This instalment looks at how some of the founding values of the UAE – tolerance, unity, generosity and good governance – make it a nation that lives and delivers its ideals
Tolerance is no catchphrase, but a quality we must cherish and practise," His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, explained in his column, a fortnight after he established the UAE Ministry of Happiness, Tolerance and the Future early last year. “We need to study, teach and practise tolerance and instil it in our children, both through education and our own example."
This declaration was followed by substantial action in ensuing months: establishing a council and a centre for tolerance; commemorating an annual tolerance week; identifying voices to reject racism, extremism and hatred; and scripting a national charter for tolerance, coexistence and peace.
At around the same time, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, where they held discussions on promoting wider acceptance of others’ beliefs. Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed said the UAE, which is home to 200 nationalities, was a model of coexistence for the world.
The recent renaming of a mosque as Mariam, Umm Eisa (Mary, Mother of Jesus) is another admirable example of the UAE’s famed tolerance that goes beyond mottos and slogans.
It is important to remember that tolerance is hardly a new concept for the nation. Historians and statesmen identify tolerance, along with unity and good governance, as the bedrock on which the UAE was founded.
Dr Adnan Pachachi, the former foreign minister of Iraq and its erstwhile ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Abu Dhabi on a private visit in May 1969 and served as an adviser to the late Shaikh Zayed, founding father of the UAE, and later, as the first Minister of State.
He says the formation of the UAE is itself one of the country’s earliest examples of its tolerant values implemented through compromise. Initially, Shaikh Zayed had hoped the rulers of the six other emirates alongside him would accept his point of view in creating a strong federation.
But later, he realised the only way forward was to compromise and give up some of the powers he had envisioned for the federal government just so that the concept of a united federation would not wither away, he explained recently. The core values of the UAE were thus founded and entrenched over subsequent decades.
Reflecting the same values
At Mashreq, the oldest bank in the country that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the UAE’s founding values can be evidenced in several aspects of its own operating principles, says Islam Shikooh, Senior Vice-President of Human Resources.
“The fact that the values on which this country was founded continue to thrive and flourish today is testament to their cohesive nature," he says. “The willingness to reach out across the world – be it in friendship, aid or assistance – underlines the fact that wise leaders and valiant people have built this country together, and will do anything to protect and preserve its unity and harmony."
Shikooh says this serves as inspiration to individuals and institutions alike.
“At Mashreq, we have similar values that we have upheld for the last 50 years and cites the example of Mission: First Choice as one of his earliest memories. As early as in 1993, we launched this programme to unite all our people with a shared vision, a common set of processes and best practices and a uniform organisational culture. First Choice enabled us to attract and retain the best talent, maintain integrity and transparency, and become leaders in innovation.
“We were one of the first institutions in the country to provide professional training to employees, and today, if you visit any of our offices, you will see a truly international workforce including a significant percentage of Emiratis in leadership roles. This unison in our dealings with customers, colleagues, communities and the country is essential to innovation and advancement.
"Today, values under Spirit of Mashreq are listed as: socially responsible, passionate about clients, integrity, respect for colleagues, innovative, and transparent."
Perpetuating and preserving values in a company is a collective effort and must be multifaceted to include good governance, employee engagement, corporate social responsibility and outreach programmes, he adds. Winning the Gallup Great Workplace Award for four consecutive years is a testament to this.
Shikooh, whose career at Mashreq spans 21 years, also makes a case for frequent stocktaking. “Although values are timeless, focus and emphasis are subject to timely change and it is important, like our leaders continue to show us, to regularly address and adapt aspects to suit the needs of employees and individuals, the company and the country."
Historian and political scientist Frauke Bey Heard, who has lived in the UAE since 1967, says the founding values of the country have been strengthened in the past four decades. “Shaikh Zayed realised early that he had to be an Arab brother. The important fact is that this has continued since his time. The UAE is now one of the best countries for international aid and help."