of global citizenry, which I feel deeply honored to play a part in promoting through my domestic and foreign diplomatic duties.

As we embark upon this new era, Emiratis bear both the responsibility and privilege of being citizens expected – and empowered – to exceed the wishes of the founding fathers and never allow for ambition to wane or complacency to take hold. We are the sole custodians of their aspirations and must continue to build upon the foundations they first laid in place some 40 years ago.

Education is at the heart of our nation’s continued quest for excellence as we transition to a knowledge economy. It is the primary building block for the next generation’s development and the best possible means of nurturing the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

It was the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan [the UAE’s first president] who said: “Youth is the real wealth of the nation”. It is indeed a source of pride that the UAE today is the regional higher educational hub with three federal universities, more than 70 Ministry-accredited institutions and over 120,000 students currently enrolled.

I’m inspired by the talent pool around me and feel privileged that my work allows me to interact on a regular basis with the UAE’s burgeoning artists, gifted writers, budding entrepreneurs and future diplomats. I am secure in the knowledge that the next generation of Emirati graduates is responsible, creative and motivated in equal measure, with an overriding commitment to public service and giving back to the country that helped mold them.

My heartfelt wish is for these students to realize their full potential and make successful forays in their chosen fields, taking full advantage of the breadth of opportunities available to them, the diversity of which has never been greater in our nation’s brief history.

Dubai itself exemplifies the ethos of our quest for excellence, having nurtured national champions such as Emirates Airline, Jumeirah Group, Dubai Duty Free and Emaar to compete at the highest level on the world stage. And Dubai Ports World’s first-class infrastructure and daily operations at over 60 terminals across six continents has created an invaluable knowledge sharing capability in under two decades. These home-grown industry titans not only afford today’s youth with unparalleled regional employment opportunities, but bear testament to the city’s meteoric rise as this millennium’s first new global city – and the first in the Arab world – in a time-scale that inspired awe around the world and unprecedented praise.

Dubai does not stand in isolation in terms of its commercial successes. Entities like the Abu Dhabi investment vehicle Mubadala is a great source of national pride. Equally, our country’s commitment to renewable energy and in particular the world’s first carbon-neutral city of Masdar has been heralded at home and abroad since its inception in 2006. Marking yet another benchmark for the nation, in 2009 Abu Dhabi was awarded the global headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs said: “This is a great achievement for the United Arab Emirates,” adding, “It was very important for us to offer IRENA a value proposition that would help the agency achieve its goals by engaging with developing and developed nations alike.”

Not to be overlooked as we chart the UAE’s progress are the magnificent achievements within the country’s services sector and our adherence to international best practice standards within the fields of finance and tourism. We as a nation are blessed by geography, perfectly positioned between East and West, allowing us to take full advantage of nearly US$4.1 trillion worth of GDP and US$2.2 trillion of trade.

Our location, compounded by our reputation for good governance and transparency, has seen the UAE move up two places in the World Bank’s annual global Doing Business report this year. Furthermore, the UAE ranks first for human development in the Arab World in the UNDP index.

The UAE’s growth and development has also been recognized by the World Economic Forum in its latest Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index for the MENA region. Similarly, the respected body positions the UAE as the regional frontrunner in leveraging ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) for increased diversification and competitiveness.

Our great nation has benefited dramatically from the many nationalities that have helped weave its rich cultural tapestry over the past 40 years – with Dubai alone now home to people from more than 200 countries. Having contributed to our society for centuries before the country’s inception, expatriates will forever remain an important part of our past and play a vital role in our future.

The contribution expatriates have also made towards establishing and developing our nation’s many small and medium-sized enterprises, and the UAE government, remain pivotal in making the UAE a highly accessible place to conduct business for decades to come.

I am touched by the loyalty of foreigners who have long called the UAE home, and buoyed by the conviction of those who have recently relocated to our shores, sharing our belief that the coming decades will see the country’s economy continue on an upward trajectory, giving Emiratis and expats alike the chance to chase their dreams.

The indicators are positive, as supported by the International Monetary Fund, which forecasts 3.5 per cent growth in the UAE this year driven by both oil and non-oil industries, followed by even higher GDP in 2012.

As we look to the future, another significant milestone for our young nation will come in ten years’ time when the culmination of five decades’ work will manifest to meet the goals set out by our esteemed leaders in Vision 2021. Under this banner and until that time, all seven emirates will continue to be united in the purpose of bolstering our competitive economy and ensuring a safe environment that nurtures sustainable industries for future generations. The following decade will mark the execution of Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030 with its goals of economic diversification, improved education, greater entrepreneurism and innovation.

And we must remain focused on the 2015 Millennium Development Goals outlined by the United Nations, to which the UAE has an unwavering commitment to reach social and economic targets defined by the UN’s global membership. In recent years, huge strides have been made in diversification of income sources, increased private sector activity, human resource development and technology transfer. Equally important is the UAE’s commitment to helping achieve all UN Millennium Development Goals around the world. Our foreign aid and development is directed at elevating universal access to quality primary education and gender parity while adding strategic value to ensure sustainable results.

Policies and strategies have also been adopted at the federal level to strengthen and promote the empowerment of women, resulting in the United Arab Emirates ranking first for gender parity in the Arab world (WEF). From bursaries and scholarships to maternal services, vocational training and leadership development, it is essential that young Emirati women fully embrace the opportunities afforded them.

We need look no further for inspiration than to Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who, in line with her husband’s vision of a modern society based upon Arab and Islamic traditions, worked tirelessly to promote the role of women. Fondly referred to as the ‘Mother of the Nation’ Sheikha Fatima established the General Women’s Union in the 1970s and paved the way for many women. Her Highness once said: “Development in its true sense is the raising and progress of community through production and fair distribution. In the Emirates, we are proud that this has been achieved through well guaranteed equity in the favour of women.”

As we stand poised to take the country forward through its next decade and towards its centenary, consider our global standing at this auspicious time. The UAE, as never before, stands shoulder to shoulder with developed nations in the most respected political and economic arenas, from the United Nations General Assembly to the 2011 G20 summit, from the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie to the IMF. We pride ourselves in being a respected, moderate, progressive voice in the region and will never shy from open and honest engagement with our international peers.

Moreover, prestigious events like the Forbes Global CEO Conference being hosted in Dubai next year bear witness to our global advance as an emerging market on the fast track to becoming a developed one.

Finally, as we continue to enjoy the many benefits that living and working in the UAE afford us, we as individuals must not forget our social responsibility to others and our moral duty to do all that we can to assist others. The government of the UAE upholds these values, and organizations such as Dubai Cares and the Khalifa Foundation will continue to serve as the nexus for our country’s charitable and humanitarian endeavors.

This desire to help others naturally extends beyond our borders and under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the UAE has forged long and lasting partnerships with developing nations around the world. In tackling issues of famine, medical emergencies, piracy or educational infrastructure, we as a nation are proud to share our expertise, manpower and resources for the greater good. As global citizens, we cannot afford to take a myopic view of the world. The UAE will continue to work with allies near and far with the collective objective of improving people’s daily existence, beyond all political and economic agendas.

And so, in the spirit of inclusion, I hope you will join us to mark this momentous 40th UAE National Day.

We herald the dawn of the UAE’s most prosperous period of growth and development as we continue along the honorable path set out by our forefathers.

One nation, one vision – extending our unwavering commitment to respecting the traditions and lessons of the past, while eagerly embracing the future.