x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The UAE's true wealth is in the richness of individual effort

The country's National Day is not celebrated through oil and pipelines, but by the generation who worked hard and sacrificed to turn their dreams into our reality

Pep Montserrat for The National
Pep Montserrat for The National

Another year has passed, and the people of our beloved country, the United Arab Emirates, are coming together to celebrate what has now been 41 years of hardship, change, prosperity and success.

National Day is a day where we celebrate where we are and remember those who got us here. It is a day where the past is celebrated, just as much as the future is anticipated, a day where the youth of the UAE bear witness to the trials their grandmothers and grandfathers survived, and thank them for not giving up.

During my travels and when presenting our country to visitors, I am always taken aback by their level of amazement about the UAE. It is somewhat difficult for them to fathom just how dramatic the social and economic shifts have been in this country in such a short period.

Being accustomed to that change, we have fallen into the trap of taking it for granted, of forgetting just how blessed we are, and blinding ourselves to what could have been if things were just a little bit different.

Nearly 20 years ago, Sheikh Zayed delivered a message to the youth of the UAE. He was quoted as saying: "What we have achieved, my dear young people of the Emirates, will not survive unless you yourselves engage in further work and efforts, and sacrifices. You should work hard to protect our national achievements, to foster and support the continued march of our federation, and to make more achievements that contribute to the dignity and prestige of our country, and to the welfare of our people. This cannot be achieved without positive and effective participation from all of you."

Notice the choice of words our late founder used when addressing the youth: "survive", "sacrifices", "work hard", and "effective participation". I believe the message runs deeper than simply what was said.

People usually use words like "survive" when they are just getting by, as we did when we as a people were living in tents, riding camels or fishing for pearls. However, Sheikh Zayed said "survive" almost 30 years after oil had begun being exported from the UAE.

Why? I believe he was saying he knew that the wealth of resources under our land meant nothing if we didn't have the personal resources to walk on top of it.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow, famous for creating the "hierarchy of needs" theory, ranked survival at the very bottom of the pyramid. Essentially, Maslow argued, this is where people are concerned with fulfilling their physiological and safety needs.

A prime example is the forefathers of the UAE who were doing anything and everything they could to survive, only to be pushed up that pyramid through the discovery of natural resources.

Fast forward to today, and still a big chunk of our survival rests on the flow of energy.

It seems counterintuitive that a people blessed with wealth in all its forms are still in a sense surviving. You only have to think hypothetically of what would become of our nation should the oil stop flowing, and the picture might become a little clearer. Fortunately for the UAE, in parallel with being blessed with riches, we have been blessed with a leadership that has understood that true economic sustainability will come only if we put our country and its people to the test.

For our government, that has meant venturing out into the great unknowns of business, infrastructure and tourism. The test for us as a people is: will we be there for our government and its leaders to deliver on their vision of a greater tomorrow? A tomorrow where we develop in fields at the heart of the UAE's future development, where we believe that education is a "must have" rather than being something nice to have, and where we hold ourselves to a standard alongside that of our international counterparts? Only then will we shift the hidden elements of survival into a new reality of prosperity.

Our forefathers sacrificed so much for us to get where we are. Nothing inspires me more than the stories of grandmothers and grandfathers who worked side by side to provide for their family. Or the early businessmen who worked hard, night and day, to grow the business empires that today provide glamorous lifestyles for their children's children. We have so much to learn from them, not just about business success and wealth, but about life and how to live it.

While people may choose to live through what their fathers earned, I would hope that many are instead living through the lessons their fathers learnt.

Sacrifice and hard work were intrinsic values incorporated into everything our forefathers did, from when they woke up in the morning to how they invested their time and money. As young people, those are the values we must carry forward to realise the UAE's vision for the future.

Our National Day is not celebrated through the history of oil, pipelines and energy tankers, but by the generation who worked hard and sacrificed to turn their dreams into our reality. Always remember that nothing ever truly worth celebrating comes easily.

Finally, I want to discuss effective participation by the citizens and residents of the UAE.

The true value of any nation lies in the quality and diversity of its people, and that value is realised when people exercise those talents and are given the necessary ecosystem to participate in the social, economic and political development of the nation.

In light of the recent push in this region for multilevel reforms, governments have taken the choice to react proactively, reactively, or not at all. In my opinion the UAE has been active - in every sense of the word. Dramatic social shifts will eventually trickle into the political arena, but when you have a country that is shifting other elements of its political and economic structure to match and contribute to it, reform is forever in motion.

That is the story of the UAE, where true value is not measured by the riches of its people, but by their contribution to its progress and development.

In many ways we have come so far, but with an ever-evolving world we can never get too comfortable in our success. Where we were, and where we are, will not necessarily define the reality of tomorrow. As a people we must aim to have an equal, if not greater, effect on our country than our forefathers had 41 years ago. We must make our marks in the history books, the same way they did, leading to them being forever remembered in our hearts and minds.

As a mission to our nation, we can always do better, we can always work harder, we can always be stronger. And, as we come together to celebrate our 41st birthday, let us not only remind ourselves of Sheikh Zayed's words to the youth, but make a promise to each other to live by them. That is how the leaders and people of the UAE will stand together, side by side, to foster and support the continued march of our federation.


Khalid Al Ameri is a social affairs commentator studying for his MBA at Stanford University in California

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri