From the pain of the pandemic, new opportunities emerge for the UAE and the world
Few countries have experienced more change over the past 50 years than the UAE. In two generations, the country has gone from a small fishing and pearling center to one of the world’s major economic hubs. The economy is more than 35 times bigger than it was when the federation was founded in 1971. Back then, oil accounted for almost three-quarters of gross domestic product. Today, it constitutes less than a third, fueled by the rapid growth in trade, services, tourism, and technology.
This change was facilitated by internal stability, but it took place in a regional environment of extraordinary unrest and instability. The UAE is one of a few countries with no memory of a status quo. It has never rested on its laurels and has grown up around more risk and uncertainty than most. That the UAE now often ranks as the safest country in the world is one of its most notable achievements.
These conditions have created a robustness and agility in the UAE system and in the Emirati mindset that have proven particularly helpful in navigating the challenges the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought to our economy, which is one of the most globally connected in the world.
As the UAE — and, indeed, the world — begins to readjust and reset amid the health, social, and economic fallout from the crisis, we should be mindful of the opportunity provided by COVID-19 to reflect on our lives and futures. This crisis has been a chance to look at problems in new ways — to look at what worked in our economies and what did not, and to take risks and try new things.
Seizing opportunities and making the most of new partnerships forged during the pandemic may help the world recover faster than some believe, and I am cautiously optimistic that this will be the case. For the UAE, I believe this coming decade will be a defining one and it will, to a large extent, determine what kind of country will exist on its 100th anniversary, in 2071.
The UAE will double down on the things that have contributed most to its success so far: Its openness, attractive business environment, respect for the rule of law, tolerance and diversity, and support for innovation. UAE policy and decision-makers are working tirelessly to ensure that the UAE is equipped to confront whatever the future throws at us.
The years ahead have the potential to be a golden era for the UAE — scientifically, culturally, economically, and politically. These last few months have given us an early indication: Past UAE investments in infrastructure and technology, made long before the pandemic, have given rise to COVID-19 treatments, tests, and vaccines developed or tested on UAE soil. The Hope probe to Mars, launched in July as the first ever Arab space mission, has offered a powerful prospect for the youth across the region, who long above all for education, inspiration, and opportunities. The UAE’s advanced technology industries, including space, need to continue to give them that hope.
The past months have been difficult, but the UAE is facing adversity the only way it knows how — by adapting, advancing and accelerating
Ahmed Al Sayegh
One must look no further for evidence of the UAE’s role in energizing the region’s youth than two historic achievements in recent weeks, including the landmark peace accord the UAE signed with Israel to usher in a new era of prosperity and cooperation in the region. Recognizing that our region’s youth deserve boundless opportunities and desire lasting change, the UAE took the bold initiative to establish relations with Israel to lead by example in forging peace. Moreover, the UAE’s successful startup of the region’s first peaceful nuclear power plant at Barakah illustrates our country’s commitment to acting as a constructive, responsible, and innovative global actor.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the UAE has reinforced its position as a key humanitarian actor by providing and distributing medical aid to more than 118 countries and by opening the doors of the Dubai-based International Humanitarian City to hundreds of individuals affected by the pandemic.
Later this year, at the invitation of host Saudi Arabia, we will represent Gulf Cooperation Council countries at the G20 Riyadh Leaders’ Summit, which will gather the heads of state or government of the world’s largest economies. As the UAE’s Sherpa for the event, I have been privileged to represent the UAE government at a series of preliminary meetings — including, most recently, the third G20 Sherpa meeting in late September — as the G20 prepares for arguably the most important summit since its elevation to the leaders’ level during the heat of the global financial crisis.
The G20 has proved invaluable as a facilitator and enabler of multilateral cooperation between the world’s largest economies, helping maintain trade routes, keeping medical supplies flowing around the world during the worst of the pandemic, and coordinating efforts to provide stimulus packages for businesses and consumers. Through its participation in the G20 process, the UAE has been able to contribute to this joint effort. It has also been able to promote multilateral cooperation in other areas — such as championing women’s empowerment, addressing climate change, and investing in the Sustainable Development Goals — that coincide with some of the UAE’s priorities for the ongoing 75th session of the UN General Assembly.
This year has been one of the most challenging in recent memory, but it falls to us all to chart a path out of distress. It will be a slow and potentially lengthy process, but I hope the next three months will be better than the last three months, and so too the three months after that. And it is my belief that, when we look back at this moment in 10 years’ time, we should expect to see it as the beginning of an extraordinary decade of progress — for both the UAE and the world.
• Ahmed Al Sayegh is UAE Minister of State and UAE Sherpa for the G20.