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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

UAE minister fears voices of intolerance becoming louder across the globe

Once fringe views are becoming mainstream, while the consensus on free trade risks slipping into protectionism, Zaki Nusseibeh told Abu Dhabi's Diplocon event

Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh and Bernardino Leon, director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, at Diplocon on Thursday .Victor Besa / The National
Minister of State Zaki Nusseibeh and Bernardino Leon, director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, at Diplocon on Thursday .Victor Besa / The National

A respected UAE statesman has warned that “voices of intolerance” are becoming louder and more mainstream across the world.

Zaki Nusseibeh, Minister of State, said he hoped that a vision of “shared humanity” and mutual respect would be embraced urgently to counter the global phenomenon.

He also spoke of his pride at the UAE’s history of tolerance and welcoming other nationalities and cultures but said that “great misperceptions” about the nation’s values abroad were harming potential for international collaboration.

He drew a contrast between the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 with the current international situation, in which there are moves in parts of the world towards building new walls. He also highlighted the breaking of a global consensus around the mutual benefits of free trade.

The developments contrasted with the UAE’s vision of mutual understanding and co-operation, Mr Nusseibeh said, which had been advocated by Sheikh Zayed, the founding father. Mr Nusseibeh was a long-serving adviser to Sheikh Zayed during his presidency, working with him closely from the 1960s.

“A quarter century after walls came tumbling down in Europe, there is now talk of building new ones elsewhere,” he said. “Where free trade used to be an ideal for all nations to aspire to, in the conviction that in the long run it would make us all better off, we now hear strong voices advocating protectionism.

“It would be hard to argue that voices of intolerance have not become stronger and even more accepted than they used to be, and this is a global phenomenon.

“What the world needs now more than ever is a sense of shared humanity, of the diverse richness of the human experience. What the world needs is to connect human beings in mutual discovery, respect and appreciation of one another.”

Mr Nusseibeh was asked earlier this year to establish an office for public and cultural diplomacy at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. The UAE’s new strategy involves increasing cultural exchanges in areas such as the arts, architecture, music and sport in an effort to build international relationships.

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He was addressing Diplocon in Abu Dhabi, a two-day event aimed at improving the quality of international diplomacy. Mr Nusseibeh said the event was taking place amid a global mood of pessimism when the need for effective diplomacy “could not be more pressing”.

He said that the estimated eight million non-Emirati residents of the UAE are witnesses to the welcoming nature of the country. But he said it remained important for the UAE to make sure others are aware of its values.

“There are great misperceptions about our core values around the world,” Mr Nusseibeh admitted. “Why? Because for some people, being a Muslim and an Arab country comes with a set of connotations in today’s world. Unfortunately, those connotations are not always tolerance, moderation and equal rights for women.

“All too often misunderstandings of who we are and what we stand for serve to undermine the potential for collaboration.

“We are proud of our heritage but we are open to the world. We see our heritage strengthened by our engagement with the world, not weakened.

“It is precisely because we know who we are and where we come from that dialogue with other cultures doesn’t threaten us. We know it can only enrich us.”