x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A nation state is more than the flag it flies

By ensuring the security and dignity of citizens, sectarian and religious divisions will wither away

A proper definition of the nation state would take more than the space allotted here to unpack. But broadly, and for our purposes, it is probably best defined as the formalisation within a fixed political and institutional construct of pre-existing ties hitherto embodied by less tangible factors such as a common language or culture shared by people living in geographical proximity. A nation state implies institutions, flags, national anthems, a rule of law, a currency, a military and sovereign borders. It fixes within political and institutional structures common ties of language, ethnicity and culture.

Crucially it also sets up a social contract between government and governed which rests on the acceptance by both parties of reciprocating rights and duties.

In the Arab world there are of course transnational ties that bind communities along ethnic, strategic (such as the GCC) and religious lines. Being a good UAE citizen does not come at the expense of pride in Arab or Islamic identity in the broader sense. But being a good citizen, based on a unique, national identity and within the context of a functioning nation state and social contract, is a prerequisite to creating a homogeneous civil society – first at home and then by example, alliance and diplomacy, in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The annual forum organised by Al Ittihad, The National’s sister paper, which began yesterday, chose as its theme “The Future of the Nation State in the Arab World”. During speeches by local and regional opinion formers, reference was made on more than one occasion to supra-national political and religious influences currently threatening national cohesiveness in the region.

Failures in the social contract where citizens lack access to the means to prosperity and a dignified life, can often result in such entities attempting to fill the void. Trouble can arise when a national government unwittingly outsources to third parties – themselves governed by sometimes conflicting political and religious world views – its duty of care to its citizens.

Sectarian, geopolitical and religious divisions tend to present themselves among populations who are hungry, who lack the means to social mobility, security and dignity. Ensure the latter and the former will wither away.

The UAE on Saturday pledged $5 billion (Dh18.4bn) towards medical care, housing and grain storage in Egypt. This will go a long way towards helping that country deliver care to its increasingly beleaguered people and at the same time help provide the breathing space needed to establish a fresh national consensus.

The donation was, in the words of Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State, intended to help Egypt “resume and reclaim its central role in the Arab world”. It helps the authorities meet the most basic preconditions for loyalty, national identity and successful government and helps reforge the links and responsibilities binding government and citizens.