A philosophical man once said that there is really very little in the first 25 years of a person’s life that the individual has control over. Other people choose their place in life, their subjects at school, and continue to point them in the ‘right’ direction long afterwards. He said it is only with the second quarter century that a person really begins to get the opportunity to make their own mark on their own life.
Perhaps so for the human race – but not for a new born country apparently. The United Arab Emirates has made great strides on its own terms since its birth in 1971. At the time, there was certainly skepticism in some sectors, but with the vision and the determination of the rulers and their families – and the people of the Emirates themselves – the doubters were proved wrong.
Twenty-five years on, it is difficult for some to contemplate the idea of the Federation not being a success, although at the time the country was a very different creature from the one it is today. Consider the absence of an asphalt road between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and over the Hajar mountains to Fujairah, and just a rudimentary telephone system with connections only in the larger population centers. How things have changed.
The process of building the state has been a continuous one – and that evolution is still continuing. Perhaps this is one part of the reason for the UAE’s success. Some as an expression of intention to achieve a federal state has interpreted the establishment of a Provisional Constitution. The removal of the word ‘temporary’ from the document earlier this year has not stopped the continued meshing of the people and places that make up the United Arab Emirates.
For obvious reasons, the seven Emirates has been ken to maintain their own identities and at the founding of the country, they did not want to ‘disappear’ into an anonymous state with which its people found it difficult to identify. The people of the Trucial States have always practiced grass roots democracy.
This gradual coming together has been to the country’s great advantage; if the current level of integration had been insisted upon in 1971,things may not have progressed so effectively. As the Federation developed, allegiance to central government has not needed to compete with regional authority. Any abrupt centralization could have alienated the rulers and their peoples before the full benefits of unification had become known.
The step-by-step approach has been, without doubt, the right one and the benefits are by now obvious to even the greatest skeptic of the time.
The traditional relationships of friendship and allegiance continue to play an important role in the modern state – and allow it to maintain its traditional heritage as an Arab land, first and foremost. Whether it is the tribesman’s allegiance to this sheikh or the accustomed right of anyone to express their view in the ruler’s majlis, traditions prevail.
The presence of a large expatriate community has added a different dimension to the country. The outside influences that this brings have made the UAE one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world, but control over those influences has ensured traditions remain intact.
Islam has undoubtedly been a major factor in maintaining the heritage and traditions of the country. Invitations to and the encouragement of large number of Muslim expatriates to work in the UAE have further enhanced the social structure of the country.
The emergence of this second generation of Emiratis who are of a similar caliber to their predecessors has ensured the pace and quality of development has continued. They in turn will be called upon to inspire the young of today to work for the benefit of the country as a whole.
With new innovations continually developing the UAE’s tourism and leisure, education and business sectors, there are certainly the opportunities for hose who will be next to take up the reins.
Let’s hope my philosophical man was also wise in his musings. If we give him the benefit of the doubt about the second 25 years of life being the most formative and the country has achieved so much while still in its relative infancy, think what it has to look forward to.