x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Green majlis sowing the seeds of the nation's future

Ministers and entrepreneurs, ambassadors and the general public, all are welcome to join the conversation at a unique cultural and intellectual oasis.

ABU DHABI // Even as a child, Dr Abdullah Al Niadi loved working on the land and planting trees. Now he has put that affection into action.

The former professor of military strategy bought a plot of land along the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain road, near Khazna, to create an oasis away from the city where he holds a weekly Thursday night majlis called the Communication Tent.

Open to the public, it hosts dignitaries, business leaders and entrepreneurs. Guests have included the Minister of Petroleum, Obeid bin Saif Al Nassiri, and ambassadors from Sweden, Australia, Sudan and South Africa.

Although the development of Emiratis and their economy are often the focus, Dr Al Niaidi makes sure the issue of the environment is never far away.

Every guest has a chance to take the microphone.

"I want to take my guests away from the city and disconnect them from the protocols, stresses and worries of the city while bringing them close to nature in a relaxed and tranquil environment," he says.

Set on a farm containing 365 fountains - "one for each day of the year" - a pond built "to specifications of the phases of the moon" and numerous works of his own art painted "with colours that affect the soul", the majlis is designed with uniqueness in mind. "I have never been a follower and always wanted to be original and create original ideas."

On arrival, guests are led through a narrow walkway lined with cobbled walls. The path takes visitors past the numerous huts where Dr Al Niadi's long-term guests stay, and leads to a greeting tent where they take their places around a fire.

"The welcoming and inviting nature of the Arabic tent is essential at my meetings," says the host between offering Arabic coffee tea and sweets.

When this initial greeting room is full, guests are led through a softly lit passage lined with plants and fountains, to the main majlis. And there, the conversation begins.

The idea of the Communication Tent came to Dr Al Niadi as far back as 1996 but came to full fruition in 2005.

Since then he estimates he has welcomed more than 12,000 guests. "What I want the Tent to achieve is to encourage dialogue, link the past and present, public and private sectors, and show visitors a different side of the Emirates."

One regular guest, Dr Ali Al-Amoudi, a former environmental adviser to the UAE and United Nations Development Fund, is enthusiastic about it. "The tent aids in promoting UAE culture and raising awareness of the environment of the UAE in a natural setting," he said.

Moreover, adds Mr Al Qubaisi, it fosters a positive environment, "free of politics, controversy, and conflict".

Dr Al Niadi also holds a gathering on the first Saturday of every month, at which guests are encouraged to join him in farming his land. They plant palm trees, cucumbers and tomatoes, and are encouraged to return and maintain their crops. "I want Emiratis to not only observe events but participate in them."

At one meeting, the visiting South African ambassador was surprised to be served food and drinks by members of Dr Al Niadi's family rather than staff. "It is important the sons of the Tent serve their guests to encourage participation of the country's youth," Dr Al Niadi said.

Eventually, he hopes the idea can be spread nationally and even internationally. "I aim to share the openness, hospitality and kindness of the Emirati Tent around the world.

"I hope the future holds a greener UAE and the local youth are integrally involved in this movement.

"Many Emiratis love their environment and want to contribute to its improvement. It is essential this passion for the environment be spread throughout society."

tsubaihi@thenational.ae