This 43rd UAE National Day, marking the day in 1971 when our flag was hoisted high for the very first time, is one of the most joyous occasions on the Emirati calendar, and rightly so.
Most people feel a sense of pride in their own country and its achievements. It’s only natural to feel affection for one’s own soil which holds so many memories and, indeed, even as a young man in Dubai - then part of the Trucial States under Britain’s protection - I was proud of my roots. But when the UK announced that the treaty would soon be null and void, there was a cloud of great uncertainty around all of us, while at the same time we were overjoyed that we were about to gain our independence. How could we defend ourselves? Would we be able to stave off the big sharks swimming all around? One of those sharks, the Shah of Iran, took the opportunity to rob us of three islands even before the treaty was terminated.
We suffered hardships without realising that life was hard. We were without necessities, let alone luxuries, but in their place were powerful extended family bonds. Our treasure was dignity, honesty and trustworthiness. Our jewels were our parents, our siblings and our children. Those values have endured throughout the decades. We teach them to our children. My father always told me to hold my head up high and look at the person speaking to me straight in the eye. Emiratis are proud of who they are, of the society they have created, which is one of very few multi-cultural places on earth that enjoys stability, security, peace and harmony.
Those days have gone. But now we have so much more to be proud of, thanks to our rulers who came together to build a strong unified nation that forges ahead year-upon-year and on so many levels is the envy of the region. Led by the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, together they created a blueprint for the future. They were true Arabs, true sons of the soil, whose wisdom didn’t derive from books but from their pure hearts and souls. They loved their people and wanted the best for them; they were down-toearth and approachable. Everyone was welcome in their majlis from the humblest citizen to the heads of wealthy families. Everyone was treated with equal respect and we all had an opportunity to air our problems. They gave us the gift of self- confidence; they pushed us to work hard; they asked us to make sacrifices for our new country. We didn’t mind. We trusted those exceptional human beings with our lives.
Whereas once our forefathers dove for pearls, my generation and those that followed have created a regional diamond reflecting innovation, progressive thinking and opportunity. Ours is a nation of firsts, not because we want to boast of our achievements, but as a small country, we needed to inscribe our place on the map. I still remember a time when people I met abroad would say, “The UAE? Where’s that?” We couldn’t achieve worldwide recognition by being average or ordinary. The only route was the pursuit of excellence. Of course, nowadays everyone who isn’t living in a cave has heard of the Emirates, a name that’s become synonymous with success.
The UAE offers lifestyles that are second to none. Our cutting-edge infrastructure is world-renowned. We have the finest educational institutes and medical facilities anywhere. And those of us who respect the laws of the land enjoy freedoms people in western countries can only dream about. Sure, they have a vote. They can choose their representatives. But, in all honesty, who can say with hand on heart that their choice has ever made a real difference.
Democracy in its true form, ‘rule by the people, for the people’, is an illusion. There are always taxes to pay but revenues are often frittered away on wars of choice. And as for equal opportunity, that’s just a carrot put out by states to keep the masses subdued while the fat cats line their pockets. Democracy, which was delivered to Afghanistan and Iraq on the back of a bomb, is nothing but a con. People imagine they are empowered when, in reality, they have very little power. What’s more, they are forced to expend all their energies in holding down a job just so they can pay the bills. Millions don’t have jobs or even basic shelter. The homeless are flooding the streets of New York, Paris, London and other major western cities, whose governments are far wealthier than the UAE in terms of technological advancements, geopolitical influence, and military might. There are people sleeping in their cars or under bridges. Others queue outside churches or charitable institutions for a hot meal. Families survive on food stamps. And what do human rights organisations say? Nothing; they’re too busy undermining countries in the Middle East and Latin America for supposed human rights abuses.
The western interpretation of human rights principles is not ours. We don’t walk by a person who falls down ill in the street. We don’t drive past when we see someone stranded because of a flat tyre. We don’t abandon our parents in places where they die among strangers or throw our teenagers into the street to fend for themselves. We provide everything a citizen needs for a decent life in an aesthetically beautiful, safe environment, energised by economic growth and fertile soil for new ideas. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, once said, “Authority is to serve the people, not control them.” His government’s objective, he says, is to make the citizens of this country happy. Have you ever heard a western president or prime minister say anything similar?
For decades, we were like students eager to learn as much as we could. We sent our children to western universities; we hired the finest expertise and were open to advice from foreign experts. Now that the UAE has reached maturity, the pupil has overtaken the master. On this, our 43rd anniversary, December 2nd 2014, I invite the world to learn from us how to do things better.