UAE: Will Life Begin at 40?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd December, 2011
To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the United Arab Emirates becoming a unified and independent nation, the London Embassy was bound to put the boat out — and that it well and truly did last night, at a massive reception at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in Bayswater. While an enormous ice sculpture celebrating the anniversary gently melted in the heat of the crush, guests were entertained by a show of traditional dancing by members of the UAE military academy (all men, of course), twirling their sticks and in some cases imitiation Uzis. The Ambassador, Abdulrahman Ghanem Almutaiwee, gave a short speech in which he remarked how far the UAE had come during its short lifetime. Forty years ago, the emirates’ main income was from pearl diving and dried fish, whereas now it has moved beyond the oil boom to becoming a diversified economy with many dynamic businesses, not least the two flagship airlines, Emirates and Etihad, both of which were sponsors of tonight’s event. Emiratis now only make up a small percentage of the population of the UAE — especially in Dubai — and there are approximately 100,000 Brits living there. The question now is: in what direction will the country go? Tourism is still big business and there are hopes that even more visitors will be lured by the creation of new museums and other cultural attractions, as well as the staple winter sun and sea. Compared with its giant neighbour Saudi Arabia, the UAE is quite liberal, but only up to a point. And that is also another big question for the future: to what extent the Emiratis are prepared to turn their country into something not only cosmopolitan but also tolerant of all diversity — a genuinely multicultural state. In the meantime, the UAE has literally billions of petrodollars to invest, as it has been doing in Britain and elsewhere. Moreover, the Ambassador reminded us that it gives one per cent of its GDP as overseas aid to developing countries, well above the UN-recommended target.