As we enter another year, the feedback that has been most noticeable has been to “dial up” the criticism and skepticism regarding everything that is going on. In point of fact, being critical has become fashionable.
Why am I not critical is the most often asked question? Why is it that I feel the need to gloss over every shortcoming? Finally, why is it that any endeavor to point out the other side is perceived as being “dishonest”?
I have the following responses, statements that I have mentioned repeatedly both privately and publicly many times. Dubai is an integrated society with the rest of the world, and it engages with the world on its own terms in many ways. But in a context where it is not, nor has it ever been, isolated in any sense.
When people talk about criticism, they often fail to mention that there has been a healthy debate that has been going on (in the public domain) about all kinds of issues - from de-regularization of the telecom industry to include WhatsApp, Facetime and Skype video calls to ownership regulations in specific sectors like ecommerce, and on immigration and its impact on our culture.
Moreover, in this era of technology, there is greater debate going on in the micro-structure of our society via WhatsApp messages. It becomes laughable to therefore conclude that Dubai is not a free society in most definitions.
In the “gaslighting” atmosphere of today, the only conversations worth having appear to be the ones where criticism is being levied. Therefore, when there appears to be a position taken that is in defence of current policies, it is automatically dismissed or belittled. Even a surface level analysis clearly reveals this stance to be ludicrous.
Today, the brave thing to do is to continue to dream, to be on the side of optimism, despite the many monsters that have been unleashed in the political and economic atmosphere. When we build institutions, the fundamental idea behind this is to implement our best selves at our best moments, such that these can scale up and propel a basis for sustained growth.
This is not to say that we get it right all of the time; where we make mistakes, the idea then is to upgrade and create a feedback loop that is constantly accelerating. This acceleration is mandatory, because only then can Dubai and the UAE continue its ascent.
In a world increasingly being dominated by hate speech and rising nationalism, we have to show the ability - as we have historically - that an inclusive framework of tolerance can co-exist with the advantages of patriotism. Where the values of economic freedom can exist without the excesses of inequality.
We seek to engage the world on our terms, but these terms are not dogmatic. Rather they are built on a foundation of optimism and a faith that clearly proclaims the advantages of a pluralistic society. These values are challenged periodically, and in many cases, have to be tempered.
Along the way, we sometimes stumble and fall, but as long as the narrative does not change, the fires of optimism will continue to propel our society higher.
As humans, we like to think of everything as stories. Our societies and our markets run on these narratives. Many times, the narratives become untenable, and it is at these times that there are rising levels of cynicism getting expressed.
These narratives often become toxic. We have more “fake news” than real reporting with the consequence that everything is being questioned. However, the answer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but rather a constant recalibration and a convergence to our underlying goals.
This may come across as Panglossian, but in the final analysis, whatever the discipline, every new year brings in a new dawn of hope and optimism.
Let the fires of optimism burn bright, for that is the fuel that propels us towards our goals. In an increasingly balkanized world, despite the shortcomings that we may have, our call now, more than at any point in the past, is to be that shining city atop the hill.
Nasser Malalla Ghanem is Senior Partner at NM Associates, which has a joint venture with GCP.