I am delighted and very proud that my homeland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been recognized by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the third safest country out of 141 countries included in a study based largely on “the costliness of common crime and violence as well as terrorism, and the extent to which police services can be relied upon to provide protection from crime.”
I have always had great admiration for our technologically advanced, progressive police force that balances effective policing with respect when interacting with nationals and expatriates. In July, Dubai Police was the recipient of the “Best HR Strategy Overseas” award presented at the HR Excellence award ceremony in London — just one out of a long list of international accolades.
Ours is a country of laws, which cover public behaviour in line with our cultural values. Everyone is encouraged to enjoy life and have fun, provided others are not offended while doing so. There are stiff penalties for drug dealers and users, which apply to everyone regardless of nationality — and those penalties are sometimes criticized by the foreign media. We make no apology. The well published, “right and wrong” guidelines and penalties have contributed to a level of safety envied by other countries. The fact that the UAE is safe is not news for those of us privileged to live in what has emerged in little more than half a century as a model for the Arab world in so many respects, but nevertheless it is satisfying to have achieved global recognition for our nation’s efforts, particularly within a region fraught with violence and unrest. Amazingly, the UAE ranking is substantially higher than all European countries with the exception of Finland. For me, the surprise was that the United Kingdom, that has always been perceived as safe overall, was ranked 63rd and the United States came 73rd.
The recently released WEF report states that the UAE “has built a unique environment to attract both business and leisure travelers. From Expo 2020 Dubai to the construction of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, the UAE is investing in and giving significant importance to the development of the Travel and Tourism industry.” It also cites the country’s “world renowned air transport infrastructure” and its position “as a gateway for Europeans to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.”
The UAE is also way up high on other global indices. It ranks 12th in the 2016 Global Innovation Index and, even more importantly, according to the World Happiness Report 2015, it is the 28th happiest country out of 157.
There are few places on earth where one can walk around at any time of the day or night without the fear of being attacked or without having to worry about being robbed at an ATM machine. The UAE has always been such a place in living memory. I still remember the days when few bothered to lock their front doors when they went out. Of course, as the population and transient population have expanded more caution is required nowadays, but the underlying culture still remains. Tolerance and openness are among this multi-cultural country’s core values. The Emirates is home to more than 200 nationalities each contributing to the nation’s unique flavor. Unlike many of our unfortunate neighbors, sectarianism is alien to the UAE. People work and socialize together without barriers of race, religion or color. A survey conducted by The National newspaper last year found that 90 percent of those polled said “meeting people from different cultures has been beneficial to their view of the world.”
In this spirit, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, launched a global tolerance initiative to award those promoting tolerance in various fields and, in particular, to inspire tolerance in young Arabs.
I have always told everyone ready to listen that the UAE is a land of safety, opportunity and tolerance. People who have never visited are often cynical. I can see doubt in their eyes. My descriptions sound too good to be true. But they are true, and kudos has to go to UAE’s fathers Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum who laid the foundations for a vibrant, prosperous and open society. My congratulations to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and the rulers of the other emirates for building on those foundations brick by brick, accepting nothing less than excellence and always striving to make our country the best possible.
They are very different from other leaders who prioritize the interests of their family members and cronies above all. In their eyes, the people are their family and its residents and visitors are honored guests. They do not look at people as mere numbers or statistics but as human beings, partners on the road to success, sharing the responsibility to secure our soil and borders.
I would remind my countrymen and women that our leadership is exceptional; they should be proud and appreciative that this wonderful country was capable of emerging from arid sands and out of the unknown to etch a prominent place on the world map. Our goal has always been to live in security and work for success from dawn to dusk. My greatest wish is that our Arab brethren choose a similar course. We did it against all odds and with the right thinking — and with our help and advice — they can too.
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.