On one side of the globe, the rise of the far-right has left a whole continent shaken and uncertain about its future. This is accompanied by a surge in racism, hate crimes and xenophobia as innocent people are being attacked — even murdered — based on ethnicity, political or religious views. In that part of the world, neighboring nations are threatening to exit a union that was meant to eliminate borders, boost trade, enhance ties and create everlasting peace.
Compare all this to what is going on in a different part of the world, where a young country — which celebrates its 45th National Day today — is becoming an internationally acclaimed beacon of tolerance and diversity, and has been recognized by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as the world’s largest donor of foreign aid.
This country is also a crucial part of a cooperation council that, while having not yet achieved its full potential, has every reason to succeed and become stronger and more effective in the near future.
Anyone reading the above paragraphs would probably not believe that the first part refers to Europe, and the second refers to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Frankly, I do not know what is happening to Europe, but it has become evident with the infamous UK “Brexit” vote that the continent seems — sadly — destined to take a dip into the dark side.
Regarding Brexit, one has to emphasize that the will of the British people has to be respected, and that they have a right to have their say. However, the fact remains that they were misled by the leave campaign’s false promises, inaccurate representation of the threats posed by foreigners, and the exaggerated costs of being in the European Union (EU).
There is also no denying that “remain” MP Jo Cox was viciously murdered because of her political views, and that since the vote, the ratio of hate crimes against foreigners has increased. Of course, what happened in the UK was just the tip of the iceberg, and there are more alarming signals occurring in the EU.
Europe is facing the extremely likely prospect of a French far-right president in May, embodied in Marine Le Pen. Over the next few days, Austria may very likely have a populist president embodied in Freedom Party (FPO) candidate Norbert Hofer. If he wins, Hofer would be the country’s first far-right leader since World War II. He holds staunchly anti-immigration views, and is an outspoken critic of the EU.
Should all this happen, particularly if “liberal” German Chancellor Angela Merkel is unable to secure a fourth term next autumn, this may signal the end of Europe has we have known it for decades.
While the EU is trembling, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations are having serious talks spearheaded by a new generation of young, dynamic, savvy leaders who seem keen to enhance the situation in their own countries, and see greater value in strengthening their ties on a regional level.
As noted recently by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, “the GCC — as a bloc — has the potential to become the sixth largest economy in the world if it acts wisely in the coming years.”
Saudi Arabia, with its religious clout, economic influence and recently launched, all-encompassing Vision 2030 reform plans, definitely has an interest in empowering this bloc as a force for the good of both its own people and the Arab world as a whole. This will most likely be on the Saudi leadership’s agenda as it embarks on a Gulf tour that begins tomorrow in the UAE.
The UAE also has a crucial role to play. It is on various fronts a living example of what a modern, prosperous, peace-loving Arab state can look like. While populism is on the rise in Europe, this young Gulf country celebrates the fact that it is home to more than 200 nationalities, and that these expats can enjoy their lives, practice their religion and work without fear, particularly given the strict laws against discrimination and racism.
As mentioned, the UAE has also been a major global donor in terms of humanitarian aid, and has embarked on impressive initiatives to empower youth and women, as well as support science and technological advancement for peaceful purposes.
Is there nothing to criticize? Of course there is, and the Emirati leadership has shown no signs of being satisfied in stopping at what has been achieved in their country so far. However, one only has to look at what is happening in neighboring Iraq and Syria to see how wealth, natural resources, history, and most importantly human capital can be wasted and destroyed. As such, the UAE at 45 deserves a global round of applause!
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas