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The UAE Adds Another Notch

14 March 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

Saudis and residents of this country often marvel at the progress made by the UAE. At the heart of that country is the emirate of Dubai, a glistening city of glass and glitz. But it is not simply the honor of hosting the tallest building in the world or accommodating a ski slope with real snow smack in the middle of a desert that continues to bring fame to the country. It is about the ''can do'' spirit among its public servants, a spirit that somehow is difficult to find among our bureaucrats here.

The UAE's uniqueness now includes something unheard of anywhere on this planet. Under the direction of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, the UAE has announced ministries for happiness, tolerance, youth and the future. This is a dramatic break from the traditional ministries, departments and prefectures found elsewhere in the world. As an example of further ''in your face'' spirit, the country has appointed a 22-year-old woman to be the first minister of youth, another woman to head the ministry of happiness and finally another woman to be the minister of tolerance. This makes a total of eight women in the UAE's 29-member cabinet.

Before we are too quick to dismiss such moves as frivolous, let us hear about the logic behind them from the architect himself, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid. Reflecting on the many news reports, stories and media interviews on the reasons for the new changes in the government, Sheikh Mohammed says that ''the changes reflect what we have learned from events in our region over the past five years. In particular, we have learned that failure to respond effectively to the aspirations of young people, who represent more than half of the population in Arab countries, is like swimming against the tide. Without the energy and optimism of youth, societies cannot develop and grow; indeed, such societies are doomed.''

He continues: ''When governments spurn their youth and block their path to a better life, they slam the door in the face of the entire society. We do not forget that the genesis of the tension in our region, the events dubbed the ĎArab Spring', was born as a result of the lack of opportunities for young people to achieve their dreams and ambitions.''

Direct in acknowledging the role of the youth of his country, Sheikh Mohammed justifies his government's decisions by adding that ''we are proud of our youth. We invest in them and empower them precisely because they are our future. We believe that they are faster than us in acquiring and processing knowledge, because they have grown up with tools and techniques that we lacked at their age. We entrust them with driving our country to new levels of growth and development, which is why we have now appointed a cabinet minister of their age and created a special council of youth.''

In explaining the reasoning behind creating the post of the minister for tolerance, Sheikh Mohammed said that lessons should be learned from ''the hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees in our region that sectarian, ideological, cultural and religious bigotry only fuel the fires of rage. We cannot and will not allow this in our country. We need to study, teach, and practice tolerance and to instill it in our children, both through education and our own example.''

Sheikh Mohammed emphasizes that ''tolerance is not simply a slogan or a buzzword, but an ideal we must cherish and put to use. It must be woven into the fabric of our society to safeguard our future and maintain the progress we have made. There can be no bright future for the Middle East without an intellectual restoration that re-establishes the values of ideological openness, diversity, and acceptance of others' viewpoints, whether intellectual, cultural or religious.''

As for the happiness of his subjects, Sheikh Mohammed added that ''their satisfaction with their lives and optimism for the future are crucial to our work, which cuts across every sector of government. That is why there must be a minister to guide and follow up with all government institutions. Ours is no empty promise. We will seek to create a society where our people's happiness is paramount, by sustaining an environment in which they can truly flourish. And we hope our formula benefits others in the region.''

Sheikh Mohammed also used this forum to send a message to others in the region that ''change happens by our hands only. Our region does not need a super-strong external power to stop its decline; we need the power from within each one of us that can overcome the hatred and intolerance that has shattered life in many neighboring countries.''

He said that ''governments in our region and elsewhere need to revise their roles. The role of government is to create an environment in which people can achieve their dreams and ambitions, not to create an environment that government can control. The point is to empower people, not hold power over them. Government, in short, should encourage and promote an environment in which people create and enjoy their own happiness.''

Wouldn't it be a better world if every ruler followed Sheikh Mohammed's example and put those words into action?

The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena
 

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