The UAE is working hard to build a society that is both resilient and engaged, to which end the government has a sweeping series of programmes that are designed to encourage the positive spirit of the UAE and also emphasise how important it is that its citizens take an active part in their society and engage.
The government’s reason to promote this is in order to generate a society that will both last and is able to meet the challenges of the next century. The point is that oil wealth — followed by the introduction of education for all, and then economic diversification — is not an automatic route to social or economic success for the UAE.
The missing ingredient from that list is a moral and ethical understanding of what such a society demands of its members, which may have been clear when the UAE was a much smaller place, but needs to be updated for the larger society of today and tomorrow. This is why the government has just introduced an Emirati moral and ethics component in school curriculum. With such an understanding, society operates better and is at more ease with itself, which also allows the government’s larger vision and its implementation to follow through more effectively.
The UAE is doing this social building for its own imperatives, but it is also fully aware that such thinking offers the most effective challenge to the horrors of religious extremism. While working for its own good and focusing on the UAE’s own values of tolerance and open minds, the UAE knows that it is doing great damage to Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) — a group that is trying to subvert the region and drag it into chaos and anarchy for its own malevolent purposes.
Some of this thinking was on show at this week’s World Government Summit when the leadership of the UAE outlined their hopes and aspirations, and how they might be achieved. The underlying optimism of the government and country was put forward by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, when he said: “Our region is the cradle of human civilisation. I have great hope and I am optimistic because we are all human beings, and we shape the economy and civilisation.”
He emphasised the importance of governments working to stay ahead of the impact of rapid change, long before the revolutions of 2011 emerged out of people’s frustration with terrible effect. “Twelve years ago, I had warned the Arab leaders that we all have to change. Some responded with frustration at this message and said that no-one can foretell the future. Others were surrounded by officials who told them that everything was all right. But we have a weak economy and we have millions of young people who have lost hope. We have an urgent need for a joint effort to re-ignite our civilisation.”
Shaikh Mohammad took a very practical line on how to make this happen. “We need a vision, but a vision is not enough. We need planning so that the vision can be implemented. We can see what the future might hold so it is possible to prepare,” and he was clear that the Arab world has the ingredient to rebuild its success.
“We have a well-educated population, finance, natural resources and the will to act. But what we miss in the region is effective management in the many fields that are required, like government and the economy, human resources and infrastructure.
He repeated the vital importance of education to all these plans and pointed out that when the country was formed 45 years ago, there were only 40 graduates in the whole population. Things have moved on so far that “now we have more than 70 universities and our mission to Mars is being run by Emiratis in their 20s”, Shaikh Mohammad said.
In a later session, Shaikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, backed up the message of ethical engagement by saying that “the National Service Programme has reached every household in the UAE and being engaged in it is not just about wearing a uniform. It also includes awareness of ethics, and we have combined all this into one Emirati programme of ethical education”.
He gave an example of these ethics at work when he said that the UAE had been sorely tested in Kandahar when a bomb killed a number of UAE aid workers. “The UAE went to Afghanistan to build an orphanage and ... we will continue. Our aid will always be delivered to the farthest corners of the world,” Shaikh Saif said.
The World Government Summit was an important opportunity to exchange examples of best practices in governance and policy management and a chance to review how to react to major threats such as climate change, but it was also a wonderful chance for the UAE to display how far it has come in a very short time.