The story goes that when the Crystal Palace was unveiled in Hyde Park in 1851, at the start of the Great Exhibition, covered in glass and glittering in the sun, observers said it resembled something out of the Arabian Nights, much in vogue at the time. Nothing like it had ever been seen in London before.
For five months, the Crystal Palace displayed the wonders of contemporary industry and manufacturing to millions of visitors. Over 100,000 objects were displayed over more than ten miles by more than 15,000 exhibitors. As Queen Victoria wrote in her diary at the time, “every conceivable invention” of the day was on display. Britain was going through a manufacturing revolution and the time was ripe to show the world her achievements and to invite other countries to do the same.
Since then, the world has changed beyond recognition and the nature of innovation has changed too. Today we can “gather” online in real time or experience an art gallery or music concert anywhere in the world from our own homes. We live in a world of unprecedented technological development and we can share in the benefits of innovation wherever we are. However, while the digital world has brought us closer together, it cannot replace the need for meeting face to face. International expos remain as valuable today as they were in the mid-19th century.
The institution of the world exposition is now more than 150 years old and yet it has never been held in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia.
There is an extremely strong field of contenders to host the 2020 Expo, the successor to the Great Exhibition. Sao Paulo, Izmir, Ekaterinburg, Ayutthaya and Dubai are all extraordinary cities which offer something unique to the world. But to my mind, one bid stands out. Today, I announced in our parliament that the United Kingdom will be backing Dubai as the host of the 2020 Expo.
This is for three principal reasons:
The first is that just as it was London’s moment to host the Great Exhibition in 1851, so it is Dubai’s moment today to show its achievements to the world. In the last 50 years, Dubai has undergone a remarkable transformation from a small trading, fishing and pearling town to one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and a global centre for transport, tourism and trade. The inspired step to dredge the creek has reaped tremendous benefits and now hosts the spectacular terminals of Jebel Ali and Dubai Airport.
Dubai is not only a city of Arabia, but of the world, a global hub where cultures, ideas and people from around the planet meet and where more than 200 nationalities live and work. Because London has been a global city for hundreds of years, in Britain we can recognise a kindred spirit.
Drive through Dubai and you see stunning architecture and infrastructure serving Emirati, Indian, African, European and Asian residents and visitors, who use a stylish metro, designed by one British company and operated by another.
Visit Dubai, along with almost one million other Britons a year, and speak to its residents and you will hear Arabic, Urdu, Malayalam, Somali, Tagalog, Russian and of course the international language of English.
Under the leadership of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the emirate has blazed a trail of ideas and embarked on a vision which influenced the wider region and beyond. Dubai does not rest on its laurels, but continues to set itself bold targets to be the best and to achieve this in collaboration with its diverse community. Dubai thinks big. The 100,000 or so Britons who call Dubai home are proud contributors to Dubai’s extraordinary development and have bought into the Dubai vision and to a “can-do” culture.
Second, holding the 2020 Expo in Dubai will remind the world that the Middle East is a region of dynamism, innovation and human potential, not the conflict and insecurity for which it is often known. What better place to illuminate the creativity, energy and potential of the region than in Dubai. It can also inspire people to believe they can change their own countries for the he better with vision, conviction and hard work.
Third, if Dubai were to host such an event, it would not be only about the Middle East, but the dynamic societies and economies in Africa and Asia as well — just a short flight away.
So the United Kingdom will be backing Dubai to host the 2020 Expo because it deserves the opportunity to share its achievements with the world and because it would be a fantastic demonstration of the dynamism and potential of the region. I wish its people every success in the bid and beyond.