UAE’s monumental economic success

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates its 43rd National Day this week

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates its 43rd National Day this week, marking not only its independence from Britain but staggering economic, social and political achievements. At a time of such turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world, the UAE is a monument to what can be achieved with proper vision and careful planning.

Most importantly, it is not fair or even accurate to say that the UAE’s success is based on its oil revenue. Iraq has more oil and natural resources, but its deluded leaders chose a totalitarian state based on military prowess. The results have been catastrophic. Iraq is fragmented and vulnerable on all fronts.

Libya is another example of a country with huge oil reserves, a large land mass and small population but can easily be described as a failed state. These advantages should have seen the country lift the standard of living of its citizens. The reality has been nothing short of tragic as its narcissistic former leader regarded it as his personal fiefdom and ran it into the ground.

The UAE's success has been based on decentralization into a federal-type governance structure

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

So it is almost insulting to say that oil has been the only reason for the progress of the UAE and other Gulf states. This wealth has played an undoubted and significant role, but greater credit must be accorded to the leaders of these countries who used this advantage to serve their people, by investing heavily in development. Today, the Gulf countries are stable and secure. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two largest economies in the Arab world.

Avoiding the trap

The countries in the Gulf did not fall into the trap of letting army generals become political leaders. Armies must be under civilian control. The opposite is military dictatorship, and if control is non-existent there is the inevitable creation of a state within a state. Any leader who arrives on the top of a tank will only be interested in maintaining power because he would fear being toppled by the next leader on a tank.

The UAE has avoided these pitfalls. Its success has been based on decentralization into a federal-type governance structure, in the form of seven entities, which has proven to be an ideal model for development and positive competition.

The thinking of the two late leaders Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum has proven to be correct. In their wisdom, they built the solid foundation on which the UAE’s success is based, empowered further by a strong constitution.

One of the most important features of the country is the culture of tolerance and openness. It has been able to preserve its identity while opening its borders to foreigners in the form of tourists, employees and investors. This has resulted in creating a social fabric that has withstood any attempts to foster extremism and terrorism.

Safety and security

It has thus created a country where safety and security, and the protection of individual freedoms, have become the bedrock for innovation and creativity. Financial decisions have to a large extent been looked at holistically and strategically. For example, it is not possible to create an airline without having a network of hotels and transport infrastructure.

Legislation in the emirates is business-friendly, but is also aimed at ensuring that citizens are happy with their lives. It comes as no surprise that the UAE is ranked first among Arab countries and 14th among 156 countries in the United Nations Happiness Report.

It seems one further, and arguably the most important lesson from the UAE’s vision, is for the country’s citizens to be involved in building a legacy for future generations, rather than just being blind consumers of their resources.

This article was first published in Arab News on December 4, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

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