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UAE and the region: A tale of the best and worst

What is amazing is that the country has managed to keep the prosperity and stability curve going upwards as the region continues to delve into confusion and chaos

Gulf News

The seasoned ambassador recently summed up the mood in the UAE’S capital this way: I have never seen Abu Dhabi full of confidence about its domestic record and its new regional role than it is now.

Yet I have never felt Abu Dhabi to be as concerned about regional turmoil as it did these days. The two Cs of confidence and concern rightly describe the mindset in the nation’s capital today.

The UAE has good reason to feel confident about the tangible achievements of the past 44 years. It has a solid record on social, economic and technological fronts. The UAE is economically prosperous, socially cohesive, technologically advanced and politically stable and safe.

The country seems to be in the best shape of all time. It is years ahead of the rest of the states and almost second to none.

There is actual no third insight that can compete with the UAE on vital indicators of best infrastructure, social and individual freedom, good governance, competitiveness and a host of other international rankings.

If there is one place that is still stable, full of opportunities and ambitions in this grim region, that country is undoubtedly the UAE.

It is the one Arab state that is sitting in a comfortable chair, and is universally considered a safe haven in an otherwise volatile and unsafe region.

Determined

The prospect for the near and medium future is just as bright. The UAE is the one place that has grand plans and knows where it wants to be five years down the road. It is determined to go from good to better and best.

However, while the UAE can confidently claim to be the best case around, the region around it is in total disarray and in the worst shape possible. Never in recent memory has the region been so full of confusion and chaos.

Unlike the prosperous, stable cohesive and advanced UAE, the neighbourhood lacks economic prosperity, political stability and social cohesion.

The neighbourhood around the safe UAE looks awfully grim and full of violence, extremism and sectarianism of the worst kind. It is literally a jungle out there, full of nasty monsters.

The prospect for the future is not looking very bright for other regions either. Iraq will remain politically and socially divided for years to come. The weak central government in Baghdad will get weaker by the day and will be kept tightly under Iran’s belt.

The war in Syria is not likely to end any time soon, if anything, there will be more killing in the days to come before any political solution is found. It is also difficult to see that poor and desperate Yemen is about to be fixed any time soon even if the war is to halt suddenly.

As for Palestine, the daily confrontation is non-stop. Big powers seem to have given up on the longest regional conflict in history primarily because of the right-wing governing coalition in Israel headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is simply not interested in peace.

Finally, Iran is not going to be any less sectarian and interventionist just because it has signed the nuclear deal. A moderate Iran is an illusion promoted by the White House.

It is very difficult to be even remotely optimistic about the future of the region. It has already gone through four major political earthquakes in the last five years. The Arab spring, the rise of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the Yemen war and the Russian military intervention in Syria.

All these events have made the perpetually dangerous region even more dangerous. And despite the billions of dollars spent every year on think-tanks and intelligence assessments, no one has a clue what the next catastrophe is.

Most likely, the region will remain in this worst shape throughout 2016 and beyond.

Preserving stability

Hence, the central challenge facing the UAE, which certainly does not live in a vacuum, is how to preserve its stability, prosperity and cohesiveness while at the same time remain an integral part of a volatile region.

How long can the safe haven sustain its inner safety while being so consumed about the unsafe region.

In many ways, there is nothing fundamentally new in this tale of the best and the worst. For most of the last four decades, the UAE has successfully dealt with this nagging challenge.

It has passed through every single test with distinction and come out strong and more determined.

What is amazing is that the UAE has managed not only to stand its ground but to constantly keep the prosperity and stability curve going upwards even as the curve for the region keeps sliding downwards all the time.

It is now a standard feature that one is going from better to best in its history, whereas the rest more or less are going from bad to worse with no end in sight.

As it celebrate its 44th national day, on December 2, the UAE has the right to feel confident and stand tall above the rest.

It is more mature today than it was a year ago and there is absolutely no reason to doubt that the safe haven will remain safe into 2016 and beyond.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is professor of political science and chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, theacss.org. You can follow him at twitter.com/Abdulkhaleq_UAE.

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