The UAE's accomplishments in recent years and its judicious development strategy chart a steady course through regional uncertainty.
Let the record show: the UAE stays true to national goals
Understanding the genesis and complexity of the "Arab Spring" will take some time and a great deal of analysis. A definitive picture will eventually emerge, and it will be influenced by the legacy of these extraordinary events and by the merit of the political systems that transpire.
One of the more perplexing inquiries will be about what makes some Arab regimes stable and others less stable? Early analyses include the familiar focus on lack of opportunity, corruption and the failings of authoritarian regimes.
Years of stagnation with little hope has led to tectonic changes in the Arab political landscape. Five Arab republics faced popular revolutions and, in all five, old methods of control and patronage failed miserably. The day after, so to speak, the situation is still too fluid for us to pass conclusive judgement, and in the case of Syria, the violence and carnage continues unabated. In Libya last week, we saw even halting progress can be hijacked by violent extremists.
The roots of regime and state stability are not easy to discern, but surely it has something to do with the legitimacy and achievement of states. We have learnt the hard way that republics trying to create dynastic legacies were not an alternative for real dynasties with historical roots. Additionally, the apparent assumption in some countries that it was possible to depend on a set of security agencies to ensure stability also failed miserably. States and political systems have to produce tangible results. Maintaining hope and opportunity remains essential for a political system to survive and thrive. This was acutely visible in recent uprisings, which occurred in societies with young and expanding populations with digital awareness and access to instant news.
Complicating the landscape is the regional nature of the Arab Spring, ensuring that its political effects will engulf the area as a whole. One was either in the eye of the storm or close to its torrent. This dimension caused some to fear a domino effect, and for some this fear was realised.
Inevitably, slogans and tactics seeped across borders with impunity, conveying the energy of the uprisings and the power of popular revolutionary images. It was natural that groups would be emboldened by the success achieved in a neighbouring country and that one state's opposition would feed on the instability of an adjacent state.
The UAE is part of this Arab world and is, naturally, affected by its events and developments. Approximately 650,000 citizens of the five Arab Spring states reside in the UAE. Furthermore, the discourse of the Spring and the sharp polarisation produced over recent months has had a significant effect on public opinion and policy perception in the UAE, just as it has in many other Arab states and societies. To think otherwise would be naive, to say the least.
Internal policies and achievements represent an anchor, yet the turmoil of the wider environment remains a cause for concern. The UAE is trying to carefully navigate through this turbulence by continuing to pursue a progressive policy of development and achievement, while protecting itself against the external challenges posed by difficult regional circumstances.
In this context, the UAE has performed well, above and beyond what is expected of an oil state and a hydrocarbon economy. The traditional legitimacy of ruling families, which extends back to the 17th and 18th centuries, is augmented by a series of solid accomplishments since independence and the creation of the federation. What was viewed by many as a transient union of sheikhs has emerged as the model Arab success story. The formative years of weakness, disunity and want have given way to a confident posture of promise and progress. Many of our institutions are as young as our country but the lesson is not lost upon us: we must seek fairness and pursue good governance while maintaining our dynamism and ambition.
It is perhaps stereotypical to think of the UAE in terms of purely material indicators of success: hotels, malls and infrastructure. The story of the UAE is profound and much more gratifying. Numerous economic and social indicators testify to this fact. Literacy is at 95 per cent, infant mortality is at 0.73 per cent and our GDP of $339 billion (Dh1.25 trillion) is the second largest in the Arab world. Our progressive outlook means we continue to promote women, develop education and seek to diversify the economy as well as to make a contribution in areas of global concern such as energy, water and climate change.
As important as the UAE's record are the values underpinning this record; ours is a tolerant Muslim society with a compassionate and rational leadership. Our strong sense of community has survived the phenomenal transformation we have undergone, and the benefits of this massive economic and social development have reached all segments of society.
These facts in my opinion are what create a society with hope and opportunity, and in turn they foster the stability of the state in these difficult times. Naturally, there are many challenges that face the UAE, including some structural ones, and we are conscious of them. Our record of the past four decades is impressive and strong, and in our region it is unparalleled. We must continue our path of progress and self improvement realising that on this journey forward one size does not fit all.
The essential ingredients for us to stay ahead of the curve are in place. We must, however, continue, in our own gradual way, to improve and modernise. Our record is one that every Emirati should be proud of, yet we must strive to understand the treacherous waters of our region in order to ensure the continued progress and safety of our country.
Dr Anwar Gargash is the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
On Twitter: @AnwarGargash