The surprise visit of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the occasion of our 45th National Day is a testament to the close relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE founded on mutual respect, shared values and brotherly feelings.
I know I speak for my compatriots when I say: I extend to you a sincere welcome, Your Majesty, not only in your capacity as the monarch of my nation’s closest friend and ally, but more importantly because of your fine and courageous leadership qualities.
In less than a year since your accession following the sad passing of King Abdullah, you have carved a place in our hearts. You have been unafraid to adapt to changing circumstances. You have determinedly faced up to our enemies, offered a helping hand to our friends, and spearheaded ground-breaking initiatives to bring all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states under one economic, diplomatic and defense umbrella.
I appreciate this opportunity to salute your great efforts to protect our holiest sites from an aggressive state actor, and your endeavors to prove to the world that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors are able to act independently when threatened without the need to take anyone’s permission.
For me, each Dec. 2 is a special occasion, a time to look back at the past and to celebrate all that my beloved country has achieved in just four and a half decades. The UAE grew from modest beginnings into a powerhouse of prosperity, security and safety. I feel privileged that God has provided us with a succession of wise rulers who have guided our ship through troubled waters into safe harbor, just as King Salman is engaged in doing today.
That said, although the UAE has been fortunate to date, we cannot ignore the indisputable fact that our planet has entered a phase of great uncertainty. Old orders are crumbling all around us. Countries we have always believed were friends have turned out not to be so.
Violence has permeated our region, and if we are not careful the Arab world will become just a meaningless, antiquated title relegated to children’s schoolbooks. Western countries are reshuffling their priorities as populations display disaffection with the status quo. There are no predictors of tomorrow, let alone the day after.
No pundits, experts or polls can predict what policies populist leaders — many devoid of any experience in governing — will adopt, or how those policies may affect the peoples of the Middle East and the Gulf. This is why it is imperative that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies stand together and speak with one voice on issues impacting us all.
Moreover, as virtually the only stable and prosperous Arab region, we have a duty to cultivate strength and ensure secure borders for the sake of our children and, ultimately, to rise as a bulwark capable of cultivating the interests of those of our Arab allies willing to align with us in an honest, transparent fashion.
I wholeheartedly support closer integration of the Gulf, in particular the unification of Gulf economies encompassing a common market, a customs union and a single currency unhinged from the US dollar, which has the potential to create a bloc representing the world’s sixth-largest economy by 2030.
Such a union cemented by states among the planet’s fastest growing, accounting for 45 percent of all oil reserves, has been mulled for many years, but its benefits have rarely been as pressing as they are now. I would urge GCC heads of state to work hard in order to overcome all outstanding obstacles, and to coalesce with Saudi Arabia to turn this vision into reality.
Above all, it is my hope that King Salman enjoys this National Day weekend among us, not just as a guest participating in our celebrations, but as a valued leader, friend and brother. I thank him for accepting our hospitality, and for spreading his light on this happiest of occasions.
• 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, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.