How truly blessed we Emiratis are! I am from the generation born into an era of hardship and I never cease to marvel at my homeland’s spectacular transformation seeded in the 1960s and 1970s by the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, great leaders with an abundance of patience and foresight. Together they mapped out a future that nobody could imagine.
All my respect to HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for building on the foundations painstakingly laid by their late fathers to create a safe and secure country offering unparalleled lifestyles that today stands as a template for a troubled region, if not the world.
We recently celebrated Sheikh Mohammed’s 50 years of service to the nation in his capacity as Vice-President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Ruler of Dubai.
He was destined to shoulder a heavy mantel at a young age, which he embraced unflinchingly and energetically. He is a visionary for whom nothing is impossible. His creative thinking has propelled Dubai ahead of the global curve in every field.
His caring nature and personal dignity have won the hearts of citizens and expatriates alike. I was personally touched that he recently took time out of his packed schedule to pay his respects to my family on the passing of my elder brother with a visit to my majlis.
His friendship has meant a lot to me since those carefree days when we raced our camels. “A true leader does not derive power from his position but from his ethics, from people’s love for him, and from his knowledge, education and excellence in his field of work,” he once wrote. “The goals are clear, the road is paved and the clock ticks; there is no place for hesitation. There are many who talk, we accomplish,” he is quoted saying.
Sheikh Mohammed is always thinking ahead, his mind relentlessly bursting with new ideas. Marking his 50th anniversary of leadership he has published a blueprint for the future, a pledge titled “50-year Charter’ carving out Dubai’s economic, technological, educational and philanthropic upwards trajectory, that will be reviewed each coming 4th of January.
Simultaneously, he has emphasized “the eight defining principles on which Dubai was founded” in a document containing these headings: “The Union is the Foundation”; “No one is above the law”; “We are a business capital”, “Three factors derive growth”; “Our society has a unique personality”; “We believe in economic diversification”; “A land for talent”, and “We care about future generations”.
Yes, we do care deeply about future generations as well as our youth in whose hands our country and its citizens’ wellbeing will one day rest. I cannot stress enough how important it is for all our people, especially those starting out to appreciate my generation’s struggles, to build upon our achievements in terms of economic growth and to strive for the highest standards in education, healthcare, research as well as environmental and technological advances.
Our young people are arguably the luckiest on the planet. All doors are open to them. Young men and women benefit from the finest educational and equal-opportunity career openings in a multi-cultural, harmonious country where happiness is high on the government’s strategy. They enjoy freedoms we never dreamt of. I am constantly astonished by the extent of their knowledge and capacity to think out of the box.
There were no entertainment venues when I was their age. Our time was largely spent seeking food for ourselves and our livestock. We did not have mobile phones, computers or anything else considered essential nowadays. Our only leisure pursuits were hunting, fishing, swimming and camel racing. We were guided by our faith in God, our unbreakable family ties, our timeless traditions and a society in which we were all brothers and sisters. We did not construct high-rises but the art of living was character-building. Whenever I spend time with my grandchildren I come away feeling refreshed and often learn something new.
However, learning is a twoway street. The future is theirs, but the foundations of their benefice must be preserved. Sheikh Mohammed’s eight defining principles guiding Dubai must be adhered to. Fashions and lifestyles change. Progress is liberating. But with respect to our culture, values and ethics old is gold. Our precious children and grandchildren must never be permitted to forget their roots or the principals of those who handed them the torch whose flame glows ever brighter. We must teach them not to rest on their laurels or fall into the ‘easy come, easy go’ trap. They should be reminded that they are the recipients of the greatest gift of all, a motherland that must be treasured, protected and fiercely defended with hard work and a staunch patriotic spirit. One of the truths that govern my own life is “Ask not what a country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
I would add that those of us who can must open our hearts and our pocketbooks to assist the needy wherever they may be. My advice to my compatriots is to resist the temptation to take their good fortune for granted. Everyone must rise to the challenge of completing the government’s future strategies while building on the principles that have served us so well.
We only have to look around us to see millions upon millions less fortunate consigned to freeze in rainsoaked tents or risking their lives hoping to find sanctuary in foreign lands to feel thankful that since its birth the UAE has profited from wise and stable governance. When we witness the political chaos that overshadows the mighty US, Britain and numerous other European capitals we should feel humbled and privileged to be a part of a country where the only mass outdoor gatherings are occasions for smiles.
“An easy life does not make men, nor does it build nations. Challenges make men, and it is these men who build nations,” said Sheikh Mohammed. Never a truer word! We who dug wells in sand, fished and gathered dates to survive have done our bit although the odds were stacked high against us. My message to our Emirati youth is soon it will be over to you. Make us proud! Judging by all the youngsters I have met, I know you will.
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor UAE Businessman