This National Day, the flags are flying high – and, in the case of the one waved by Dubai’s Crown Prince from the top of the world’s tallest building or carried by helicopters across Abu Dhabi, very high indeed – and the heads of the people are held even higher. For this National Day has brought more reason than usual to celebrate: in seven years, the country’s largest city will host the world’s largest exhibition.
National Day is a day not only of celebration, but also of reflection. It is a chance, as President Sheikh Khalifa said in his address yesterday, to recall the founder of the nation, Sheikh Zayed, and his fellow founding fathers; to remember the energy they expended in creating a vision and direction for the new country.
It was the vision of the founding fathers that a united federation would be stronger than seven emirates alone. Indeed, the founding of the federation, of the union of the seven emirates, was one of the greatest achievements of the country, one that has laid the foundation for stable development. And so it has proved: the UAE was born into a region beset by uncertainty and it has weathered the storms of the past four decades. The region is, unfortunately, still unstable, but the UAE remains firm, a place that prioritises justice, safety and welfare.
None of this, it is important to recall, was assured 42 years ago. From humble beginnings, the UAE has blossomed into a welcoming, dynamic country. Literacy rates have soared: in 1975, four years after its founding, adult literacy was 54 per cent for men and 31 per cent for women. Today, it is over 90 per cent for both genders. Emiratis today can be found at the highest levels of the professions: doctors and lawyers, heading international banks and global corporations, artists, architects and designers.
That is to say nothing of the tangible infrastructure assembled at breakneck speed, or the intangible achievements of building a prosperous society. The UAE has the most economic freedom in the Middle East and the highest gender equality in the region. Today the UAE is a major international tourist and business centre as well as one of the most modern, stable and safe countries in the world.
National Day is also a chance to look forward. In just a few years, the UAE will mark its half-century. The past decades have been extraordinary in their development. The next one promises to be sensational.
In the next few years, the country will host Dubai Expo2020, unveil the museums of Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, and continue the Eithad Rail projects that will, eventually, link all the emirates and neighbouring countries. Work will also have begun on Abu Dhabi’s metro, now at a planning stage. All of these projects, not to mention the new residential and commercial developments, will transform the landscape of the country, creating new places and communities, bringing new people and making the country an even more pleasant and prosperous place to live.
As Sheikh Khalifa said in his address, “Tomorrow will be definitely better than today, as the present is better than the past”.