At 7.42pm UAE time on Tuesday, the UAE’s Hope probe, the first Arab interplanetary mission, is expected to reach Mars, having tr-aveled more than 426 million km since its launch on July 20 last year.
The timing is no coincidence. Hope will reach Mars in the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our founding in 1971 — the perfect symbol for a nation that has also traveled a great distance in a very short time. In just five decades, we have become a modern, dynamic hub that plays an important role on the regional and global stages.
Though we take pride in these achievements, the focus as we mark our half-century is on the lessons we can draw from our experiences that have prepared us for the future.
Building a nation on the principles of tolerance, openness and acceptance has paid rich dividends for the UAE in every sense. Ours is one of the most diverse populations in the world, with people of many different nationalities and religions living, working and worshipping side by side. People — especially young people — from all over the world want to make the UAE their home to build a better life for themselves, with it being rated the region’s top country to live and work in for the ninth year running, according to the Arab Youth Survey.
Upholding our traditions while constantly looking to develop our practices to reflect our place internationally requires careful balancing, but the overall trend is one of progress. Last year, substantial updates were made to our laws regarding investment, foreign ownership, divorce, alcohol, and criminal conduct, reflecting the principles of tolerance and support for women’s rights, while strengthening our position as a hub that attracts people of all backgrounds.
This domestic outlook feeds into our relations with other countries: We favor pragmatism over dogmatic inflexibility. The historic Abraham Accords of 2020, in which the UAE established diplomatic relations with Israel, were born from our desire to shape a progressive and realistic future for the region. The previous status quo simply wasn’t working; it was time to update our thinking and develop a new strategy to try to overcome long-standing issues.
The Hope probe is the perfect symbol for a nation that has also traveled a great distance in a very short time.
This brings me to a third principle: Our conviction that multilateral alliances and global institutions are the most effective route to achieving peace and prosperity. To that end, the UAE funds a broad range of UN agencies that improve human conditions and we are seeking elected membership of the UN Security Council for the 2022-2023 term. Our aims are to advance inclusion and promote inter-religious dialogue, spur digital and financial innovation along with future preparedness, build resilience around the vital issues of public health and climate change, and secure peace by de-escalating conflicts through dialogue and funding peace-building efforts.
This international outlook is in the DNA of our people: The Arabian Peninsula has been a trading hub between east, west, north and south for thousands of years, and we retain that mindset in terms of ideas, economics and cultural exchange.
At the same time, we recognize there are two sides to this coin. We have created a country full of opportunity and tolerance in a region that is peppered with extremism and turmoil. There is a balance to be struck between prosperity and security, and we will never risk the safety of our people or allow extremists to undermine the stability and sovereignty of states as they seek to deliver better outcomes for their people.
While we are proud of what we have achieved in five short decades, we acknowledge there is much work still to be done. Although rapid progress has been made in key areas such as human rights — especially in terms of gender equality, religious tolerance, and labor rights — we can, and will, do more. To that end, the consultative process for our National Human Rights Plan, which we will launch by the end of 2021, is now underway.
We know there will be calls to move faster by some and others will be resistant to change, but this is a position we embrace. The UAE is a young nation that dreams big and learns fast. We occupy a unique and important space in the world, both geographically and in terms of the lessons we have learned, which we seek to share through engagement with the international community. As we conclude the first 50 years of our history, the Hope probe — a symbol of mankind’s efforts to progress to new horizons — will reach Mars in celebration of the UAE’s own beautiful journey.
Let the new chapter begin.
Omar Ghobash is the UAE’s Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy.