For Muslims around the world, Ramadan represents a call for self-sacrifice and introspection, a time of giving and appreciation, a time to practice empathy and self-control, and a time to look out for others. This year, millions of people who are not Muslim can relate directly to the spirit of Ramadan, even if they are unfamiliar with it. For whether under COVID-19-induced lockdown or not, they have had to face their own tests of character and struggle with fears and vulnerabilities, physical and mental. Many have used their time in isolation to build inner strength, connect with others (virtually), practice self-improvement and extend a hand to those less fortunate.
The United Arab Emirates sits in the middle of a region of significant resources, but also political and economic volatility. After gaining independence in 1971, our founders worked hard to diversify the state beyond oil and build a society where the common language was one of modernity and tolerance. It was clear to us that openness and innovation were key to success on a greater scale and that there could be no place for ideologies that promote fear and chaos. In a way, what we have tried to do is to actualize the principles of Ramadan and build them into the fabric of a modern, progressive society.
It is because we realize that thriving neighbors and partners are essential to our own success that the UAE has sought, since its inception, to make high-impact humanitarian assistance a pillar of its foreign policy. This is why the UAE regularly ranks at the top of countries in terms of per capita foreign aid and in the top ten countries in the world in terms of the absolute amount of foreign assistance. Our approach to the COVID-19 crisis is no different.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the UAE has provided 270 metric tons of emergency assistance to more than 270,000 front-line health workers in 26 countries. We have helped bring over 2,200 Emiratis back home and reunited nearly 23,000 foreigners with their families abroad through 127 repatriation operations.
The UAE also championed the “UAE Homeland of Humanity Initiative,” wherein the UAE evacuated 215 people of different nationalities from China’s Hubei Province to the Emirates Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi, where they received the necessary medical evaluation and care before flying back to their home countries. The UAE also evacuated 80 South Korean nationals and their families from Iran at the request of the South Korean Government in recognition that multilateral cooperation is central to efforts to return people home safely during these challenging times.
We have also looked for ways to deploy our assets abroad to help ease suffering, as we did in the UK by turning a UAE-owned conference venue into a 4,000-bed field hospital, provided free of charge. While of course many factors inform our choices, we have sought to focus on people over politics. This is why we sent early aid shipments to dozens of countries, including China, Italy, Sudan, South Africa, Pakistan, Iran, and farther-away places like Brazil, Colombia, and South Korea. Truthfully, the COVID-19 crisis presents a far more immediate threat to human life and stability than any other factor.
In difficult times, it is easy to give in to the temptation to ask ‘why us’ or ‘why me.’ But we must take comfort from the fact that we are not unique, and we are not alone in our faiths and cultures. Religious occasions like Ramadan, Easter and Passover, among others, are reminders that previous generations faced similar trials and persevered. The COVID-19 pandemic will pass. And while this hardship is fresh in our minds, we must pledge to do better. We must resolve to treat our fellow human beings with dignity, to do what we can to mitigate pain and conflict, to put aside rumors and replace them with optimism and action. We must care for the environment that sustains and nourishes us. What we do in difficult times is a measure of who we are now and what we will be in the future.
Hend Al Otaiba is the Director of Strategic Communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE.