Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 9 July 2020

Mission to Mars is hot topic for Britain ’s Emirates Society as online talks take off

Friendship body offers members a menu of topical and engaging conferences

Discussions on missions to Mars and lessons learnt from the coronavirus pandemic are shared concerns for advanced societies such as the UAE and Britain.

The problem created by the global lockdown is how to swap the views and insights of central decision-makers in the midst of the crisis.

One platform has been the Emirates Society in the UK, a forum that has found a role providing joint briefings from the two countries, to augment the relationships of diplomats and officials.

An event on June 8 demonstrates the far-reaching scope of discussions arranged by the Society, which was launched last year as a vehicle for engagement between people in the UK connected to or interested in the UAE.

Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, the Minister of State for Advanced Sciences and deputy project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, will come together with Sir Ian Blatchford, director of London’s Science Museum, to discuss the forthcoming launch of the space probe, Hope.

An update on how mission preparations are progressing as well as a high-level discussion on the motivations and benefits of the mission is planned.

The UAE has set a target of building a city on the red planet by 2117 and the launch of the first interplanetary probe by any Arab country is a landmark event.

Presiding over the event, hosted on Zoom from his home just outside London will be Alistair Burt, the former UK Foreign Office minister and chairman of the Emirates Society.

Mr Burt performed the same function on Friday at the event on AI and the Covid-19 response. He has also hosted discussions (the last gathering before the lockdown) with Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Omar Ghobash, the Assistant Minister at the Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy.

Such events bridge physical distance and build on the feeling of shared challenges and concerns.

Mr Burt told The National that the society recognises the depth of the bilateral relationship is made up of cultural links, business, sport, education, research and health care, as well as family ties and diplomacy.

“Unless someone’s talking about it, no one is going to know about it,” Mr Burt said. “If you are going to engage people for an hour or so, particularly through the Zoom format, they are not meeting together and doing the usual social things of a society gathering like this, so you very deliberately are committing yourself to the content of the meeting. “Knowing the guests are of high quality like Omar Ghobash, knowing that it is a contemporary topic that is highly relevant and knowing that there are people who want to challenge or contribute who are themselves notable and would attract an audience is a pretty good offer.”

Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE's Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, is playing an important role in space exploration. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Sarah Al Amiri, the UAE's Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, is playing an important role in space exploration. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The establishment of the Emirates Society has built upon the opportunities for engagement that have been provided by the UAE embassy, business and student bodies or the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the UAE.

“It’s complementary to things like the APPG, where you want to engage parliamentarians from time to time on an exclusive basis,” said Mr Burt. “The Emirates Society is expanding the sphere of interest in the UAE and the UK.“

The coming 50th anniversary of the founding of the country in 1971 is on the minds of many in the community. “With an anniversary event such as this it is crucial to focus on what is happening now. Genuinely celebrating next year means commemorating the special relationship the UK has had with the Trucial States and then looking ahead to what sort of Middle East we envision and what sort of contribution can the UAE and UK make together to a better future.

“We know where the UAE has come from but where is it going? We know the UK’s history and reputation in the Gulf and this is an absolutely appropriate time to reassess that and it will be important to view the UK’s global position.

“We will look at different parts of the UK’s relationship with the Emirates and root them in the extraordinary advances of the past 50 years and then say, where do we go from here?”

On example could be how the UK and the UAE have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. The panel on Friday involved Orlando Agrippa, head of a predictive AI analytics company, George Kapitelli, chief financial officer of the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, and Sir James Mackey, of Britain’s Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Mr Kapitelli explained how the UAE has been proactive responding to Covid-19 since mid-February. “We planned aggressively to identify people early and treat people early,’ he said. Mr Aggrippa talks of how AI and data made a “quantum leap” in enabling the authorities to respond.

Speaking from the point of view of the British health system, Mr Mackey said AI had a unique role to play. “Viruses adapt, they move and are agile and that’s what AI is about – getting ahead of it,” he said.

Mr Burt believes that as the lockdown ends the virtual conferencing era will be adapted but will not disappear.

“In terms of what we are doing now and how we might move in the future I think we might move into a hybrid model,” he said. “People have got very used to these virtual meetings; they save a lot of time and you can pack a lot in.

“The Emirates Society, as time goes on, can offer a menu of going back to holding events where people get to see each other and have chats in the margins but not every meeting will be like. Because you can do these events very easily we vary between formal meetings and events such as this.”

Updated: June 1, 2020 01:23 PM

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