Cairo: Months after the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic last year, the UAE launched a probe on a seven-month journey to Mars as part of an ambitious space programme. Named “Amal”, Arabic for “Hope”, the probe entered the Red Planet’s orbit last February, making the UAE the first Arab country to launch a successful interplanetary mission.
Days later, the probe transmitted its first image from Mars, unleashing jubilation across the Arab world that saw the step as an Arab scientific feat. The event also spoke volumes about the Emirates’ ability to make history amid global hardships and regional turbulence.
The UAE leaders captured the epoch-making event and its far-reaching significance.
“The transmission of the Hope Probe’s first image of Mars is a defining moment in our history and marks the UAE joining advanced nations involved in space exploration,” tweeted His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. “We hope this mission will lead to new discoveries about Mars which will benefit humanity,” he added.
“The first picture of Mars captured by the first-ever Arab probe in history, 25,000km above the Red Planet’s surface,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, wrote on Twitter.
The stint is just one example of how the UAE has built a different type of leadership in the troubled Middle East since the nation was formed about 50 years ago.
The future is now
Espousing the future-is-now approach, the UAE leaders have since created a diverse, knowledge-based economy, making the country an admirable model of transformation. The UAE is now a financial hub and a major tourist destination in a region often associated with terror and bloody feuds. Thanks to its advanced, digital infrastructures and an efficient health system, the UAE has also flattened the COVID-19 infection curve.
As Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation once put it, future preparedness is not new to the Emirates.
Since its establishment in December 1971, the UAE has taken others by storm with its innovative policies.
A haven of tolerance and coexistence
When founded by late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE was meant to be a vibrant country capable of handling challenges and promoting values of tolerance and dialogue. By dint of his wisdom and humanitarian beliefs, Sheikh Zayed made the country a haven of coexistence and dialogue among different religions and cultures.
“Tolerance is a duty,” he once said. “If the Almighty Creator forgives, we as humans are all brothers. The right doer is a brother and the wrongdoer is a brother. We should neither abandon nor ostracise the wrongdoer, but helps him to reach the right path,” he added.
Sheikh Zayed steered the nation’s helm until his death in 2004, leaving behind a venerated legacy including empowerment of youth and women.
Inspired by his rationale, the UAE unveiled in 2016 the Ministry of Tolerance, the first of its kind in the world. The move reflected the Emirates’ unwavering advocacy of tolerance and repudiation of all forms of discrimination.
Building on this legacy, UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan designated 2019 as the year of tolerance in an unprecedented humanitarian initiative. Last January, the UAE announced granting the UAE citizenship to specialised talents, professionals including scientists, engineers, artists, and their families, a step designed to attract more bright minds. Recipients of the UAE passport will be allowed to keep their native citizenship.
While nurturing soft power, the UAE has been a major player on the regional scene, adopting a dynamic diplomacy that has prioritised peaceful settlement to regional disputes. A case in point are repeated UAE calls on Tehran to negotiate a solution to a long-standing row over Iran’s occupation of the Emirati islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunbs.
With the geo-political landscape roiled by chaos since the so-called 2011 Arab Spring revolts, the UAE has been a vociferous critic of foreign meddling in Arab affairs, blaming it for the region’s festering crises.
“Tensions in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other states are all related to blatant interference in Arab affairs made by states that incite strife and discord, or that have historical delusions of restoring their domination and colonial rule over the Arab region and the Horn of Africa. The result has been brutal wars,” His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed told the UN General Assembly last September.
Countering threats of regional terror groups such as Daesh, Al Qaeda, Yemeni Al Houthis and the Muslim Brotherhood is a main objective for the UAE too.
Military prowess amid turbulent geo-politics
Located in a region convulsed by turbulence and destabilising foreign rivalries, the UAE has been keen to bolster its defence capabilities. Last year, the UAE cut a 23-billion-dollar deal with the US to acquire F-35 combat aircraft and other advanced weaponry. The Biden administration, which took office earlier this year, has decided to go ahead with the deal sealed in the final days of the Trump administration, in a sign of boosting links with the UAE as a strategic partner.
In 2005, the UAE co-led with Saudi Arabia a military alliance in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Al Houthi militia, who had toppled the internationally recognised government there and grabbed parts of the country.
The Arab coalition’s campaign was unleashed in response to a request from the Yemeni government. All the same, the UAE has since backed UN and Saudi efforts aimed to craft a peaceful solution to the Yemeni crisis. In 2019, the UAE drew down its forces in Yemen as part of a strategic redeployment there.
Joining hands with Saudi Arabia
Coordination with Saudi Arabia has long been a mainstay of the UAE policy in its tireless pursuit of stabilising the Middle East. The UAE-Saudi Coordination Council, launched in May 2016, bears witness to both regional heavyweights’ close links. The council is co-led by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are also key members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) set up in 1981.
Historic peace pact
Firmly committed to rendering the Middle East peaceful and prosperous, the UAE signed in September a historic US-brokered peace treaty with Israel.
Endorsing the treaty, the UAE Cabinet said the pact would broaden prospects for regional peace. By signing the landmark accord, the UAE was able to halt an Israeli decision to annex Palestinian territory, thereby defusing tensions between both sides.
“We hope this peace accord will provide the opportunity for the Palestinians and the Israelis to re-engage in negotiations to achieve peace. Our position towards supporting the Palestinian people and achieving the two-state solution is firm,” His Highness Sheikh Abdullah said.
“We will work to ensure that the peace accord will open new intellectual horizons in the region and create a prosperous path for future generations who deserve a stable region and a better reality than wars and poverty,” he added.