A Union's Exchange: Navigating the 21st Century


Happiness sheltered us from the tyranny of time, As we all united...a nation in its prime.

O young ones, you live in a time of blissful spring, Needless to taste the past's suffering.

Learn from the past, and in the present relish, With your ambitions, our nation shall flourish.

Responsivity and proximity of a government to its people is the best form of encouragement for any society to keep going. With the establishment of new ministries of Happiness and Tolerance, a Minister for youth, eight women holding ministerial posts, The United Arab Emirates have shown they are receptive to twenty-first century challenges and welcoming of experimentation within their system.

At the 2016 World Government Summit in Dubai, President Barack Obama reiterated that the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America can learn a lot from each other's experiences as we enter an age of new demands, going on to say "In the past government was largely judged by how well it secured the ability of its citizens to achieve certain gains; notably gains that ensured physical, social and economic well-being. But because governments of the present and future will be able to drive innovation of unprecedented scope and power, the very nature of responsible governance is being redefined."

This piece seeks to better contextualize the United Arab Emirates history and how they are a current model in the redefining of a responsible government given their both innovative and fast paced gains.

I believe the pace of development, women and youth's integration, and of reaching an audacious comfort to experiment with bold initiatives and encouragements, is profound, given how fast the UAE came in short time.

To greater or lesser extent -- depending on the area -- Gulf countries have only recently entered the global stage and have not gone through the same experiences as other countries due to their lack of exposure to modern political systems -- which has set them uniquely apart.

"The halo of sacred associations was extensive enough to encompass Hejaz' neighbors and to keep them isolated and insulated until a few decades ago. Even in pre-Islamic days the peninsula was never exposed to as strong political and cultural influences as the other Arab lands were." This excerpt by American Scholar Phillip Hiiti only reiterates the reality, that is, very few places on earth have come so far and so fast, as the Arabian Peninsula in the 21st century. In particular among them, the United Arab Emirates. Redefining a Responsible Government in the 21st Century:

Speaking with Aysha Taryam, Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Today, and the first Middle Eastern female Editor in Chief of an English language newspaper, she shared with me that bold moves such as the creation of the new ministries is nothing recent for the United Arab Emirates,

"The UAE has always had a pioneering approach when it comes to political decisions. The birth of a country built on the unity of what was once seven feuding Emirates was and still is one of the bravest attempts the Gulf region has seen. A feat that faced much skepticism at the time yet has proven it's genius 44 years later. The creation of the ministries of tolerance and happiness, strange as they might seem to some parts of the world, is yet another pioneering idea taken by the government in an attempt to better UAE's society. "

The United Arab Emirates Government has been a prime example of putting words into action, not only do they advocate for innovation in entrepreneurial pursuits, but in the system itself they have a historic culture of experimentation, innovation, and proximity to society which is visible in the establishment of these new ministries. For a monarchy, their flexibility to society's demands and incorporation of democratic processes are impressive.

We should be above reducing governments down to their system's label, rather, measure them by their receptivity to society's demands.

Social Capital for Sustainability:

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates has appointed eight women to ministerial positions, and has established two new departments, a Ministry of Tolerance and Ministry of Happiness.

From Washington to the region's own, some have been overly critical of these new ministries, under the perception that they are soft, and that "real change" per say, equates to high military expenditures and greater amounts of allocation in education.

However policies like these have been relentlessly repeated and provides us with no great change. The military has only solved episodic problems, not epicenters of our greatest worries, and as for greater allocation of GDP spent on education -the Middle East region already spends the most in the entire world on education however has not reaped the benefits. In the 20th-century we focused on quantity, but the 21st-century will attend to quality.

Those critical of governments that challenge the status quo and experiment with alternative methods to a prosperous future, often are organizations and stakeholders linked to outdated businesses non-receptive to twenty-first century demands. These entities fight disturbances in the status quo, which has put a cap on innovation processes in many Arab countries.

But I believe the UAE is breaking a mold in the region, insofar as depending less on external sources for sustainability. If they continue on the path of experimentation and astute application, an innovation process from both society and government will organicly take place, propelling social capital beyond the barrel.

Quality in society is being rebirthed overseas, something that our country, the USA, simultaneously wholeheartedly constitutionalizes and battles with. Founding Father and Author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson is known for saying,

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government."

The World Happiness Report released in 2015, in Chapter Eight by Jeffrey Sachs, defines that the prime reason to invest in social capital 'happiness' is because of the economic productivity and social insurance it generates.

Social capital can be tested when a social dilemma occurs and the individual chooses to forgo a personal cost, for the greater benefit of others. This is when you know your social capital is high.

"When most people in society behave in that manner, society as a whole benefits in higher economic productivity, stronger social insurance, societal resilience to natural hazards, and greater care in coming to the aid of others." - Jeffrey Sachs

The UAE invoked two powerful departments, tolerance, and happiness, two nouns rarely used to describe modern day Middle East. This could be just what the region needs. Happiness is a strategy with valuable returns. Happiness is what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning and strive.

The UAE's Ministry of Happiness will ensure policies contribute to greater fulfillment among society, and that initiatives and programs are invoked to ensure everyone is taken care of, from expatriates to citizens. Not exclusively to the Arab region, but the world too, needs a reason to keep going.

A firm believer in not only interregional exchanges [East and West] but intraregional, I believe that the UAE's decision to focus on these issues needs to be transferred throughout the region, whether oil-endowed or developing country.

The fact of the matter is that the Gulf region continues to be dismissed by us and the region for some of their greatest achievements just because they are comparatively economically well-off -- often unfairly restricting them to "privileged and exceptional" -- we lose sight of the transferable lessons to be learned. But if Middle East nations too continue this mindset of us vs. them, and paint themselves as entirely different based on socio-economic terms, they will start to withdraw from the sharing and spread of knowledge in the region. Which in my opinion, is what is plaguing the Middle East.

Arab tradition is rich in translation, shared language, great commerce, knowledge exchange, all which makes for transferable application. We must learn to intra-regionally love ourselves and learn from each other. International actors and interest groups have clouded and distracted the region's once acute perceptivity.

The Advancing Culture of Women's Participation:

"The Emirati woman has proven time and again that her presence is never one of image but of substance and has made her mark both in the UAE and worldwide." - Aysha Taryam

The appointment of eight women to the Ministerial cabinet and the open support for women by the country's men, ushered a powerful sensation of hope felt by Emiratis across the country, that their daughters' wings are equal to their sons. The feeling of electric air where all children, men, and women, can embark as one. Frequently in the West, off of unfound claims and stereotypes we remain to believe Arab women are second-class citizens, not realizing that women have always played a role like how they have in the United States. Women have always been part of the workforce, from seamstresses to modernly holding offices and rising executively. The evolution of women in our country is similar to the region at large.

The United Arab Emirates has a continued culture of women's inclusion. "If one should only look back at the history of the UAE, they would find the Emirati woman playing an instrumental role in every field since the country's inception. So it is only natural to see her recognized and appreciated by the wise leadership who has always viewed the Emirati woman as an equal and never as an 'other'," says Aysha.

Forms of participation and socio-economic currents shape the role that both man and woman play in their country, and just because a woman is not doing the same work she was doing 100 years ago, does not infer she was not engaged.

A Future of Learning From Others: As an American, when I look around my country I see unsatisfied citizens, racism apparent, tolerance ignored, Islamaphobia high, stereotypes blanketing us all, only 1 out of 3 Americans are really happy, and only a rare few of us are satisfied with our jobs -- that is if we are even lucky enough to have one. 200 years and going, we are looking for innovative ways to advance our union.

Just as diverse the Middle East is, with various socio-economic backgrounds, religions, to political outlooks, so has our nation become in its heterogeneity. There is not too much that differentiates us from the rest of the world, and in fact, there are lessons our own country can learn from looking at foreign models.

From 193 countries adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 190 countries signing the most ambitious climate change accord in the Paris Agreement, to international disease centers coming together to fight the latest breakouts in viruses -international cooperation is reinforced as nations learn to work with one another.

Cooperation like this provides optimism in the alleviation of the problems we all burden, that a better innovative and collaborative future is not suspended, but indeed reinstated.

We may sail different ships, but we have all arrived at the same dock, looking ashore for similar answers to our parallel problems.