Amid all the turmoil there is still a land of dreams: the UAE
For the past six months, Emiratis have been shocked spectators of the live coverage of the Arab world's mass protests. I personally have felt a sense of solidarity and empathy with their quest for personal freedoms and better governance.
However, I have also been troubled by how willing the world seems to be to assume that every Arab nation, including mine, has many of the problems associated with those engulfed by the Arab Spring.
Ubiquitous media reports have wrongly implied that all Arab countries are ruled by ruthless regimes, sustained for decades by the duplicity of the West. They further have implied that all citizens of Arab countries, frightened for decades into hibernation, collectively woke up in the spring of 2011, desperately bent on changing their governments at any cost.
Here in the UAE, the reality is much different. The UAE stands out as a haven of stability in a turbulent region. Even in the midst of the global financial crisis the UAE remains a land of dreams for many because of its far-sighted leadership and respect for the law, human rights and liberal policies. The UAE's leaders are on a relentless pursuit to achieve the highest standards for our society.
Admittedly, though, there are still things the Emirates can learn from this season of great change. Through critical thinking and creativity we need to analyse how to learn from the region's mistakes.
In the UAE, as in all countries, there is room for improvement. While the nation is on a relentless pursuit of excellence by seeking expertise, fostering innovation and instituting reforms, there are still measures that can be implemented to create sustainable growth and to achieve the highest standards for society.
For instance, we need to resolve to bring about a change in mind-set when it comes to corruption. Our Government pursues and punishes bribery, but citizens and residents alike must in turn reject all forms of corruption.
Among these, the most pervasive are the "wasta" practice, which is unapologetically embedded in our daily life, and nepotism, which is inherent in the fabric of our tribal past and a generational issue.
It is no coincidence that governments in Egypt and Tunisia - where corruption and connections are ingrained - were unable to provide their citizens with the dividends of good governance.
That said, this is not Egypt or Tunisia; in merely four decades the UAE has charted a dramatically different course for itself.
This country has undergone a transformation from empty desert to ultramodern cities with cosmopolitan communities and lifestyles based on globalised economies. In the process the nation has created a culture of opportunity and progress, while retaining the best of our heritage.
Of course, there is still much work to be done. For the UAE to remain competitive, and for the new generation to achieve its aspirations, fundamental transformation of corporate culture is crucial.
We also need to nurture a culture that encourages shared accountability, shared responsibility, mutual support and camaraderie, especially in the business world.
Yet for the most part the UAE's leaders have much to be proud of. This is why they constantly travel to promote diplomatic and economic cooperation, in neighbouring countries and further afield. Transnational collaboration is important for regional stability and economic growth; the citizens of the UAE should therefore conscientiously and rigorously support the international initiatives of their Government to enable the UAE to pursue sustainable peace and prosperity.
Just as the UAE's leaders tirelessly promote inter-faith and cross-cultural understanding, Emiratis also have a responsibility to reach out to fellow citizens and expatriates in their country and around the world to share their traditional hospitality and sincere compassion.
Here in the UAE, everyone has a responsibility to join forces to optimise shared resources and to come up with proactive, sustainable solutions to environmental and other challenges. All Emiratis and Government officials are partners in progress.
Some 50 years ago, when I was a young girl preparing to go abroad for school, I was at Qasr Al Hosn to bid farewell to His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, our country's founding father. I remember as he placed his right hand on my head, he said: "Shaikha, everywhere you go, be an ambassador of your country."
But I also remember that when I landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris days later, officers at the immigration counter had not previously seen a red Abu Dhabi Emirate Trucial States passport nor even heard of my home.
So much has changed in the decades since. Today, when I travel around the world and people ask me where I am from, the mention of the Emirates spontaneously arouses smiles and praise from those who have been here, and expressions of hope from others who would like to come.
At a time when others in the Arab world are engulfed in unspeakable sufferings, we should count its blessings and be thankful for the bounties that we take for granted. I am proud of my country's achievements, and appreciate the efforts of the UAE leadership - which has made our lives safe, secure and prosperous.
In time, one hopes observers of the Arab Spring will learn to feel the same way.
Dr Shaikha Al Maskari is an Emirati businesswoman and a philanthropist and chairperson of Al Maskari Holding
Updated: July 22, 2011 04:00 AM