The principles established 40 years ago set the UAE apart in the region, particularly in terms of economic growth.
Principles of a nation offered an advantage from the start
Forty years ago, seven desert sheikhdoms came together to announce their political union under a new federation. The region and the world were sceptical about the chances for success and survival of this new country, and with good reason - with British protection withdrawn, and territorial claims by larger established neighbours such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Oman, the odds were not in its favour.
The UAE had hardly any economic base, very basic standards of health and education, and even its internal borders had not yet been defined. Plus history was not on its side - Arabs uniting politically had been virtually unknown since the early days of Islam, and more recent attempts at political union between Egypt and Syria and between Iraq and Jordan had ended in failure.
Yet four decades on, the United Arab Emirates is a haven of peace, prosperity and progress in an otherwise often troubled region. It is the second largest economy in the Arab world, and the most diversified in the GCC. It has built the best infrastructure in the Arab world as well, and attracts the best and brightest talent from the region and internationally. And it enjoys excellent international relations and is admired regionally and worldwide.
How can this seeming miracle have been achieved in such a short time, against all the odds and despite decades of conflict within the region? We can identify four principal reasons for the success the UAE has achieved.
First and foremost, the UAE has been blessed with enlightened leadership. No story of the UAE is complete without paying tribute to the wisdom and foresight of the founding fathers of the UAE: Sheikh Zayed, the first President, Sheikh Rashid, the first Vice President, and their brothers, the other Rulers of the UAE at the time.
They built solid foundations through a constitution that envisaged an efficient, decentralised administration and a free-market economy when these concepts were not popular yet in the West, let alone in the Arab world. And the new generation of leaders, led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, have followed these principles and built upon them to accelerate the national development in many spheres.
Second, and also very importantly, the nature of the Emirati people themselves is one of the main reasons for the country's success. Kind, hospitable, generous and accepting of other peoples and cultures while respecting their own heritage and traditions - Emiratis above all desire peace and prosperity and abhor conflict, whether internal or external.
These traits have enabled the successful growth of a multicultural society where a minority of nationals lives in harmony with expatriates from every corner of the globe. The nature of the Emirati people makes this possible, and it would be unthinkable in many other countries in the world.
This leads us to the third reason for the UAE's success - if we were to encapsulate the UAE in a single world, it would be tolerance. This central theme lies at the core of the country's DNA, and is the source of its economic success, strong society and international friendships. People from all nations, ethnicities and faiths are made to feel welcome and respected, and the best technology and practices from West or East alike are learnt and adopted. This is what makes the UAE a truly Islamic society, true to the principles of Islam during its golden age, when learning and excellence in all areas were core values.
The UAE's historical origin as a centre of regional trade has carried forward into the 21st century to make it a global hub of commerce in many sectors, where ease of doing business and the welcome extended to foreign capital and entrepreneurship are central policies. And residents can enjoy unparalleled diversity and multiculturalism, with Christmas or Diwali celebrations complementing the Eid festivals, and respect and tolerance shown for all. The government cares for its people, whether at home or abroad. I will never forget the emotion and gratitude of my Lebanese friends when Sheikh Khalifa ordered the UAE Embassy in Beirut not to rest until all UAE residents were evacuated from Lebanon at government expense during the Israeli bombing in 2006.
The fourth and final reason for the UAE's economic success, in particular, lies in the federal system, which the founding fathers created to enable decentralised decision-making, multiple development strategies, and internal competition and cooperation leading to a large internal market and enhanced competitiveness in every field.
In whatever sector, whether in transport and trade, where the UAE has the top two ports in the whole region despite being a small country; to aviation and tourism, where its airlines and hotels are the envy of the world; to media and telecoms, where it sets standards for others to follow; to education, where its schools and universities attract students from across the region, the UAE has surpassed many of its neighbours.
On this 40th birthday of our nation, let us take time to consider all of these blessings and achievements. May God bless our beloved UAE, its leadership, citizens and all its residents. And here's to the next 40 years of growth, prosperity and peace.
Majid Jafar is the chief executive of Crescent Petroleum and a board member of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry