As the executive committee of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) that oversees the world fairs has agreed to a proposal to postpone Expo 2020 Dubai we can now start working on making what would have been the greatest show on Earth even greater. BIE took the right decision to unanimously agree to Dubai’s recommendation for the delay.
Although so much work has been put to hold the event next fall the truth is there were simply far too many obstacles caused by the ongoing global pandemic to do so.
Although Expo Dubai’s main theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future remains relevant perhaps in a world emerging from a global pandemic its sub-themes of “Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity” will feature more prominently since these are the very challenges that the new world will be grappling with
The casualty toll continues to mount although there are positive signs emerging of it slowing down. Furthermore, global travel has been disrupted and physical distancing measures would have made it all but impossible to bring together millions of people into the many pavilions that are being constructed.
The silver lining
There are however silver linings. Around the world the greatest minds are working diligently to find a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 although roll out may take some time.
Physical distancing measures said to last for anywhere from a few weeks to 18 months will gradually be lifted. Human beings will, as they have done countless times, will once again triumph in the face of the greatest odds.
This virus will be beaten. The world will rejoice. Humanity will come together and meet and greet in person once again. Expo will take place and Dubai will be there welcoming guests as it always has. Moreover we must keep in mind that this delay is not without precedent.
Delay in original plan
The 1929 Barcelona International Exposition was originally slated to be held in 1917 but the events of the Great War delayed the original plans. This delay will also give a chance for the fifty countries or so that have not made official commitments to set up pavilions to do so now.
We can look back and draw inspiration here from Expo 1958 Brussels that was held under the theme “Progress and Mankind” allowing the world to come together and heal after the devastation of the Second World War.
Back then the world had yet to come to terms with the unfathomable number of human lives that were lost and the economic ruin inflicted upon most countries. And yet it was a time of hope and renewal, when newly decolonised countries sat face to face as equals with their once occupying powers and a new post War reality set in.
Despite, or perhaps especially at a difficult time like this it has become evident that Dubai’s role is indispensable to the region and the world. Its International Humanitarian City, inaugurated back in 2003, today hosts nine United Nations bodies and coordinates not only the UAE’s help of over 260 tonnes of medical and food aid to 24 countries but is a central node for the global response to the pandemic in the region and beyond.
Dubai, ever resilient and constantly adapting, will do it again. It has done it before. In September 2003 Dubai held the first global meeting after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that split the world into camps.
That US led invasion not only pitted traditional Cold War opponents against one another but also saw close allies, France and the US, publicly scold each other. French hotels removed US flags and US traders threatened to boycott French products (remember Freedom Fries?).
Safe and secure environment
In that tense atmosphere Dubai received 183 members of both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank becoming the first Arab country to do so. It provided a safe and secure environment for the 18,600 official delegates and journalists who attended the meetings.
The 2003 meetings in Dubai set the stage for debt relief and for the recognition of greater equality between the voices of developed and developing countries. According to a senior official then one of the main strategic targets in the lead to the meetings was for the organisers to “deal with the event as a country, rather than simply the emirate of Dubai alone.”
That heightened level of preparedness warranted Dubai high praise from attendees, a feat it will no doubt repeat when it hosts the Expo next year.
The importance of the Expo is far greater than an event to exhibit the latest technologies and soft power initiatives. Expo now will have the gargantuan task of bringing human beings back together in a celebration of humanity.
Although Expo Dubai’s main theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future remains relevant perhaps in a world emerging from a global pandemic its sub-themes of “Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity” will feature more prominently since these are the very challenges that the new world will be grappling with.
This time around it won’t be only the UAE, or the Arab Gulf States, or even the wider Arab World rooting for the success of the Dubai Expo.
All countries will look to it as an indicator that the worst of the current pandemic is over and, as was the case with the post War Expo Brussels, that the world can start a process of healing and recovery.
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a UAE-based writer