CULTURE AT THE HEART OF THE UNITED ARABIC EMIRATES’ VISION OF A MODERN AND TOLERANT DIPLOMACY

H.E. Zaki Nussseibeh Minister of State United Arab Emirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation at the occasion of his recent visit to Brussels

After a short discussion about the ongoing TEFAF Maastricht 2019, one of the most opulent fairs for fine art, antiques and design, we conversed on cultural diplomacy and gender equality.

You received the award of “Cultural Diplomat of the Year 2017, Abu Dhabi Cultural Summit”. How important was the legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed in the new strategy for cultural diplomacy?

He believed that cultural diplomacy is about insisting that cultural exchanges make us all stronger because we all share the same humanity.

For the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE, a love of humanity was not only a way of life, but also a core national strategy firmly rooted in the Islamic faith and Bedouin tradition. As Sheikh Zayed said, “The true Muslim is friendly to all human beings and a brother to other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is because Islam is a religion of mercy and tolerance.”

Sheikh Zayed believed in the importance of Arab unity and international partnerships, which he pursued through a foreign policy defined by an openness to all nations, regardless of religion or political ideology. From his earliest days as a ruler, Sheikh Zayed led through consensus-seeking and open dialogue rather than through coercion or force. His guiding objectives were the facilitation of national development and the pursuit of prosperity and peace for his country, while playing a responsible and moderating role in regional and international affairs. Central to his guiding philosophy was the belief that the human race is one family, and that he must do everything he can to alleviate the suffering of others and to extend an aiding hand to all those countries and families who needed assistance and help internationally.

Traveling extensively over the course of his 32 years as President, Sheikh Zayed built friendships with many great world leaders, from Nelson Mandela to Queen Elizabeth. And it was through these relationships, built upon mutual respect and understanding, that the foundations for the strategic and peaceful partnerships that the UAE enjoys today, with Arab neighbors and non-Arab nations alike, were established.

Today, Sheikh Zayed’s historic vision is strongly reflected in a thriving and tolerant country that hosts more than 200 guest nationalities. The UAE boasts a 93 percent literacy rate, more than 15 million tourists visit annually, and 70 percent of all university graduates are women. UAE aid and development efforts serve 147 countries of various religious and cultural backgrounds. The country is home to more than 40 churches and other places of worship as well as to numerous internationally acclaimed centers of learning and culture, such as the Sorbonne University, New York University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The values of tolerance, religious freedom and mutual respect championed by Sheikh Zayed are ingrained in the UAE’s DNA.

Cultural Diplomacy is increasingly important to developing international influence. Can you explain what is the UAE cultural Diplomacy strategy?

Cultural Diplomacy is an important mechanism with which the UAE executes and implements its foreign policy. Its agenda aims to project the country’s global imprint as an open and tolerant society and to strengthen its relations with its international partners through cultural exchanges that deepen mutual understanding and friendship, highlighting the nation’s identity, its heritage and culture, while underlining the values of moderate Islam, and promoting religious tolerance, multiculturalism, women’s empowerment and mutual respect.

Furthermore, the UAE’s cultural and public diplomacy is focused on developing a unified and coordinated direction for the various sectors of our society, including the economy, humanities services, tourism, media and science, enhancing the UAE’s position as a gateway to the region, establishing the country as a regional capital for education, culture, art and tourism and ensuring the Emirates is portrayed as a modern and tolerant country that welcomes people from across the world.

UAE’s cultural diplomacy efforts are carried out through our missions, through our ambassadors, and through various cultural and educational institutions that are active in the country. The 2019 historic Papal visit to the UAE and the hosting of events such as EXPO 2020 are central to this strategy.

In today’s world, globalization and technology have enabled an unprecedented free flow of ideas and meta data on a global scale, offering vast opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue and education, but also possessing the damaging potential for the rapid dissemination of false information detrimental to world peace and progress. Effective cultural diplomacy facilitates an appreciation for the differences that make cultures unique and an awareness of the connections that unify all of humanity through the utilization of today’s communications revolution, while seeking to limit the down side that is embedded in it. This form of understanding works in the service of improved global stability and security, fosters international prosperity and defines our foreign policy, our domestic agendas and our cultural diplomacy efforts.

I read that UAE is at the forefront of gender equality promotion amongst Arabic countries. Does it also translate in your diplomacy?

Gender equality is of paramount importance in the UAE. Under the Constitution, which guarantees equal rights, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education, the right to practice professions, and the right to inherit property like men. The list of gender equality achievements in the UAE is very long! Allow me to share a few examples; in the UAE 77% of Emirati women enroll in higher education after secondary school and make up 70% of all university graduates. 46% of all UAE university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women and the literacy rate of women in the UAE is 95.8%. The UAE was the first country in the region to enact legislation requiring female board members in every company and government agency and 25% of cabinet- level minsters are women, including the world’s youngest, Shamma Al Mazrui, who serves as Minister of State for Youth Affairs, appointed at the age of 22 in 2016.

Women make up 20% of the UAE’s diplomatic corps, including female ambassadors to the United Nations, Finland, Denmark, Latvia, Portugal, and the Holy See. The Speaker of our National Assembly, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi, was the first female legislative leader in the Arab world. We have female military pilots and army officers. In September of 2013, I am proud to share that Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh became the UAE’s first female Permanent Representative to the UN and the fifth woman in the country to serve as an Ambassador. She was elected President of the UN Women Executive Board in 2017, the first Arab female president to lead the Board. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh was also elected as Vice President for the 2017 United Nations General Assembly, representing the Asia-Pacific Group of Member States.

In support of regional stability, the UAE enthusiastically facilitates numerous arts and culture programs in developing countries which provide employment and education opportunities for women in economically unstable environments, such as the FBM Foundation for young women in Afghanistan. As we all know, employment and education are strong stabilizing forces, which generate hope and dignity and are directly linked to empowering women and youth, lessening the appeal of extremist recruitment, strengthening communities and building sustainable economies.

Our cultural diplomacy efforts also support and engage female Emirati artists, curators, writers, researchers, academics, architects and musicians. Through summits, exhibitions and cultural events as well as through publications, documentary films, cross-cultural collaboration, press, and educational programming both at home and abroad, the UAE female arts community nourishes our cultural diplomacy efforts.

Dr Pick Keobandith

Founder and International Director, Inspiring Culture