Jan. 4, 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s accession as Ruler of Dubai. It is a day for celebration and for giving thanks. This is an opportunity for Emiratis to express their appreciation for an exceptional ruler, who has not only fulfilled his roles as Vice-President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, but has surpassed every expectation and conquered ever obstacle in his path.
Under his wise guidance, Dubai emerged from the 2008 global downturn to bloom ever brighter thanks to his courageous insistence on continuing to break barriers and create firsts. Since the days when we raced camels as young boys, I knew he was brave and dedicated to being a winner in everything he undertook.
All Emiratis should be thankful that in a troubled region beset by violence and terrorism, the UAE has managed to reinforce its security while maintaining an open ambience welcoming people of all nationalities and religions to visit, work, open businesses or invest in a variety of areas. We do not live in a police state. We do not have the army patrolling the streets and no one is afraid of a 4 a.m. knock on the door. Yet, we are always protected behind the scenes. Our streets are safe at any time of the day or night and for that Sheikh Mohammed must take credit.
Our country was built on pillars of peace and we can never forget the UAE’s fathers, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum for laying the groundwork for the Emirates to rise like a phoenix from the once arid sands. They charted a course to provide a better quality of life for the population, a strategy that has been maintained by their respective sons, the UAE’s President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in partnership with Sheikh Mohammed.
Pride and efficiency
We have never sought to be involved in conflicts and unlike several of our neighbors we have no interest in disseminating ideologies or making false territorial claims, but when we or our closest allies are aggressed – as both the Yemeni people and Saudi Arabia recently were by pro-Iranian Yemeni Houthis - we are not afraid to stand up to be counted. I am proud of the stance taken by our leaders who were unstinting in offering military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition and salute our fallen heroes who did not flinch from their duty at the cost of their lives.
The country has built a global reputation for doing the seemingly impossible and for perfection in all that it undertakes. One of the most wonderful aspects is that while the UAE is always shaping the future, our people have retained their cultural heritage and values encouraged by our leaderships to be proud of who we are and to wear our national dress as an emblem of those values.
Kudos must go to Sheikh Mohammed for always demanding the best in terms of efficiency and best practices. In Dubai, everything works and works seamlessly. Our police force is second to none in terms of technology, training and community public relations and so are our emergency first responders as the world witnessed on New Year’s Eve watching a 63-storey hotel, a stone’s throw away from the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifa, aflame like a scene from the movie “Towering Inferno.”
But any resemblance to that blockbuster ended with the flames themselves. Despite the hotel being fully booked and many of the residences occupied, everyone was evacuated within 15 minutes causing newscaster after newscaster to express their astonishment that just 14 suffered injuries, most of them light. The fire services arrived within minutes and did a stellar job of bringing hundreds of men, women and children out of that burning building safely.
The astonishment of the outside world did not end there. Many could not believe their ears when it was announced the annual firework display would proceed as planned. But that is exactly what we Emiratis expected to happen. Whereas other countries would have closed off the area, perhaps for days, the Dubai authorities were not about to let a fire spoil the occasion for the tens of thousands who had flocked there to enjoy the spectacular show.
With 2016 just beginning, I am confident that with Sheikh Mohammed at Dubai’s helm my hometown will continue growing from strength to strength. I always looked upon Sheikh Rashid as a father and I consider Sheikh Mohammed as not only a beloved ruler but a beloved brother. He has all my respect for guiding us through moments of stormy weather and for always surprising us with creative blueprints for tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what exciting plans he has for us over the years ahead. It is my greatest hope that Sheikh Mohammed’s lion’s heart and safe hands will embrace the Emirati people for many more decades to come.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.