More than 1,200 years ago, while Europe was in its Dark Ages, the Muslim world was ruled by a dynasty of Islamic leaders who embraced free thought and creativity from all corners of the globe.
Never before had history witnessed such cultural openness and symbiosis as during the reign of the Abbasid Caliphs. They built the world’s first university, named it Bayt Al Hikma (House of Wisdom) and filled its library with the finest cultural, scientific and literary creations known to mankind.
As early as the 9th Century, under the Caliph Al Mamoun, Baghdad had become the world’s capital of science and culture. The city was renowned for embracing all races and religions.
It became a magnet for intellectuals, free thinkers and innovators from East and West. Its people developed a passion for gathering together all of the fruits of mankind’s quest for happiness. This celebration of human creativity flourished for more than five centuries and set the stage for the European Renaissance.
Looking at the Middle East and its challenges today, it is tempting to think back to that golden age of Islamic culture with wistful nostalgia for a faraway time. But Al Mamoun’s vision is more than ancient history. It is also a solution for the present and the future — a model that we are actively rebuilding, right now.
My own country — the United Arab Emirates — stands where it stands today because since our inception, we have given the utmost priority to the human mind. Our land has always been a safe harbour for great thinkers. We have welcomed innovative minds and given them the freedom to create.
Advanced research facilities
By working together, thousands of experts and specialists from the UAE and around the world have built in Dubai the world’s tallest skyscraper, the largest man-made islands, the largest automated Metro network and the third largest airline in the world.
In our capital Abu Dhabi, they have built the world’s largest carbon-free city, complete with advanced research facilities for renewable energy. Great artistic and cultural minds are collaborating to build a vast cultural and artistic city complete with the greatest international museums.
We have been building on an idea that is more than 1,000 years old. Today, we want to extend this vision to an international level. We want to host Expo 2020 — a global event in which the cultures, innovations and creations of the world will meet in Dubai.
We want to welcome more than 25 million people during six months, so they can see the best of what the human mind can achieve across cultures and races. We want to host the greatest minds in the world to share innovative solutions for global challenges that cannot be dealt with in isolation.
Expo 2020 will bring together expert thinkers to share inventive ways to deal with pressing issues such as energy and water. Great minds will also come together to share smart solutions for transportation, sustainability and global economic stability.
When we proposed to host the world’s biggest cultural event, we promised to astonish the world. Today, we pledge to breathe life into our slogan: We will bring minds together for a better future. We proposed to host this international event in 2020 to deliver three important messages:
Our first message is to tell the world that the Middle East is not a region of conflict, war and tension. Its history and geography prove that this is a region where cultures, civilisations and innovation can meet and flourish. Initiatives such as Expo 2020 are an opportunity to restore this role by playing host to the world, communicating positively and openly with its diverse cultures, accepting and embracing ideas and interacting with all people.
We are at the heart of the world. Two thirds of the world’s population lives less than eight hours away. We are destined to be a meeting point for mankind and a melting pot for cultures and civilisations that will provide humanity with amazing innovations and creations.
Uniting minds and borders
Our second message is to the people of our region who are tired of conflict and tension. We tell them that we have a culture, a religion and a language in common: If communication among different cultures can bring about a better future, imagine what it could do for us with all our commonalities.
We have been trying for more than six decades to communicate and interact positively within our region. We endeavour to unite minds and then borders; to touch together our hearts before touching on economic interests and to unify our collective will before unifying our currencies.
We have always wanted to establish connections, real connections, to build a better future for the people of our region and its youth in particular. It is time for our region to restore its role in history and civilisation. Our history and our culture have destined us for greatness and our future should showcase this destiny.
Our last message is to the governments representing the 166 countries that will vote on November 2013 to choose the winning host country for Expo 2020. We tell them that our region deserves the chance to organise this great world exhibition, that our country is ready to host it and that we are committed to staging the best Expo in history.
We are thankful to the countries that announced their support to us; and to the people of the world our message is that of love and peace. Our slogan will always be that connecting minds creates a better future.
It is a slogan of which Caliph Al Mamoun would have been proud.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid
Al Maktoum is Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.