Young Emiratis are the nation’s ambassadors and must strive to promote the UAE’s image abroad, leading government figures told an audience of thousands of young Emiratis.
Addressing the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations on Monday, senior ministers stressed the importance of ‘soft power’ in enhancing the country's status as a global player.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told the audience that reputation was key in the fight for allies in an increasingly divided world.
And he said much of that responsibility rested firmly on the shoulders of young people, as it was their words and actions - both at home and overseas - that was critical in influencing international opinion.
"We are betting on you - and we are confident we will win the bet", Dr Gargash told an audience of several thousand university students.
The event continues on Tuesday when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, will attend and speak to students.
“Our goal is to enhance the UAE’s position globally and that depends on your efforts," Dr Gargash said.
“You’re the culmination of our efforts and your ambitions should be as high as the country’s.
“You represent the UAE here and abroad. It is a responsibility that you must take seriously. You are all ambassadors.”
Dr Gargash spoke out at the Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations, held in Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibitions Centre.
More than 3,000 students attended the first day of the two-day event in which ministers and other leading public figures give a series of speeches and workshops on their thoughts on the future direction of the country.
Dr Gargash used his address to encourage his audience to develop their understanding of international politics.
He highlighted the importance of soft power in strengthening critical ties abroad and urged young Emiratis to be proud of their country’s achievements.
In particular, he emphasised what he described as huge breakthroughs the UAE had made in respect of women’s empowerment.
“That is our biggest achievement,” he said. “Because of our vision, we have managed to completely change the role of women in a conservative society.
“Today women are true partners. We have broken the stereotype that women are second to men. We have proved that women are at the forefront.”
Also speaking was Dr Ali Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Department of Education and Knowledge in Abu Dhabi.
He warned undergraduates to be wary of hostile media campaigns - often orchestrated by foreign powers - that were designed to undermine and subvert the UAE’s reputation.
Sheikh Abdullah tells UAE's young people to think beyond 'comfortable' government jobs
Embrace your education or risk letting yourself down, Sheikh Abdullah tells UAE's students
“It isn’t the leaders (of the UAE) that are a target, it is you,” he told the packed gathering.
“Our armed forces are fighting in Yemen and behind each battalion is another providing aid, building schools and reconstructing the country.
"The UAE has never entered a country without providing aid and support. And yet our enemies have partnered with media organisations who have reported that the UAE has a prison camp and is committing human rights abuses in Yemen.”
Mohamed bin Abdullah Al Junaibi, director of presidential protocols at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, also had advice for young Emiratis in respect of the media – specifically social media.
He implored his audience to use the platform to again promote the ambition and hard work of the country – and to do it in English, not Arabic.
“I have a grievance with you,” he told the students. “You all tweet and go on social media but you are not acting as supporters and ambassadors of the UAE.
“Most of what you write is in Arabic and we need you to write in English. We want the world to know how the UAE is doing.”
According to a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UAE - relative to its national income - was the world's largest donor of official development aid last year.
With a total contribution of Dh19.32 billion, the country spent 1.31 per cent of its gross national income on foreign developmental aid - almost twice the global target of 0.7 per cent set by the United Nations.
Analysts suggest the aim of much of the spending is to further enhance the interests and reputation of the country abroad.
And it was this idea of promoting a positive image overseas that Mr Gargash returned to in the final stages of his speech to the conference.
“We don’t force investors to come to the UAE; they come because of our reputation,” he said.
“We attract students from around the world and our massive expatriate population reflects our stability.
“Today for example, we are the third strongest economy in the region. This is all soft power.
“You have a responsibility to express and promote our success. We also tell this to our diplomats. Without stability, we are nowhere.”