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UAE: Thirty years of transformation and progress

posted on 04/12/2001: 1921 views


The United Arab Emirates will find a prominent place in world textbooks as a brilliant example of rapid development, said the daily "Gulf News” in a special supplement published on the occasion of the 30th National Day. "A few thousand years hence when historians tell the tales of how great civilisations were born, blossomed and flourished, the United Arab Emirates will find a prominent place in world textbooks as a brilliant example of rapid development,” said the report.



"The federation of seven sheikhdoms, has, in just 30 years shown the world what could be achieved if will, wisdom, vision and the means combined. This is a feat which is even more difficult to achieve given the independence and individuality of each of the seven sheikhdoms. In a loose federation, each competes with the others for a slice of the business cake. But, it is unity in diversity and their complementariness that has enriched and spurred this great nation,” the report said. "



In just a little over 30 years, which in world history is a minuscule time span, the country has evolved from a few ageless fishing and pearling settlements, to a modern nation with state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure rivalling the most advanced nations. Compared to world giants, it may be small. But it is a voice that is heard on the world stage, whether it is at political fora or among global charitable institutions, whether it is at economic bodies or at world social gatherings. It has quietly disbursed humanitarian aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars. "Its quest for peace among world nations is well-known and its efforts have extended to as far as supplying peace-keeping troops in Kosovo - efforts which have been lauded by the world community.



"The United Arab Emirates has not only embraced new technology, this tiny nation on the Arabian coast, has spearheaded many regional and international developments,” the report said. "Change is what the UAE is all about. What characterises it is dynamism, the benchmark of constant and rapid transformation, ever evolving, ever growing, ever mutating, ever modifying, and ever improving. The country has no time to rest, the nation is eager to grow, eager to achieve, eager to aspire, eager to find new challenges, eager to discover new worlds and eager to cross new frontiers.”



Perhaps the words of General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister, at the recent launch of Dubai Government's e-services portal, best personify the ideals on which the UAE has marched and proposes to develop in the future.



"Though we celebrate today, we will not stop, nor rest, for there is always a tomorrow. And, tomorrow brings new things, new ideas, new challenges to conquer, new summits to aspire to, new worlds to find. We shall not stop in our quest. We have the resolve and the means,” Sheikh Mohammed told the August gathering. "For a visitor to the UAE it is difficult to imagine what life was like 30 years ago. Perhaps even more so for the below-30s generation of UAE nationals. For them too, it is hard to visualise the life of their fathers and forefathers. "The coastal slip that makes up the seven sheikhdoms of the UAE, had remained unchanged for ages, subsisting on the bounties of the sea, the pearling boats and the trading dhow, the ship of the desert and the date palm. Even to get potable water, for example, residents of Dubai, in living memory, had to trek down to the Hamriyah area to dig wells off the waterline. Sand-filtered sea-water would then be carried on donkeys back to the settlements.



Not too long, there were no air-conditioned buildings in the UAE - in fact, there was no electricity network to provide relief from the searing heat of the summer months. "Suddenly all this changed with the discovery of oil. Anything could have happened from there on - and did, in a planned manner. Armed with the gifts of wisdom, vision and resolve, the leaders of this nation took to the task of building a future for themselves, their children - and yes, even guests from all over the world - a future that amazes and holds spellbound the beholder of this modern day miracle,” the report said.



"The change is so intense and continuous and transformation so expansive and all encompassing that it is difficult to imagine how this nation could stay on the path it has chosen for itself. But it has and it does. "When one moves quickly, it is vital to know precisely where you are going - or else there is danger of taking a wrong turn and losing your way. We are living in a fast-moving, information- driven world, and the UAE is one of its most rapidly developing countries. Fortunately, our course has been well planned and there has been a skilled navigator at the helm,” explains Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Information and Culture. "The social and cultural well-being of our society has been the target of our planning, and all other aspects of our development, be they economic, political, social or environmental, stem from this consideration,” Sheikh Abdullah said in his foreword to the UAE Year Book 2000/2001.



The UAE has had to live with change all the time, change brought about internally and that brought upon it from outside. Change within the country has been staggering whether it is in its physical make-up or in its society or in its economy. And externally, the country has learned to deal calmly with the fluctuations and volatility of a troubled world, of swinging oil prices, and of the peaks and troughs of boom and bust that affect the global economies, the report said.



Being an open economy, the UAE is open to world problems. But, fortunately, the impact locally is always muted and less evident than elsewhere. Whereas Asia went nervous during the Asean crisis and America and Europe have tightened their belts post September 11, 2001, life and business has been and is as usual in the UAE - making it an oasis of peace and stability in a churning world. Its merchants perhaps best perform under the worst conditions. For centuries, the part of the world that the UAE belongs to, was considered inhospitable by peoples of the rest of the globe.



But over the past four decades, it has seen world opinion change, and it has been fortunate in that it could build right from scratch. It did not have the historical inefficiencies of the past which many nations are plagued with, the report said.



"Today, the UAE is not just a 'regional' hub. It is an important member of the world community, contributing towards peace and human dignity in an uncertain and unstable world. It has grown to become a link between the East and the West. Its influence spreads around the globe - sometimes even leading - as it is presently in the race towards the e-economy.” "While the rest of the world continues to talk and discuss what new roles the state would take in this ever-changing and dynamic world, the UAE has proven the law of change by rapid transformation. Many statistics prove so. "Almost a third of the UAE population uses the Internet, according to Ahmed Humaid Al Tayer, UAE Minister of Communications. If an average household size of four persons is taken, then out of a household population in the UAE of 775,000, some 32 per cent or 250,000 households have a dial-up Internet connection.



The penetration of the GSM is even higher at almost 55 per cent, with the UAE having more than 1.7 million GSM subscribers out of a total population base of 3.1 million. This is expected to grow to 80 per cent in the near to short term. "Fixed line subscribers number 1.1 million which - if we take the average household size of four persons- works out to more than one line per household. Compare this to 1976 when ETISALAT was set up. There were then only 33,000 fixed telephone lines (8,250 homes),” the report said.



Similar is the growth pattern in the gross domestic product - which is another fine example of how the country has prospered, grown and developed. The complexion of the UAE economy has changed dramatically in the past three decades. The lowest rate of growth had been of nine and quarter 'times' in the category of restaurants and hotels. This is comparatively low and is so because recently trade was taken out of this category and added to the one above it, the report said. "On the other hand, the highest rate of growth- and this is not in percentage - was of 333 times in the Financial Sector, indicating the growing maturity of the Emirates banking and insurance sector.



The UAE is now acknowledged as the financial hub. "Total GDP has grown by almost 36 times and non-oil trade by just under 70 times, proving that the diversification efforts taken up by the country have proved to be successful in paring down the reliance on volatile oil to a minority representation in the GDP. "In 1972, oil accounted for over 62.5 per cent of the GDP and non-oil (mostly trade) sector for 36 per cent. Twenty-nine years later, the roles have been reversed.



Today, oil accounts for 33.9 per cent of the GDP while the non-oil sector accounts for a massive 66 per cent. "And, not only this. The complexion of the non-oil sector has changed. In 1972, stress was on trade, transportation and building up of the infrastructure. These remain significant contributors to the GDP. "However, the UAE was able to widen its vistas and diversify its economic sectors to include new and significant contributors such as Information Technology (IT) services and tourism. "From a poor Gulf country, the UAE now boasts a per capita income of Dh79,935 or 21,780 US dollars. Per capita GDP stands at almost the same level. From a population base of just 180,000 in 1971, the country now has 3.1 million people of which Abu Dhabi accounts for 38.2 per cent, Dubai of 29.4 per cent and Sharjah 16.7 per cent. Much has been achieved, but more horizons are available and it's a big wide world out there.



The leaders of this nation and its people are only limited by the width and depth of their imagination. It would be interesting to see what new frontiers this nation breaches over the next couple of decades. "We realise that what we have so far achieved is, by all standards, pioneering,” Sheikh Mohammed told a gathering of OECD countries, which the UAE had the honour to hold as its first Arab host recently. "But we do also realise that we are only at the beginning of the road, and there is still a lengthy distance to cover. We are confident, however, that we are on the right track. We clearly understand that numerous tasks are yet to be undertaken. We believe we have the ability to succeed. We are determined to do just that,” Sheikh Mohammed pointed out. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)

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