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  • The UAE 50 Years Young

The UAE 50 Years Young

31 January 2022

Gerard Rahman, Partner |

Last month, the UAE celebrated its 50th birthday as a nation. As a child growing up in London, I confess I didn't know of the UAE (I can take some solace in the fact that I'm older than the UAE). I sat next to a boy whose parents lived in Abu Dhabi, but that was the full extent of my knowledge. Do you remember when you first knew of the UAE or any of its constituent Emirates? But today, almost everyone knows of the UAE. Go to practically any international airport, and you will find a jetliner in either an Etihad or Emirates livery. Every cricket fan knows where Sharjah is. Fans of Manchester City and Arsenal will know of the UAE. All America Cup fans know of Emirates Team NZ in sailing. I could go on, but I think you see my point. I work for a global organisation with offices in 167 nations, so I know that every soul is proud of their own country. And rightly so. But it is revealing that there are more than 200 nationalities in the considerable expatriate population of the UAE. And they are all proud of the UAE. Let's explore that.  

Before the UAE became a nation, the sheikhdoms were the Trucial States. Trucial refers to the protective truce these sheikdoms had with the British Government in the early 1800s. These Trucial States had a tiny population. Even at the time of the nation's birth in 1971, the population was only about 277,000. To put that in context, the current population is about 10 million.    

What are the key drivers for that growth? Perhaps there are four critical strands which taken together, drove that growth. Undoubtedly, the first would be the nation's oil and natural gas reserves, the 6th and 7th largest globally, respectively. Oil was discovered in the late 1950s, and exports started in the early 1960s. The second strand would be leadership. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding leader of the UAE, quickly invested the revenues from oil in constructing roads, schools, and hospitals throughout the nation. This propelled economic activity but also facilitated the ease of further economic activity. This is closely linked with the third strand, a trading culture. 

Traders, by nature, are tolerant of other cultures. And successful traders are good are building effective relationships across cultures. These attributes are entwined within the culture of the UAE. This openness has led to creating a multicultural society. The term society is important; it leads to a sense of belonging. In the past, expatriates were there for a specific length of time. But now, many make it their home and raise families. This openness is part of the framework of the UAE, with tolerance included as part of the curriculum at schools. As a business person, it is easy to feel comfortable as the diversity of hospitality enables one to find familiar surroundings. A trading culture certainly helped economic activity, making it easier to do business in the UAE. 

The fourth strand is the Arab culture of "why not?" I'll share a story. Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum was an avid listener to the radio. While many would have known of air travel, he imagined what it could bring. In the 1930s, he convinced Imperial Airways to land in Dubai. At the time, there was no airport, so the boat planes landed in Dubai Creek. The culture of "why not" challenges the current reality. Today, with hindsight, we can say, well, air travel always supported economic growth. But this culture is about foresight or vision, for example, the Emirates Mars Mission success in 2021. It is all four of these strands taken together that make a difference.  

There is beauty in every nation; you only need to find it. And everyone has pride in one's own country. Understanding how a nation grew is inspiring. I try to picture the characteristics of the UAE in a person and what it would be like to meet this person. To me, this young person is benevolent, warm, and open. This person looks at things differently and dares to apply their energy to achieve. There is a lot to be inspired by from meeting such a young person.   

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