On the 2nd of December this year, the United Arab Emirates will observe its 51st National Day, celebrating the Spirit of the Union. This auspicious day commemorates the union of the 7 emirates in 1971, which laid the foundation of what is today the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or officially Dawlat al Imarat al Arabiyya al Muttahida.
After the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the national day celebrations on previous occasions, this year every Emirati heart will finally be able to showcase their pride for the nation again without barriers or restrictions.
The official National Day show will take place in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) which will open its doors to visitors from the 3rd to the 11th of December, and the UAE will light up in colors of red, green, white, and black. This year’s showcase includes moving vignettes, breathtaking performances, and the use of innovative technologies designed to take us on a generational journey across time through exceptional storytelling.
But beyond the performances and the spectacle, the UAE National Day is a juncture where the nation and its people connect to celebrate our national unity. It is a moment in time to salute the visionaries of the past, cherish the pioneers of today, and inspire the leaders of tomorrow.
It is also an occasion to celebrate family, which is why the National Day brings together all those who call the UAE home, to share stories of the past and present and remind themselves what it means to be an Emirati.
For the older generations, it is also a reminder of their moral responsibility to keep our younger generation, who perhaps feel detached from their roots, grounded in their Emirati identity.
Why Do We Celebrate The UAE National Day?
As always, the first name that comes to mind on every National Day is that of the late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, our founding father. The late Sheikh Zayed’s persistence and continued calls for cooperation, alongside the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, led to our nation’s establishment. Without his determination, the UAE as we know it today wouldn’t exist.
Today UAE is the second-largest economy in the GCC in terms of GDP and this is reflected in the standards of living we enjoy, for which we have the late Sheik Zayed to thank. Furthermore, his vision and strategic investments were instrumental in making the UAE one of the most economically developed countries in the world.
Sheik Zayed was a man of great foresight and also patience – qualities that earned him the moniker “the wise man of the Arabs.” He understood that the solidarity among us Emiratis was crucial to the nation’s collective success, which is why his greatest priority was to build capabilities in education, health, and social welfare. This philosophy is reflected in our everyday lives to this day. We celebrate National Day every year to reinforce this solidarity and pride among our citizens.
Dubai’s Crucial Role In The Rise Of The UAE
The National Day also cannot pass by without taking a moment to appreciate the work done by the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in transforming Dubai and the United Arab Emirates into lasting and sustainable entities. He was the driving force behind many infrastructure projects that established Dubai’s position as the regional hub for trade.
Port Rashid, the Al Shindagha Tunnel, the Jebel Ali Port, the Dubai World Trade Centre, the second major dredging and widening of the Dubai Creek, and the Dubai Drydocks were all projects undertaken during his reign.
Shiekh Rashid was able to foresee that we could not depend on oil as a nation and that diversifying the economy was imperative for a sustainable future. This led to the transformation of Dubai into an international financial and commercial hub.
Of course, UAE is still ranked among the top producers of oil and gas worldwide with Abu Dhabi holding one of the largest oil reserves in the world. However, our economy is no longer dependent solely on petroleum thanks to the consistent effort made by Dubai’s previous and current rulers to raise the city into an international trade hub.
The Jabel Ali free-trade zone which was established in the 1980s and allows foreign entities to operate from Dubai without the need for a local partner, along with the Dubai International Financial Center which operates under a commercial and civil framework based on English common law, helped usher in an era of foreign investment.
Today, trade remains the fulcrum of our economy, with Dubai playing home to two of the largest ports in the world and an international air cargo hub. In recent years, tourism has also become a significant contributor to the economy. The modern infrastructure projects in Dubai including the Burj Khalifah, Palm Jumeirah, and the Dubai Frame, among others, are being utilized by the current rulers to further this cause, in continuation of the work done by their predecessors.
The Vision Of Our Modern-Day Pioneers
The strength, grit, and vision of our leadership were truly epitomized in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It demonstrated that the wisdom that was personified in the rulers of our past still remains in the leaders of the current.
This was not the first time that UAE as a nation had faced such a profound moment of crisis. When the pearling industry which was once the bedrock of UAE’s economy, went into a sharp decline in the 1930s, it was the farsightedness displayed by our leadership to diversify our economy and the measures taken to improve the markets that ensured that we didn’t sink into insignificance.
And we saw history repeat itself when the UAE, along with the rest of the world, faced yet another unprecedented crisis when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Nations world over faced economic uncertainty and many are still to recover from the downturn. However, the UAE proved to be one of the best-prepared countries to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic.
This was down to two reasons: first, how effectively our health and well-being are taken care of in the UAE by the administration, whether you are a citizen or a resident, and second, the investments UAE has made over the past few decades to build world-leading infrastructure, robust institutions, and efficient public services. This ensured that we were equipped to weather, not just the health crisis caused by the pandemic, but also the economic impact.
At the launch of “We The UAE 2031” the government’s vision for the next decade, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the supreme ruler of Dubai, and the Vice President, and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates remarked that the UAE will maintain its position as an economic destination and that economic prosperity, social well-being, and development of human capital will be the main pillars of the next 50 years.
The Envisioned Future Of The UAE
The foresight and ambition of our current pioneers are perhaps best exemplified in our space missions directed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. In 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the “Mars 2117 Project” which aims to establish the first human settlements on Mars while simultaneously using new scientific knowledge to address challenges of energy, food, and water security.
“The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream for humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum remarked on the occasion.
Within two years after this announcement, we were able to carry out our first manned mission into space under the slogan “Zayed’s Ambition.
Now, with the recent success of the Emirates Mars Mission, “Hope”, led by Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Technology and chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, we became the first Arab nation to reach Mars and only the second country to do it on its first try. But it doesn’t stop there.
The launch of the Emirate Lunar Mission on the 1st of December is another milestone on our journey to becoming world leaders in space. The mission is part of another new 2021-2031 project launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre which also includes the development and launch of an Emirati-made lunar rover “Rashid”.
Illuminating Our Everyday Heroes
The challenge before us now is preparing our citizens, especially the younger generation, for the future that lies ahead. If the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything, it is that we still have a long way to go when it comes to home-based science and research. That’s why we need young Emirati minds working on the pressing challenges of the day such as food and water security and also the many others that we will surely encounter in the future.
Emirati graduates should aspire for more than the rote career pathways such as business and engineering, and explore new avenues in science and research so that we have a talented home-grown workforce that makes us fully equipped to face any challenge thrown at us without having the rely on expertise from outside our nation.
The exemplary work done by the National Center for Meteorology under the directorship of Alya Al Mazroui in researching solutions for global problems including Rain Enhancement and Water Security is inspirational in that regard. According to the Center, “this Research Program for Rain Enhancement is a new initiative designed to improve water security in arid and semi-arid areas around the world”.
This statement reminds us that even when it comes to the sciences, our ambition is not just to make UAE self-reliant, but rather to be leaders and providers for nations across the globe.
The UAE astronaut mission is an example of the heights that every Emirati can aspire to achieve. The stories of the Emirati Astronaut team including Hazza AlMansoori, the first Emirati astronaut, astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi, the first female Arab astronaut, Nora AlMatrooshi, and astronaut Mohammad AlMulla, are a testament to the fact that we too can reach the stars if we are willing to dream big.
“Learn from the past and in the present relish,
With your ambitions, our nation shall flourish.”
These lines perfectly encapsulate what the National Day should mean to every young Emirati.
Celebrating The Spirit Of The Union In Dubai
Today, Dubai is home to more than 200 nationalities and a melting pot of diverse ethnicities and cultures. The city perfectly reflects the general atmosphere of tolerance and coexistence across the United Arab Emirates. That’s why each and every one of us is proud to call this beautiful nation our home. Here, the possibilities are endless, which is why the UAE is a beacon of hope for millions of people around the globe.
“UAE Centennial 2071 is based on four aspects: Education, economy, government development, and community cohesion. The goal is for the UAE to be the best country in the world by 2071. The vision’s objectives also include the development of education, with a focus on advanced technology and engineering, and instilling an Emirati moral values system in future generations,” His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has said when he launched the UAE Centennial project.
As citizens of the United Arab Emirates, we too are stakeholders with a part to play in creating the collective future of our nation.
So if you are in Dubai during the National Day holiday week, let’s celebrate our Emirati identity, culture, values, ambition, and the spirit of the union, in all its fervor. Let us sing the national anthem with pride in our hearts. Let us wave the national flag imbibing the colors and what they stand for. Let us be proud of what our fellow brothers and sisters have achieved so far, and pledge to push future generations to even greater heights. Together, let’s build our tomorrow.
Happy 51st National Day!
Ashley Barboza works as an editor and on ocassion writes opinion pieces and columns for Shortlist Dubai. He is an avid reader before he is a writer and at top of his favourite stack are the authors Haruki Murakami and Yuval Noah Harari. He is an alumnus of The English and Foreign Languages University and has also had a stint as an Assistant Professor of English Literature.