- Tolerance is the strongest aspect of UAE's soft power, and a culture of tolerance is deeply rooted in its society.
- It has made the UAE a favourite destination for tourists and residents.
- The UAE’s official position calls for others to promote tolerance and fight extremism, terrorism, violence and hate speech.
- The policies criminalise any action that compromises the culture of tolerance, or any attempt to spread hate speech and extremism.
There is a close correlation between the concepts of tolerance and soft power, with its diverse definitions. The term soft power, coined by the US intellectual Joseph Nye in the early 1990s, describes a state’s ability to influence the behaviour of others through attraction and persuasion, rather than coercion. This occurs when a country possesses characteristics and values that see it become a model to be emulated. There is no doubt that tolerance is one of the greatest values that elevates the status of societies and nations, enhancing their soft power. Places where tolerance, harmony, cooperation and acceptance prevail, and where all forms of violence, extremism and hatred are rejected, are viewed with admiration and appreciation, seen as attractive models to be embraced and followed.
Within academic circles, it is understood that the soft power of any state is primarily based on moral mechanisms, such as the state’s culture, including literature, arts, heritage, traditions and educational systems, as well as the prevailing value system and whether concepts of tolerance, acceptance, cooperation, generosity, openness, justice and good governance are reinforced. However, soft power also accommodates material mechanisms that enhance attractive persuasion, such as a strong economy and successful development plans, or giving development aid to the needy. Foreign policies that are viewed as ethical, for example, defending legitimate causes or standing up for human rights, also form an important aspect of soft power. By employing these methods and mechanisms, the state fosters a positive image among people of other nations, encouraging them to emulate or even adopt its values, culture, principles and methods in many aspects of life.
Pioneering union model
Put simply, the concept of soft power is the ‘strength of the inspiring model’ offered by the state, which attracts and influences others and pushes them to try to adopt or imitate it without coercion. The UAE is one of the few states that possess the ‘strength of the inspiring model’, regionally and globally. It presents a remarkable, pioneering development model, not just in terms of exceptional achievements in all fields, but also the speed at which it realised its ambitions. The UAE reached its development breakthrough in a very short period of time, and this sets it apart from other models of advancement. This has catapulted the UAE from being a state where people endured difficult living conditions and a lack of resources, to one that competes for first place in global development indicators. The UAE also represents a pioneering union model, as the only successful Arab unification experience and one of the most successful unification projects regionally and globally. This is because the Federation was based on the free will and complete conviction of the founding fathers that unification was essential for achieving the UAE’s renaissance and overcoming its challenges. The UAE is also a pioneering model in exceptional government administration, ranking high when it comes to effectiveness in running government affairs. Future strategic planning in the UAE has strong scientific foundations, while its innovative service provision reaches the highest standards that compete with the world’s most advanced countries. The UAE goes to great lengths to guarantee its citizens happiness and well-being. However, the most important factor in the UAE’s progression is that our wise leaders possess the vision, ambition and determination to advance toward first place in all global development indicators.
In this context, it is worth referring to an example of the UAE’s soft power and the leadership model it projects. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was referring to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and specifically his leadership vision for current and future generations, when he said: “We need a mindset and vision similar to that adopted by those leaders who strive for the future of coming generations.”
The UAE’s efforts to spread its unique model of tolerance, at a time when hate and racism are significantly increasing around the world, will further enhance the UAE’s soft power regionally and globally.
The strength of UAE soft power is also seen when Arab citizens express their hope, in opinion pieces or on social media, that they could have leaders like His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, who work diligently and tirelessly in the service of their people and nation. Before them, came the founder of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who represented, and still represents, one of the most important sources of the UAE’s soft power. Sheikh Zayed’s sayings, values, principles and helping hand echo across the Arab world, and all around the globe, to this day.
If culture represents a significant pillar of soft power, then the UAE is an important model that focuses on the cultural dimension. It has become a centre of Arab culture and a destination for Arab and international intellectuals who come in great numbers to book fairs, and arts, cultural and heritage events. The UAE also extends bridges of world cultural communication through the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Poker) and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award, as well as through its continued efforts to spread universal, cultural values. These efforts are embodied by inaugurating Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the many other activities and indicators that have turned the UAE into an international platform for innovators and intellectuals from East to West. This has provided the country with significant room to influence not only the Arab, but also the international cultural arena.
The ‘strength of the model’ presented by the UAE, reflecting its growing soft power in the region and the world, is not limited to the above examples. There are many other areas where the UAE is a role model. However here, I am only concerned with the UAE’s model of tolerance, coexistence and respect for others, which, in my view, is the most important element of the UAE’s soft power for several reasons. Firstly, many of the UAE’s pioneering models are based on its culture of tolerance, which is deeply rooted in UAE society. The UAE union model was built on tolerance and acceptance of others. The UAE developmental model could never have been a success without an environment of cooperation, love and social stability. This is also true of all other areas where the UAE sets an inspirational example.
Unique model of coexistence
Secondly, a culture of tolerance and moderation, as a permanent feature of UAE society, is one of the most crucial factors that has made it a favourite destination for tourists, visitors and residents from all over the globe. The UAE could never attract millions of international visitors each year without a deep-rooted culture of tolerance. It could not have maintained its unique model of coexistence, hosting more than 200 nationalities living in harmony and peace, if it had not been for this culture of tolerance. Crucially, these nationalities have a positive image of tolerance in UAE society, and they take this back to their homelands, further enhancing the attractiveness of the UAE’s model of tolerance to the world.
Thirdly, the consolidation of a culture of tolerance in UAE society has made the UAE a beacon of light amid a darkness in the Middle East that has resulted in the spread of hate speech, and extremist, terrorist and violent groups. Therefore, countries of the region look to the UAE as a model to be emulated in order to escape the hate and violence besetting their societies. This has been reinforced by the UAE’s official position, which calls for others to promote tolerance and fight extremism, terrorism, violence and hate speech, not only at the local level, but also regionally and globally. These calls are welcomed regionally and globally, adding a vital moral dimension to UAE foreign policy, while boosting its soft power.
It is no exaggeration to say that the UAE model of tolerance is the strongest aspect of its soft power. The image of the UAE, as a state of tolerance striving to build bridges of cooperation and communication among different cultures and religions, while rejecting violence, extremism and hate speech, has seen countries all over the world open their doors to Emiratis. They do this without fear or hesitation, as is so often the case with other countries whose societies are afflicted by extremism and hate. As a result, the UAE passport has become the world’s most powerful, and is ranked first globally, in a real and incisive interpretation of the UAE’s growing soft power.
The UAE model of tolerance, and the absence of incitement and hate speech within its society, which spreads even in advanced countries, has greatly contributed to the UAE being seen by Arab youths as the top country to travel to and live. According to findings of the 11th annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, published this year, the UAE, for the eighth consecutive year, is seen by young Arabs as a model nation and the place they would most like to live. This indicates the UAE’s growing soft power regionally and globally, thanks to its deep-rooted values of tolerance and coexistence.
Many countries have managed, through tolerance, acceptance and renouncing violence, to set remarkable examples for humanity, enhancing their soft power with other countries and societies. Some of the many positive examples include South Africa under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and India under Mahatma Gandhi. However, what sets the UAE model of tolerance apart is the fact that it is a holistic one, deeply-rooted in UAE history. It is built on true UAE values passed down through Emirati generations and enhanced by prudent policies that criminalise any action that compromises this culture of tolerance, or any attempt to spread hate speech and extremism. These policies also aim to create institutional frameworks to protect and promote values of tolerance within a well-established social culture. This goes hand-in-hand with relentless efforts to fight extremist and terrorist groups, which pose a significant threat to the values of tolerance, centrism and moderation.
Fostering cooperation among humanity
Hosting two of the world’s most prominent religious leaders; His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church; and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al Tayeb, when they signed the Human Fraternity Document here in Abu Dhabi, underlines the UAE commitment to peaceful coexistence, promoting a culture of tolerance and fostering cooperation among all humanity. This approach is also evidenced by founding a Ministry of Tolerance in the UAE to ensure constant consolidation of these values, as well as centres that confront extremism and hate speech, such as Sawab Centre and Hedayah. This is in addition to many other efforts that have been tackled in previous articles. In this way, the UAE is boosting its soft power and international appeal as a leading model of tolerance and moderation that others seek to emulate.
The UAE’s efforts to spread its unique model of tolerance, at a time when hate and racism are significantly increasing around the world, will further enhance the UAE’s soft power regionally and globally. These efforts support the UAE Soft Power Council, established in 2017, as it works to reinforce the country’s regional and international reputation, deepening its respect and admiration among the people of the world.
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and director-general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.