Transcript of Shaikh Mohammad’s opening speech @ the Arab Strategy Forum

I wish a warm welcome to our guests.

This forum is held on the first day after the end of the mourning period for our dear departed Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. May Allah have mercy on his soul.

As we resume our official activities and welcome this honourable gathering to talk about the future of the Arab world, the greatest presence among us is the philosophy, school of thoughts and attitudes of the late Shaikh Zayed. His heart and mind were inhabited by Arabism, which he crystallised in his conduct, life, morals, commitment and generosity.

The late Shaikh Zayed used to actively involve himself with events in the Arab world as if they happened in his own house. He was happy for any Arab achievement, no matter how small.

He was saddened by any mishap wherever it took place. He found joy in all good deeds, and was repulsed by dissension, hypocrisy and meanness. We were always concerned that his heart might not withstand this overwhelming love a heart that often felt anxiety, grief, and pain over events in the Arab world.

Had Zayed’s philosophy been followed by the Arab nation, as it has been followed in his own country, and had the Arab leaders adopted this philosophy, our Arab reality would have been different. Our way to the year 2020 would have been smooth and clear.

Some of you may say that I am overwhelmed by my emotions, and perhaps I am overreacting in my speech. Those of you who knew the area in the 1950s and earlier realise that the unification of the UAE, with all its rulers, tribes, its harsh conditions and historical inheritance, into a single constitutional state, embodies one of this region’s most important efforts at change and reform.

The late Shaikh Zayed achieved this great success through his good governance, his willingness to consult, and his devotion to work. He dedicated himself to serving his country and its people. He concentrated on developing our country in every field. He always maintained a receptiveness, a willingness to learn, from human civilisation in all its diversity.

The late Shaikh Zayed had a vision for change, and the will to introduce that change. This is exactly what we need in the Arab world today. We are at our best when we are talking about change, but our will to change is shaky, or perhaps weak. For decades, we have been talking about unity and cooperation, but the talk in some parts of our Arab world today is not about the unity of the nation, but about preventing the collapse of some states.

Common denominators

Since globalisation knocked at our doors, we have been constantly talking about its dangers and effects, and about the need for Arab states to stand together to face the evils of that globalisation.

Is it not more urgent that the Arab states should start with themselves, to secure the cooperation of all vital powers in their communities to find ways to escape stagnation, and find ways to make Arab cooperation possible and fruitful?

In fact, globalisation makes cooperation inevitable not only for Arabs, but for all nations and people of the world. We all need to cooperate to face the problems of poverty, disease, global warming, terrorism and extremism, and digital divide. All geographical communities in the world are on the lookout for common denominators. Quite recently, a gathering of Latin American states materialised. So, why do we in the Arab world disperse our common denominators, and not behave, even according to the logic of geography?

Had Shaikh Zayed and Shaikh Rashid only talked about the sweet dream of unity, without possessing genuine intent to act, and the courageous will to do so, no changes or reforms or advancements or developments would have taken place in our land.

I do not intend in my speech to impose upon your forum the experience of the UAE, but I feel that experience represents something that can aid your discussions here.

Whenever I think of the topic of this forum, I have an image in my mind of an Arab world in 2020, enjoying prosperity and stability.

Nothing inspires me with optimism more than our experience in the UAE. Forty years ago, our situation was worse than the current Arab situation. Just as we were able to change that situation, and change our harsh circumstances for the better, the Arab world today is able to do the same.

I would like to point out here that the wealth God has given to the UAE was not the decisive factor in change and reform. Wealth is usually a factor of dissension among states not one of unification. It can be an invitation to stagnation and rest, not to activity. You may know that oil income in the UAE does not form more than 30 per cent of the gross national income. For Dubai, it is not more than 7 per cent.

In any case, the concept of wealth is wide. Water is wealth, as is agricultural land. A people’s heritage and human capital form an inexhaustible wealth. We live in an age where the ways we conceive of wealth have changed. Human capital, knowledge and information have become the most important components of what we consider to be true wealth.

I say this, while we are talking about the Arab world in 2020, so that no one can claim that the contemporary Arab world poor in resources. No Arab country is without sources of wealth. The important point is this such resources must be employed for the welfare of the people, and the efficient use of those resources requires good management and administration.

The centre of gravity in development today is human capital. The centre of gravity in progress is good governance. The leader who helps his nation develop its human capital in advancement is upholding his duty. Any state that ignores human capital as the centre of gravity in its development strategy is making a serious mistake.

Change is not easy, and it can frighten people. When someone avoids decisive action by preferring Byzantine debates, I am reminded of the old proverb about the futility of trying to divide a tiger’s skin before hunting it. When suspicious minds portray all new developments as being fomented by conspiracies, they are sometimes without even meaning to postponing change and reform.


Ladies and gentlemen of the forum:

In the Arab world, we are not proceeding to the year 2020 all alone. We are part of the world community a community whose development we have contributed to, for example, through our achievements in science, mathematics and culture. Our world has become more connected. It is like an open market for goods, capital, investment, services, information, culture and ideas.

The way in which we interact with the world community affects our chances of solving our problems, and achieving our objectives for the year 2020.

When I survey the world situation today, what concerns me most is the growing power of a school of thought that proposes the existence of a so-called clash of civilisations that seeks to divide the human family into a squabbling set of incompatible religious and ethnic groupings. If such divisive ideas should continue their ascent, they will lead our world into a dark tunnel of violence, and to hostilities with no end. There can be no winner in such a fight.

I will point out here that Islam and the Islamic world is being slandered by those who wish to deliberately sow seeds of misunderstanding between religious groups as a way to promote clashes between civilisations, instead of cooperation.

We understand the anger caused by criminal acts committed by a few marginal individuals who are followers of our religion. We also took part in the international campaign against terrorism, but we refuse to stamp all Muslims as being somehow culpable for the actions of a few. We reject any effort to portray Muslims and Islam as backwards and barbaric. We rebut those who claim that Islam is contrary to modern civilisation, or inherently antagonistic to Western culture.

As the year 2020 approaches, among the first duties of all leaders, intellectuals and active participants in the Arab life is to confront any effort to twist the tenets of our religion. We must thwart all efforts by vicious people who wish to engineer a global clash of civilisations. Islam is a religion of dialogue, human unity and equality among people. It is a religion of gentleness and kindness. The Quran says: “Call to the course of your Lord by wisdom and good advice.” It urges, “reason with them, in the most courteous manner”.

Ladies and gentlemen:

It is our right to look forward, to a different Arab world in the year 2020, and it is our duty to act, and move faster than speed itself. We are responsible for our destinies. It is by our hands, not the hands of others, that change and reform will be realised.

As for those factions in the international community that wish to place our region in turmoil, and who never tire of suggesting dubious projects of change and reform, one after the other all we can say that we are grateful for their interest.

Security and stability

We recognise that we can benefit from well-intentioned help from the international community. We are indeed in need of their help.

Reform, however, cannot be realised by foreign projects and glib plans. Reform cannot be realised by tanks and artillery, or by manipulating crises rather than solving them. Security and stability are two powers of reform. They are a joint responsibility between the states of the area and the international powers. Reality proves that the responsibility of those international powers to help bring about peace is greater.

The international community certainly knows the requirements of security and stability. Yet it must do more to help our region achieve true security and stability.

Security and stability in the Middle East demand a just and fair solution to the plight of the Palestinian people, on the basis of international law. We also need a quick solution to the Iraqi situation, within a framework that restores Iraq to its people, protects its unity and restores its sovereignty and independence.

True security and stability also demands ending the use of force to solve conflicts, and clearing the entire Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

Long-term strategies

Ladies and gentlemen:

For about a century, the Arab world has endured a parade of crises, problems and unrest. Many of us are used to blaming the failure of our efforts at economic and social development on those crises as well as on foreign influences. It is time to get rid of this habit. Crises may slow down the development, or postpone some programmes, but they can also form an added incentive for us to succeed and realise our objectives.

I cannot see why a crisis no matter how severe could delay economic, administrative or legislative reform. I cannot see why a crisis should hold back a plan to wipe out illiteracy.

What have foreign relations to do with the fact that some governments rely, even today, on domestic legislation rooted in the age of Ottomans? What do foreign relations have to do with the way that some governments make life difficult for their citizens? What is the relation between foreign factors and the spread of corruption?

In the year 2020, the Arab population will be about 400 million. The Arab world will need millions of new jobs, and hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on the infrastructure. It will need huge efforts to eradicate illiteracy, develop education and narrow our knowledge gap with the world. These needs cannot be met with the concepts and methods that have led the Arab world to its current situation.

I say to the governments: Attend to your responsibilities, and provide wise legislation, organisation and supervision. Provide an atmosphere of work for the private sector. Protect it from those who would wish to harness it for their own end, rather than the common good.

I say to my fellow Arabs in charge: If you do not change, you will be changed. If you do not initiate radical changes, responsibly discharge your duties, and uphold the principles of truth, justice and responsibility, your peoples will resent you. More than this, the verdict of history on you will be severe.

To conclude, I would like to point out that many people have a confused impression about forums held in our area. Some may consider them an occasion for mere theorising, big talk and loud yet empty statements. Some consider this a region filled with mere dreams and fancies, but poor in action and achievement.

Here is a message for all of us: We have to stop talking about dreams. We need an end to abstract chatter about what must or must not be. We have to start talking far more concretely about procedures, budgets, projects, dates of completion and details of delivery. This is what I expect of this forum. Our intention here must be to provide the Arab world with long-term strategies to work together to devise new measures leading to real commitments.

We want to move confidently to the year 2020. You are capable of building that confidence.

I wish you good luck in your proceedings.