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Sheikh Khalifa's interview with Al Ahram newspaper

posted on 26/11/2008: 1240 views



President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan yesterday stressed that relations, coordination between the UAE and Egypt are strategic in all their dimensions and further contribute to stronger intra-Arab relations and joint Arab action.

Sheikh Khalifa noted that the Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, based on his recognition of Egypt's political economic, military and cultural weight in the Pan-Arab national security system, was always keen on materializing these relations into joint projects and work programs.



Sheikh Khalifa's remarks came in an interview with Egypt's Al Ahram Newspaper. The interview was run by the newspaper's Editor in Chief Osama Saraya.



Following is the text of the interview:



Q1- The distinct relation between the Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and President Mubarak have been a strong boost to UAE-Egypt relations and to all intra-Arab relations as a whole.

How do you view the influence of the relation between the two leaders and how do you view the UAE-Egypt relations after you took over from your great founding father?



A- I welcome you and Al Ahram which is one of the oldest Arab media platforms. I would like to stress that the relations between the UAE and Egypt are strategic in all their dimensions and further contribute to stronger intra-Arab relations and joint Arab action.

The Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, based on his recognition of Egypt's political economic, military and cultural weight in the Pan-Arab national security system, was keen on materializing these relations into joint projects and work programs.

This explains the special relations between the Late Sheikh Zayed and Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak whom we greatly respect, not only for his keenness on further promoting relations between the UAE and Egypt, but also for the significant role he plays in Arab joint action as well as for his efforts, positions and initiatives which are all in support of the rights of Arabs, peace, clearing the air and rapprochement.

To sum up, our relations and cooperation with Egypt in all areas are in the interest of Arab Nation and give momentum to joint Arab action.



Q2- What is your view of the reality of Arabs, in particular with relation to the Palestinian issue? The UAE is a member of the Arab Quartet along with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.



A- The reality of Arabs might not be up our wishes or for that matter up to the wishes of Arab citizens. Yet, it holds potentials and factors that make us optimistic about the future, but we need to invest our strengths and factors of development.

Among the most visible reasons why those potentials have not been fully benefited from is the instability that has been riddling the Arab World for decades now. It is partially attributed to the failure to find a just solution to the Palestinian issue as well as to enable the Palestinian people to establish their independent on their own land.

Although we do reject the using this issue as a pretext to justify our mistakes and shortcomings in many areas of the Arab joint action, Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, its rejection of peace efforts and lack of seriousness in the final status negotiations with Palestinians all create a feeling of uncertainty and concern affecting the general situation in the region.

Based on our belief in finding a just, permanent and comprehensive solution to the issue, we joined the Arab Quartet along with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia with the aim to push peace efforts and urge the influential international parties to make Israel comply with international resolutions and implement agreements with the Palestinians and withdraw from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem so as to enable Palestinians to establish their independent state on their own lands, Syria's Golan Heights and the Lebanese lands which are still under Israeli occupation. This would come within the framework of commitment by Arabs to the Arab Peace Initiative which calls for a just peace that guarantees security for Israel.



Q3- The war in Iraq and the later developments created a new reality in the region. How do you view this reality with regard to Arab-Iraqi relations as well as to Arab-Iranian relations?



A3- The situation in Iraq is one of the sources of concern that the region has been suffering from. Despite the relative improvement in the security situation and the decrease in violence, the situation in Iraq is still a concern that requires making more efforts until Iraq achieves full recovery and restores its regional role as an effective factor of regional stability.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for a more positive approach to the dangerous situation in Iraq backed with Iraqi people and government in order to get out of the cycle of violence, encourage all Iraqis to engage in the political process which aims to preserve Iraq's territorial sovereignty, independence and Arab identity.

With Arabs distancing themselves from Iraq, some regional powers which became the only influential players in Iraq seek now to isolate Iraq from the rest of the Arab World.

Based on this approach to the dangers of isolating Iraq from the rest of the Arab World, and out of Arab national responsibility, the UAE cancelled all its Iraqi debt so as to help the Iraqi government carry out development and reconstruction plans and improve the security situation.

We are now completing procedures to open our embassy in Baghdad. This is based on a commitment on our part to provide political and moral support to efforts aimed at improving the security situation in Iraq as well as to encourage all Iraqis to reject all forms of sectarian violence.

We are certain that our initiative, as well as similar initiatives by other Arab countries, would have a clear effect situation in Iraq and would help the Iraqi government restore security and stability.

As for the effect of the situation in Iraq on the Arab-Iranian relations, we hope that those relations would not have to be put to test in Iraq. We also hope that all parties would commit themselves to the principle of non- interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign states. We fully believe that a secure and stable Iraq would be in the interest of all parties and in the interest of the regional security. Any attempt to take advantage of the security turmoil and political dispute in Iraq would leash out evil results on all parties.



Q-4- The UAE still resorts to reason in its efforts to restore its three occupied islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Mousa. How do you view the future in light of the latest Iranian actions? Are there any steps that could be made to tackle Iran's refusal to accept the call for peaceful solution by the UAE, Gulf countries and Arabs?



A4- Our approach to our rights in the Islands does not take the form of reactions. Rather it is a clear approach that is based on fixed foundations the most visible of which is the insistence on a peaceful settlement to the issue through referral to the international legitimacy, international arbitration or engaging in serious bilateral negotiations. These bases have not changed despite all the barriers that blocked our peaceful efforts.

Although we insist on our fixed right in the Islands, we consider Iran as a neighbour with whom we share a long history of relations, reciprocal interests in many areas. We are working towards employing those relations as a vehicle to push peaceful efforts to solve the three Islands issue.

We recognize that a just solution to the issue would expand venues of cooperation between the two countries and improve security and stability in the region.

The approach of imposing a status quo is invalid and will lead to nowhere. For we will not change our position on the issue however long it might take and therefore we will continue to claim our rights in the Islands.

We hope Arab and international understanding of the UAE's peaceful approaches would help convince Iran to engage in a dialogue that would ultimately lead to a just and peaceful settlement of the issue.



Q5: With the escalation between Iran and the US raging unabated, particularly regarding Iran's nuclear programme, and Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, it is being speculated that Gulf States have alternatives to oil tankers crossing the Strait with oil to the outside world. What are these alternatives and what is the message that decision makers in both Iran and the US need to read from this in order to refrain from torching the flame of war in the Arab Gulf?



A5: The Strait of Hormuz is a vital passage for the global economy. It is one of the keys of stability not only to the region but also to the whole world, so the responsibility of ensuring its safety is an international one. It is therefore not logic to turn the Strait into a political gimmick. Therefore, it is also not acceptable, in this case, to start talking about alternatives for the free flow of oil from the Gulf to the outside world. The issue is not about the Gulf States alone, but relates to the whole world. The Gulf States are committed, in this regard, to shouldering efficiently their responsibilities not just for their own interest but also because they are part of one big world family in order to ensure the free flow of oil safely. This is because oil is an international necessity and not just a commercial commodity.

Notwithstanding the aim of the issue of having an alternative route to the Strait of Hormuz for transporting oil to the outside world, this question seems to send a message that all peaceful means of solving the issue of Iran's nuclear programme have been exhausted. This notion must not be promoted or created in the minds of people as inevitable. Although we are worried about the escalation of the Iranian nuclear programme crisis, we in the Gulf still have high hope about the success of the international efforts being made by various parties to convince Iran to respond positively to the demand of the international community in accordance with its commitments and membership to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in order to allay the fears or doubts about its nuclear programme.

We, on our part, call for continuous political and diplomatic approach to this issue, away from escalation and negative reaction, so as to reach peaceful agreement that would ensure security and stability for the countries and peoples of the region.



Q6: While you believe that security and stability can be achieved through good and balanced relations, mutual respect for sovereignty and interest, others believe security can be achieved by building military power and race to possess advanced weapons. Do you still have faith in your belief and how do you see the defence strategy of member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council?



A6: We in the UAE always stand against attempts to drag the region into armament race, but this does not mean neglecting our rights to possess advanced weapons to serve our defence strategy which is based on providing all elements of defending our vital interests, while contributing, on the other hand, as an integral part of the security and stability components in the region. Possessing advanced weapons must not be a cause to stir aggressive tendency, it should rather be means of improving the capability of the armed forces and enabling them to be update with modern military technologies to match their national and regional defence requirements.

However, if you mean with your question a race to acquire weapons of mass destruction, we repeatedly call for making the Middle East, including the Arabian Gulf region, a region that is free from this kind of weapons. This is because we strongly believe that the best guarantee for security and stability lies in finding just solutions for the current crisis in the region on the basis of international legitimacy and resolutions, respect for mutual interest and good neighbourliness. But to engage in a race to acquire weapons of mass destruction in the light of the current on-going crisis would aggravate the tense situation and boost aggressive tendencies. We in the UAE and the GCC have defence policy that is based on respect for others' options but deterring any attempt to force those options on us.

This policy has won credibility and respect, particularly after the countries of the region have proven that they have not used the language of threat or force as a tool in their foreign policy.



Q7- the UAE has made significant steps to tackle the issue of the demographic structure. What is your view of the urgent and longer-term solutions?



A7: The approach to solve the imbalance in the demographic structure is multi-level. First, controlling the labour market so that temporary labour, which is in the country for work based on clear contacts, would not become a permanent demographic load. This mandates developing legislations that are related to the basics of dealing with the labour in a way that takes into consideration that it is temporary labour.

The second level has three dimensions: 1- working on developing domestic human resources, elevating their performance through training and qualification programs so that they have the ability to use modern technology that decreases dependence on foreign labour, unskilled labour in particular. 2- Promoting the culture of self-dependence in a lot of areas that have been left to foreign labour. This needs a review of some habits and concepts to recover significance to manual and fieldwork which was one of the clear features of societies in the region. 3- Paying the financial cost of foreign labour from developed terms and conditions of recruiting to the extent that makes the cost attractive to domestic alternatives.

We recognize that the demographic structure is a complex issue that requires time and continuous efforts as well as interaction of the society to any plans laid by the government.

We do understand the concerns of some over this issue. We think a diversified demography in the UAE has enriched our experience of development and has promoted tolerance and openness to a host of other cultures.

The security and stability that we enjoy today even though we have a greatly diversified demography proves the fact that we have the ability to control the pace of relation in the UAE society through respecting human rights and providing ways to dignified living to all who live on our lands.



Q8- UAE became the only country to achieve a union among the Arab states. This unique experience of unity grew into permanent stability over the last three decades. What is the secret of success? What is the message we have to read to bring about Arab unity and solidarity? What is the shape of the federation today in the hands of the second generation after the departing of the great founders of it? Is there competition among various emirates? What is the vision of Sheikh Khalifa and the present generation about unity and the support the country's future needs? Where does the UAE stand in the modern democracy? What is the share of women and youth in this process?



A8- At the outset I thank you for assessing our unity experience in such a way as you did. We pray to Almighty Allah to enable us to bear the responsibility that we have been trusted with to strengthen this experience and to reach wider horizons. The secret of success of this experience lies in the truthfulness and honesty of the first founders, who were led by Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. With his wisdom and farsightedness, he defined the priorities of the federation. He focused on the development of the human resource, considering it the real wealth of the nation, and the objective of any development, and transforming it to a power that will protect the achievements of the country.

Secondly Sheikh Zayed adopted the principle of progression and slow, determined work with patience for building the union. He perceived that the complicated concepts and conventions people inherited over the long decades cannot be easily overcome. With his natural instinct he was able to understand the regional environment evolving the experiment. As a result he took every step in a calm and composed way towards the building of the institutions of the federation.

With regard to our role, as the second generation entrusted with this country, is to protect the achievements of this experience and to glorify them, with the knowledge that this experience safely crossed over to the shore of security, and became mooted in the hearts of the children of the country as the final destination from where they will not return.

To answer your question whether there is any competition among the various emirates; the direct answer is YES. But it is a righteous and noble competition to serve the children of the emirates, to improve the performances and develop the work. This is a competition that speaks about the confidence in the strength and solidity of the experience of the union. It is also a methodology of managing the resources, as well as distributing the prerogatives among the local and federal authorities with an aim of achieving the maximum benefit and a balanced development to benefit every citizen in every part of the emirates. If what you meant is a political competition, then we have to assert that this is not there. We are blessed with stability in this respect, we have the mechanisms for consultation and interaction on the local and federal levels, and they protect the federation and its position.

With regard to democracy, our faith in participation and consultation is firm and stable and this faith accompanied us since the inception of the federation. At the same time we perceive that every democratic experience has its distinctive features, which go hand in hand with their particular situations and preferences.

As far as we are concerned, the experience of participation is a continuously evolving and dynamic experience. Among the expressions of its development is the elections, which were conducted to elect half of the members of the Federal National Council through ballot.

The powerful entry of women into this Council is another example of its continuous development. Among a total of forty members, nine are women. The participation of woman in the parliamentary life constitutes one aspect of her over all participation in the places of work. Women were given the opportunity to occupy a number of ministerial portfolios, and the proportion of their representation is much higher than that is found in some deep-rooted democracies.

Q9 - UAE is trying to diversify its sources of income and to build an industrial base, especially in the field of food production and clean energy related industries. What are the achievements in this field?



A- Diversification of the sources of revenue is a strategic objective of our economic policy and this includes a host of fields like industry, trade, services, energy, petrochemicals and others. The recent figures of the GDP point to the growth of the non-oil sectors.

The diversification will not happen only through the initiatives of the government. Empowerment of the private sector is also needed as it can play its role as the partner in the process of development.

Speaking about energy, it is in conformity with our environmental concerns. We launched in cooperation with the Global Nature Fund, a work plan for sustainable development with an objective of developing the Masdar city, which will be the first zero-carbon city in the world. Masdar city will depend on the renewable and clean energy like solar energy which can be used in power generation and desalination.

UAE is trying to diversify its sources of income and to build an industrial base, especially in the field of food production and clean energy related industries. What are the achievements in this field? A- Diversification of the sources of revenue is a strategic objective of our economic policy and this includes a host of fields like industry, trade, services, energy, petrochemicals and others. The recent figures of the GDP point to the growth of the non-oil sectors.

The diversification will not happen only through the initiatives of the government. Empowerment of the private sector is also needed as it can play its role as the partner in the process of development.

Speaking about energy, it is in conformity with our environmental concerns. We launched in cooperation with the Global Nature Fund, a work plan for sustainable development with an objective of developing the Masdar city, which will be the first zero-carbon city in the world. Masdar city will depend on the renewable and clean energy like solar energy which can be used in power generation and desalination.



Q - 10. In the backdrop of the global food crisis and rising prices of commodities, don't you see that the time has come to set up projects for Arab food self-sufficiency, benefiting from the special characteristics of each country?



A- We have this approach and attitude like many other Arab countries, to benefit from the distinctive features, among which the most important is the investment environment in the Arab countries, and to increase the participation of the private sector.

But we don't want the investment in the field of Arab food security be made on political considerations, but should be on economic considerations. Because it should constitute a guarantee for the success of such investments and an incentive for increased initiatives in this sector.

But we don't want the investment in the field of Arab food security be made on political considerations, but should be on economic considerations. Because it should constitute a guarantee for the success of such investments and an incentive for increased initiatives in this sector.



Q 11- UAE plays an effective role in helping Islamic countries as well as non-Islamic countries for facing disasters and calamities. What is the volume of the UAE's aid and assistance for world countries?



A- Our help and aid, especially in times of disasters and calamities is a part of our culture, and a religious and humanitarian obligation. It is an expression of our sense of duty and our feeling that we belong to the same world, and we are part of it. We will be influenced with what happens in this world. I prefer not to mention any figures in this regard as to protect the humanitarian nature of these helps. UAE's help is not limited to official and formal donations, but it carries out many humanitarian works through various national charity institutions and philanthropists among the citizens and residents.

The urgent relief aid given by the country in times of disasters constitute only a small portion of UAE's total humanitarian assistance, which is given through various ways and institutions like Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, Khalifa Foundation for Charitable Works, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Foundation for Charity and Humanitarian Works, Red Crescent Authority, Mohammed Bin Rashid Charity and Humanitarian Foundation and similar institutions.

Through the long years of experience, the diplomacy of assistance has become a prime constituent of UAE's foreign policy system.



Q- 12 With the prospective of the oil revenue witnessing fluctuations as a result of the drop in crude prices, and with the global financial crisis looming over, what is your vision to face these challenges and secure the economy of UAE, and to protect its achievements.



A12: The fluctuations in the oil market are not new, and we have handled before the situations when the prices were lower than now. We are closely monitoring the oil market dynamics and are working with our partners in the OPEC to face any negative impacts on the stability of world markets. We are also investing the oil revenue to develop our human resources as they constitute the most precious among our resources. We are also working towards diversifying our economy through some domestic and foreign investments abiding by the policy of prudent investments to guarantee the return of these investments for the coming generations of our country.



Q13- without doubt, your special concerns and directives to UAE citizens to turn to Egypt in the avenues of investment as well as other avenues, have made the size of UAE investments in Egypt to grow. Are there any new horizons for joint cooperation? What is your vision for integration between UAE and Egypt?



A13: UAE citizens always go to Egypt for purposes of investment, tourism and education. The special features of the Egyptian economy offers incentives to the UAE investors. But the volume of joint investment between UAE and Egypt is much lesser than what we aspire, and is depending on official initiatives. What we want in the future is the business community in both countries should set up joint projects. This necessitates more efforts in promoting the investment opportunities and provision of adequate information on the investment environment. It also calls for legislations making investments resonate with the fast rhythm in the global markets. – Emirates News Agency, WAM

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