My recent trip to Abu Dhabi on the occasion of the 43rd founding anniversary of the United Arab Emirates started off on the wrong foot. For one reason or another, I missed my 12:15 early Sunday morning flight to Abu Dhabi on November 23rd. It was too late when I realized that I should have gone to the airport three hours before the flight on Saturday for the early Sunday flight.
It was Sunday or a few hours before the next flight to UAE at 12:15 early Monday and I was getting panicky after realizing that I needed to rebook my flight to catch the opening of the conference in Abu Dhabi. I decided to call a member of the National Media Council to recount my predicament. I was finally referred to a Filipina, Geny dela Fuente, who did an excellent job of rebooking me for the next available flight to UAE.
All’s well that ends well, or so I thought. I was preparing myself for the first gruelling day of the conference. On the opening day, members of the foreign delegations were to meet with UAE’s Masbar President who is in charge of the solar power company in the UAE. I would also miss that important engagement.
Etihad, the official carrier of UAE, was supposed to touch down at Abu Dhabi at 6:30 a.m. Monday, in time for the 9 a.m. opening of the conference. Guess what? The plane couldn’t land at the Abu Dhabi airport. It was zero visibility. The pilot attempted several times to look for a window but no luck. Our plane encircled the Abu Dhabi airport several times as he waited patiently for the fog to clear.
Our plane was finally diverted to Dubai, less than an hour away by air from Abu Dhabi where we would stay only for hours, though our pilot had tried to assure us maybe it would be a few minutes only. The few minutes took us twelve hours. We stayed on the tarmac for ten unexplained hours until finally we were allowed to disembark with the specific instruction to confine ourselves at the assigned terminal.
We spent another two hours at the Dubai terminal before we were asked to board our plane. And finally, off we flew to Abu Dhabi arriving there around 7:30 p.m.
I was totally exasperated and ready to hit the sack after that enervating 12-hour wait at the Dubai airport. But my torments quickly vanished and my tired body was almost immediately soothed by the warm welcome of a smiling, pleasant looking Emirati, a member of the UAE’s National Media Council who, like me, had to wait patiently for more than twelve hours. He quickly led me to a car waiting some meters away from the airport’s exit. He introduced himself and gracefully expressed an apology for my delayed arrival. I was driven to St. Regis Hotel, the site of the three-day conference.
The topics discussed during the event were very timely and relevant. They showcased UAE’s drive to modernization, democratization, youth and women empowerment and its fight against extremism and terrorism.
UAE is home to some 700,000 Filipino workers— professionals, skilled workers and domestic helpers. It has a tolerant policy towards its foreign workers. Trade and commerce is brisk. Business is booming. Opportunities are aplenty. Infrastructure is world-class. The roads that connect the seven Emirates and the surrounding Arab countries are a model for excellent planning and forward looking policies. Its newly opened Metro Rail system that connects Abu Dhabi to Dubai was designed by the French. UAE officials plan to expand its services to cover other Emirates, according to Dr. Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Public Works. It was clean and efficient.
Countless foreign workers look up to United Arab Emirates for their deliverance from want. They see it as their chance to give their families and loved ones education, food and a roof over their heads. That’s why many of our countrymen have been staying there for quite a number of their productive years. To them, UAE is home to their dreams and aspirations for their children and their loved ones. Not surprisingly, our Filipino workers there repay the kindness of their employers with perseverance, dedication and loyalty.
We were given a tour on its Metro Tram. As it moved slowly, we couldn’t help noticing the rows upon rows of expensive, high rise condominiums that lined the river banks with equally an expensive endless stretch of yachts berthed in front of the expensive homes, a testament to the Emiratis’ wealth and high living standards.
Dr. Abdullah explained that the ultimate objective of the “Unity MetroRail,” as he termed it, is to service other Gulf States. He said that the UAE officials benchmarked the quality of their MetroRail with that of the French. “Our leaders have high expectations from us,” he added.
He said that their railway system is the first of its kind in the world when it comes to quality. It first opened in Dubai to link the neighboring areas in the eastern zone. “The Metro Tram was designed to decongest traffic,” Dr. Abdullah said, “and to give the commuters an alternative mode of transportation.”
He also announced the planned construction of more roads and highways, “so that people can live comfortably in places where they were born and live.”
“The quality of our roads is consistent from end-to-end,” Dr. Abdullah proudly emphasized.
Towards the end of his presentation, he revealed that UAE sent $10 million to the Philippines for the reconstruction of schools and houses in the Yolanda typhoon stricken areas.
Dr. Abdullah said that the UAE has embraced “Knowledge, technology and infrastructure development” but that in making progress, his country’s leadership is also concerned with the sustainability of protecting the environment. “Every five square kilometer, there’s a project,” he proudly proclaimed.
The UAE leadership’s concern for the plight of poor citizens is quite evident. Beyond the rows of multi-million dollar condominiums, there are housing units as well for the average and poor Emiratis. They are provided socialized housing by the government.
Noteworthy was how UAE does its housing projects. According to Dr. Abdullah, careful planning goes into each and every project. They don’t just build houses, he said, they build communities. Each housing compound, he said, can accommodate from 200 to 300 persons. For example, he said, every center has its own school, grocery, market, ample supply of clean water, a lush green field and other support amenities. The government spends some $3 billion, he said, for each housing center. “We look at holistic, comprehensive solutions to our (housing) needs and we are ranked 3rd in infrastructure in the world,” he said.
Dr. Abdullah also announced that UAE is modernizing its maritime industry. He said that it is a good balance with the land transportation system.
Highly educated Emirati women
The Emirati women are articulate and highly educated. Compared to their counterparts in other Arab states, they are liberated; empowered. They play a central role in government and take pride in their contribution to their country’s development.
Women empowerment, according to Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, First Deputy Speaker of the Federal National Council and member of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, has tremendous impact on UAE. “It raised women’s awareness (of their obligations and rights) and enhanced their opportunities,” she said.
“There are more women now participating in Parliamentary elections. There is no women quota in the UAE parliament,” she noted. “There’s equal opportunity for all.” She said that the UAE Constitution provides empowerment for both men and women and that their national leaders look after the welfare of their people with care and compassion. “One of the main objectives is to provide knowledge to the people,” Dr. Amal emphasized.
She said that the leadership of UAE is engaged in fighting extremism and terrorism. She expressed optimism that they can fight the destructive forces by “Unity in vision, of people and of achievements.”
She recounted her personal experience when she first run for the Parliament. “There were 100 candidates vying for four seats in Dubai.” Politics, she said, changed the future of her daughter when she first won as a member of the Parliament in December 2006. Like candidates in other countries, she too had to publicly campaign for votes.
Dr. Amal considers running for public office a public duty. She takes pride in her own achievements while serving in the Parliament. She said that some of the legislations that she helped craft contributed in achieving stability, security and peace in UAE.
In her presentation, Dr. Amal said, “Youth are not only the future, they are the present.” She said that awareness is raised through schools which elect their own version of Parliaments. “We encourage the youth to practice healthy political discussions,” she added.
Threats on the horizon
But as the saying goes, “The other side of light is darkness.” There is on the horizon a threat not only to UAE but to the region and the world as well. This was the warning aired during the conference by His Excellency, Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
In his speech, Dr. Gargash said that they view the Arab-Israel conflict with deep concern. He said that the solution to the conflict is the creation of a 2-state structure in the area contested between the Palestinians and Israelis but that the latter had rejected it. He said that by its rejection of the 2-State solution, Israel is undermining the efforts of the Arab moderates for a peaceful resolution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
He also accused Israel of breaking the fragile peace in Jerusalem and of leading the region into a “serious religious war by threatening to choke the Holy City and expanding its control over it and the Western Region.”
He revealed that there are 84 terrorist groups operating in the region and that there are 3 threats against the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Foreign Affairs Minister criticized Israel leaders for concerning themselves more at getting themselves elected into office rather than displaying political will in unlocking the debilitating status quo which has cost countless lives of innocent victims.
Dr. Gargash also fears that religious conflict might explode soon. There are 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria, he said. “The war in Syria shows the lack of interest of other countries [to help resolve the conflict],” he noted.
Dr. Gargash was not optimistic. He doesn’t see an immediate end in the war in Syria. He sees a gloomy future for Syria and its further dismemberment. He links extremism with terrorism.
In his statement during the conference, the Foreign Affairs Minister holds the international community responsible for the spread of Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq even as he noted that a similar situation may occur in Libya which he said has become a sanctuary for extremism and terrorism that embrace the Muslim Brotherhood ideology.
He said that the “danger posed by the Brotherhood still looms large in a number of Arab countries, calling for concerted action to address it.”
In his address to the foreign delegates, Dr. Gargash said UAE “has harnessed its oil wealth since it was founded 43 years ago to build a state of law, justice, equality and a provision for decent living to its citizens and expatriates alike due to prudent leadership.”
The conference ended with a high note of optimism and of hope for a better world to live in.
Harmony among faiths
The other thing that impresses me most was the fact that Muslims, Christians and other faiths live alongside each other harmoniously. There is not a trace of bias towards non-Arabs. This cultural strand, to my mind, is the single most important factor for UAE’s historic march to progress. It has zoomed to become one of the most highly respected countries not only in the Arab world but also in the world today. UAE is a case study for development.
United Arab Emirates was the fruition of a dream of its visionary founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi. It is comprised of seven emirates namely: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain, Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah. It has a population of eight million.
Following his ascension to the throne on August 6, 1966, Sheikh Zayed planted the seed that blossomed into a union of seven, small, independent fiefdoms ruled separately by their respective sheikhs. Sheikh Zayed must be a firm believer of the saying that “there is strength in numbers.”
Fearful of a political vacuum that could leave his kingdom unprotected from foreign interventions after Britain had announced the termination of its treaties providing protection for the Trucial States and its decision to withdraw from the Gulf region by the end of 1971, Sheikh Zayed quickly moved to consolidate the other small states into a union.
Together with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, the two rulers moved to federate the five other independent Arab states. They had also invited Bahrain and Qatar to join the union to make it stronger. “The federation would form as the nucleus of Arab unity that will defend their oil-rich countries from their more aggressive and powerful neighbors,” to quote an article from Google.
The formation of the United Arab Emirates was formally declared on December 2, 1971. Ras al Kaimah joined the union on February 10, 1972 thereby completing the federation of the former seven Trucial States which was to become what is now called the United Arab Emirates.
The policy decision by its national leaders to wean away from oil as its major source of revenue was a wise and forward looking move. It has paid off. Now oil is only 30 percent of its exports. Non-oil sectors account for some 69 percent of exports. UAE’s projected exports for this year including oil and non-oil, according to a government paper, amount roughly to $381 billion.
Despite being one of the world’s major oil producers, UAE has embraced the latest energy technology in its drive to progress. It has diversified its sources of energy. It has embarked on a massive development of alternative fuel. In the pipeline, according to the official information, is the construction of nuclear power plants alongside solar power to feed their country’s growing demand for energy.
I agree completely with Dr. Gargash. Dark clouds hang over our heads. Unless we come together as one, the world as we know it will be ruled by self-proclaimed messiahs who are bent to destroy civilization and herd us all back to that period in time where reason did not exist and where only the strong and the fittest ruled.
Today, 43 years after its foundation, the United Arab Emirates stands heads and shoulders with the world’s most advanced countries. Its policy of openness, religious tolerance, people empowerment and democratization has led to its unprecedented progress and development.
UAE’s present leaders, His Royal Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, President and ruler of Abu Dhabi, and His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai, would make the Founding Fathers of what is now known as the United Arab Emirates proud.
Together, Sheikh Nahyan and Sheikh Maktoum toiled to continue the vision of their forefathers in bringing peace and prosperity to their country and people and the region as well.