By merging robust foreign policy with our rich cultural tapestry, we can build international understanding of, and affinity for, the UAE's values, writes Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh
The UAE's culture and values set us apart. It's time to share them with the world
We are blessed to live in a stable, prosperous and optimistic country, but our turbulent region and changing world pose many challenges to the UAE. They are problems that can only be solved through more cooperation, and yet we are living at a time when we too often see division and distrust in place of mutual respect and collaboration.
Therefore, it is imperative that we work to build greater trust and understanding with other countries and their people. Whether they are global challenges such as tackling climate change, regional ones such as countering extremism, or domestic ones such as diversifying our economy, all require that we work hand in hand with the international community.
To build the cooperation we need, it is vital that we give other countries a better understanding of our culture and values, as this can provide the foundation for long-term partnership on political, economic and security issues.
By communicating our progressive culture and values to other nations, we can give people in our region something hopeful to aspire to, which is what so many young Arabs desperately need.
By demonstrating that pride in our Muslim and Arab heritage and culture can also mean being modern and cosmopolitan, we can help to show people a positive alternative.
For this reason, I am honoured to have been asked by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to establish an Office for Cultural and Public Diplomacy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).
My core mission will be to work closely with the Federal and local Cultural Authorities in the UAE to help our wide network of diplomatic missions abroad build international understanding of, and affinity for, the UAE’s culture and values, to enhance political, economic and security cooperation with other countries.
One of the ways we can do this is through cultural exchange, whether in art, film, literature or music. This is why Louvre Abu Dhabi and Expo 2020 Dubai are so important, because they facilitate a powerful dialogue about our common humanity. But it is also why we will look to help our brilliant artists and the creative sector of the UAE’s economy to get exposure overseas.
The creative arts provide a powerful vehicle for conveying our culture and values. At their best, they engage people in a two-way conversation, tapping into emotions that all humans share and eliminating language barriers.
But the arts are not the only way we can communicate our shared values. We can also do so by bringing people to study in our universities and encouraging the study of our culture in foreign universities, by participating in international sporting events, or by finding new ways to engage the millions of people who visit the UAE each year.
I will work with colleagues inside and outside MoFAIC to connect the dots between our rich cultural tapestry and our robust foreign policy, and to ensure that the UAE’s embassies are doing as much as they can to support and amplify those efforts.
In addition, we will be exploring innovative new ways to expose people to the UAE’s culture and values. For example, we will consider how to build on the successful model of this year’s UAE-France Cultural Dialogue to engage young leaders from other countries in cultural exchange and to increase the visibility of our culture in foreign capitals.
We will also develop a "toolkit" for UAE embassies and work with the Emirates Diplomatic Academy to train our diplomats in cultural diplomacy. The priority is not on just communicating with political leaders but with opinion leaders in cultural, media, business, education and sports, as well as the wider public.
And our focus should not just be on Western countries, which the UAE has traditionally targeted. Naturally, countries such as the US and in Europe remain very important to us, but it is also a priority that we build stronger connections and cultural understanding in the major Asian countries, such as China and India.
Equally, we must do all we can to cement ties within our own region, working closely with our trusted allies and partners in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, and reaching out to strategic neighbours like Iraq.
Our cultural diplomacy should convey the non-sectarian and tolerant nature of the UAE’s values, thereby strengthening the UAE’s connection with all Arab people, whatever their religion or sect.
Despite the obvious transformations of our country over the last half century, our culture remains rooted in the same values as always: a commitment to women’s empowerment, to invest in the well-being of our people, to provide an open, economically attractive and culturally rich environment for expatriates and visitors, to constant innovation, to compassion for the less fortunate, to tolerance of other religions and cultures, and to respect and civility towards one another.
These values are demonstrated every day by the people of the UAE, whether they be Emiratis or foreign residents.
This makes my job easy: to give other countries a window into this culture and promote dialogue around a shared set of values.
For in a world in which too many people are closing doors, it is in the UAE’s national interest, and our national character, to keep pushing them open.
Zaki Nusseibeh is Minister of State in the UAE Government