x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pageantry and pomp give way to a new alliance

After Sheikh Khalifa's state visit to the UK, it is clear that the bilateral relationship is a partnership of equals.

The uniforms and the horses have been put away and the flags of the UAE folded and taken down from the streets of Windsor. The pomp and pageantry of the first state visit to the United Kingdom for the President Sheikh Khalifa is over.

It is safe to say that it was a triumph of style, substance and politics. The pageantry, as always with the British, was awe-inspiring. The declarations of friendship were warm and it is clear that the relations between our country and one of its most important allies is strong and enduring.

But behind the stardust, there is also substance. In her speech welcoming Sheikh Khalifa, the Queen reminded her audience of how close ties have become since the signing of the 1971 Treaty of Friendship, reaffirmed with the Abu Dhabi Declaration signed during the Queen's visit to the UAE in 2010. Educational and tourism links are thriving - the many Britons enjoying the beaches of our Emirates and the many Emiratis who proudly study in the UK are testament to that.

Beyond that, there are a whole range of projects and policies on which the two countries cooperate. Commercial ties are strengthening. Foreign policy is becoming closer and better coordinated. And our two militaries stand together in difficult times.

Indeed, the relationship between our two countries is changing. When the Queen spoke fondly of her first visit to the UAE in 1979 - when she met the late Sheikh Zayed - she was recalling a time, and a relationship, that has since changed dramatically.

The UAE is a young country today, but in 1979 our union was not even a decade old. Then we faced extraordinary challenges, domestic and regional. A year after Queen Elizabeth came to the UAE, the Iraq-Iran war exploded, threatening the peace and stability of the entire Gulf.

Since then, the leadership of the country has passed from the founder to a new generation. The cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have greatly expanded, bringing millions of new people to our shores. And the people of the Emirates have risen up, too, embracing the opportunities that prosperity and wise leadership has offered them.

That the UAE has changed markedly since 1979 is well-known. But Britain, too, has changed. The sun has long set on the British Empire and even on Britain's aspirations to empire. Today, the country is focused, as it always was, on trade, but trade on a more equitable basis. The alliance between our two countries is now more an alliance of equals. That is good, for the UAE and for Britain.

Trade on a more equitable basis, with our two countries supplying different capabilities and playing to respective strengths, is the basis of what are strong and will be enduring ties. The UAE is Britain's 13th largest export market, and bilateral trade will reach nearly Dh70 billion by 2015.

Aside from the high-profile projects in which the UAE has invested - the Queen mentioned the new port to be built in London and the Emirates Air Line cable car that crosses London's Thames - there are many other projects that have brought UAE investments to the UK. Last year, UAE investments in Britain reached $8 billion (Dh29 billion).

In defence and security matters, too, the relationship has changed. The era of US dominance in the Middle East is ending and America is looking east to Asia. As the superpower reduces its strength here, there is ample opportunity for the states of the Arab Gulf to look after our own defence affairs. And there are opportunities for new cooperation as well.

The GCC's regional defence organisation, Peninsula Shield, is working to confront continuing threats. In addition, with the training and experience of the British military, the UAE will rapidly become more independent in defence matters, to the betterment of the country and the region. That is important, because while the old certainties may have gone, the old dangers have not. The Gulf and the wider Middle East remain places where conflicts can occur easily, with local repercussions and global implications.

The UAE has much to be grateful to the United Kingdom for, and vice-versa. Our militaries have fought side by side. Our leaders know each other well. But at the end of an extraordinary week for the UAE, we look forward to increased ties with the United Kingdom, in a new and enduring alliance of equals.