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Asharq Al Awsat Exclusive Interview with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan during an interview with Asharq Al Awsat's Editor-in-Chief, Tariq Alhomayad

The President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan during an interview with Asharq Al Awsat’s Editor-in-Chief, Tariq Alhomayad

In an exclusive in-depth interview with Asharq Al Awsat, the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan discusses Iraq, the Iranian nuclear file, the Palestinian issue, the UAE constitution, nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and the relationship between the Muslim world and the West.

Sheikh Khalifa stressed that the UAE, in agreement with all Arab states, believes that security, peace and stability in the Middle East cannot be achieved without a unified, stable Iraq. He stated, “Any calls, regardless of their source, for dividing, dismantling, or partitioning Iraq geographically, or from a sectarian standpoint do not serve the interests of Iraq, its people and the nation.”

With regard to the Palestinian issue, Sheikh Khalifa described the situation as “tragic” where the people “suffer from the repercussions of the occupation and the daily attacks on unarmed civilians,” as well as “from the deadlock in political efforts, which makes their plight seem endless.” The ruler called for the Palestinians to strengthen their national unity.

Sheikh Khalifa told Asharq Al Awsat that concerns of the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding the Iranian nuclear file “stems from the firm principle that the Gulf region and Middle East must be steered clear away from any arms race for weapons of mass destruction. GCC states have individually and collectively informed the Iranian leadership of this principled position, and in return we have obtained guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes. We said that these guarantees need reassurances that the program conforms to the standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so that GCC countries may be satisfied not only with the safety of the program, but also with the availability of the technical know-how that would ensure the safety of these installations and prevent any malfunctions that could damage the regional environment, of which Gulf countries are a main part.” He also stressed that the approach adopted by the UAE to restore the three occupied islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa does not intend to exploit foreign positions or policies concerning the nuclear file.

Sheikh Khalifa affirmed that the Muslim world has to acknowledge that the relationship between Muslims and the West has suffered recently due to internal problems in the Arab and Muslim worlds and mostly due to the approach adopted by the Western countries in dealing with the main issues such as the Palestinian issue and the definition of terrorism. He called for the organizing of “an international UN-sponsored conference that aims at improving understanding between the civilizations and laying the groundwork for tolerance.”

Concerning the UAE constitution and the calls for its amendment, Sheikh Khalifa stated that “the real problem that faces the constitution does not lie in its amendment but in the ability of citizens and constitutionally empowered institutions to respect and implement the rules and principles of these constitutions. We will work on focusing efforts during the new stage on its interpretation and application, and if required, in accordance with the constitutional procedures, on the introduction of abrogation, amendments, or additions as may be necessary.”

Sheikh Khalifa said that the UAE is aware of the imbalanced demographic structure, pointing out that there are three approaches to overcome the matter, the first of which is to reinforce the role of the citizens in production and management by strengthening the national skilled work force. Secondly, by restructuring the economy by setting all the conditions needed to facilitate the shift from the traditional stage, which is a labor-intensive one, into an economy that is built on advanced knowledge, technology and skilled labor with the purpose of replacing unskilled labor with modern technology. The final approach is to improve the efficiency of the bodies that regulate foreign labor.

The interview with Sheikh Khalifa proceeded as follows:

Q: Two years have passed since the death of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan – God rest his soul – yet there is still a sense of an overlap between the past stage with all its prominent and remarkable political and developmental achievements and the new stage of national action that you are leading with all the ambitions and hopes that it entails. Does this overlapping motivate you to form a new method to carry out your responsibilities, or do you feel that the role your father played in the past stage places additional burdens on you in dealing with the burdens of the future?

A: It is not just a sense; it is reality. The natural movement of societies does not occur in isolated or separate realms; rather, it takes on the form of a chain. As long as a society’s goals are clear and well-defined, the process of transition from one stage to another will be natural and peaceful.

These two conditions are present in the United Arab Emirates’s experience. Therefore, the overlapping between the two stages can be expected and is welcomed. We are not starting from scratch; rather, we are building on the rich experience that we have already accumulated, deriving from it our determination to continue our work in the service of the homeland and the people. The accomplishments achieved during my late father’s term undoubtedly place an additional responsibility upon us; in addition to preserving the accomplishments of the past stage, we are also expected to continue developing and fortifying our federal project so as to enable it to adapt to regional and international developments and variables.

Additional to his great accomplishments, perhaps the most important legacy left by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, God rest his soul, was the clarity of his objectives. These objectives, while targeted at development and governed by developmental standards, are very humane in essence. Their frameworks are genuine and their roots run deep. They embody the characteristics of the Arab and Muslim people of the UAE. In the speech I delivered on the occasion of the union’s 34th anniversary, I stated that we are on the threshold of a new stage, which I called the ‘empowerment’ stage as compared to the previous period, which was the ‘laying of the foundations.’ I said that the two stages complete one another, serve the same objectives, and aspire to the same goals.

Q: In the speech that you mentioned marking the 34th anniversary of the formation of the United Arab Emirates, you launched an initiative to activate the role of the legislative authority by amending the way members of the Federal National Council (FNC) are selected while developing the council’s authorities as the first step toward direct elections in the future. Is this not a small step compared to the political, economic and social achievements made by the UAE? Did this initiative come in response to domestic necessities, or perhaps to keep up with the regional-international situation?

A: One of our most important objectives for the future stage is to provide the conditions needed to encourage citizens towards a greater participation. Nations are built with the minds and through the communal efforts of their people. As part of the means to achieve this end, in order to progress the path of the federation, consolidate stability, and respond to the aspirations of our citizens, the demands of our era, and the changes taking place in the state and the region, it was important to elevate the FNC to a higher level in terms of representation and effectiveness so as to bring it closer to the issues of the homeland and the concerns of its citizens. This process would deepen the values of participation and bring about a consultative approach (Shura). The council would thus carry out its role as a legislative authority that supports all the transformations society is witnessing through representatives, whose loyalty is solely devoted to the homeland, committing themselves to its goals and consolidating its political system. This transformation will be gradual. Its first stage will encourage the participation of citizens through local electoral bodies in the seven emirates, whereby citizens will elect half of the council representatives while the other half will be selected according to the previously applied mechanisms until full elections are eventually reached. The entire enterprise is not imposed on us neither does it emulate others; rather, it is a pure national initiative dictated by national interests and priorities. It is natural for this national interest to frequently intersect with some regional and international considerations because the UAE is an active element in its international and regional environment, influencing it and being influenced by it.

Q: There are those who say that following a gradual approach in activating parliamentary participation is a form of hesitation in granting (people) the right to vote; what are the justifications for adopting this gradual approach even though all the elements that would qualify the UAE to hold more comprehensive elections exist?

A: In the United Arab Emirates, we are fully convinced that for a transformation to be genuine, structural, and attached to the destiny of the nation and the future of the country, it must not be rushed and must not skip over stages; rather it must be well-examined, gradual, and in line with the nature of society, its characteristics, trends, future aspirations, and demographic structure. We have followed this gradual approach since the establishment of the state; our economy progressed gradually and so did our armed forces and our educational, legal, social and other systems. Every part of the state and society is in constant gradual motion. A gradual approach has always been part of the UAE’s government policy. The philosophy of my late father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, God rest his soul, was based on patience and on not imposing formulas that do not include the necessary elements to succeed. He always said: “What is unacceptable today may become acceptable tomorrow”. Therefore, there is no need to rush for it could cause us to stumble. Based on this, adopting a gradual approach when dealing with the elections was a continuation of this philosophy in order to create a suitable environment and also to set the legal foundations needed to hold comprehensive and direct elections. Moreover, a gradual approach is a positive step whereby society, with its governmental and non-governmental institutions, and individuals, whether the experts or the public opinion figures, can subject the process – while in progress – to continuous evaluation that would lead to adopting the necessary and desired amendments and additions. Electing half of the members of the FNC will place more national responsibilities on everyone’s shoulders making it imperative for voters to select candidates who are qualified and able to contribute more. We believe that membership in the FNC is in essence an expression of allegiance and responsibility.

Q: To what extent are you content with the people’s response to this step?

A: There has been a good response to the initiative from the people, even from those who initially expressed reservations about it. As everyone knows, citizens – both men and women – expressed their views and welcomed the initiative through the media. We are ultimately working to propagate a culture of pluralistic viewpoints and the acceptance of other opinions.

Q: How long do you think the interim period will last before citizens are able to fully participate in selecting their representatives to the National Council?

A: It is not an interim stage with a time limit; rather it is a foundational stage that will gradually be developed with interim measures that will be influenced by the outcomes of the exercise itself and with the future measures that people agree on and adopt. The timeframe for moving from one phase to the other in the initiative, although launched by us, will be a true interpretation and outcome of the ideas and recommendations presented by public opinion. This is the essence of the empowerment stage, which aims to limit the role of the government to preparing the creative environment needed to bolster the role of the citizen and increase their effectiveness.

Q: Will the reform approach be limited to parliament or will it expand to cover other areas such as education, academic curricula, and civil and media freedoms?

A: As you may well know, all our social systems are currently undergoing a comprehensive review in terms of their philosophy, objectives, laws, and methodologies. Regarding the educational system, we have indeed started implementing measures to introduce structural changes that will modernize and update the educational structure enabling it to respond to the requirements of the stage while strengthening the role of knowledge and human capital in economic and societal development, and promoting individual skills and capabilities. The reforms also aim to fortify the relationship between the educational process and the developmental, security, and demographic needs in order to create the appropriate atmosphere for producing a productive human being who is proud of his identity and able to give and effectively contribute to the making of the future.

As for the media, the most important feature of the last cabinet reshuffle was the abolition of the Ministry of Information. The formation of a National Information Council was later formed as a measure that aims to give our federal media establishment a higher degree of flexibility and financial and administrative independence in a manner that suits its nature enabling it to carry out its task in adopting the issues of the homeland, caring for the concerns of its citizens, embedding the concepts of freedom, responsibility, and allegiance, and strengthening the values of participation, dialogue, and acceptance of the other. We are convinced that all members of society and its religious, cultural, educational, media, volunteer, and other organizations have pioneering roles to play in the stage we envisage. Activating, developing, and supporting this stage is a national duty and is part of the government’s duty to establish the creative environment that we spoke of.

All in all, we do not view the parliamentary elections as the only manifestation of democracy. Democracy is a collection of practices that in addition to voting for members of the FNC includes the freedom of expression and laws that guarantee human rights with their political, social, and intellectual dimensions. We have started laying the foundations of these rights by issuing and amending relevant laws.

Q: What do you expect from the future National Council and how do you anticipate female participation in the council in light of the experience of including women in the current cabinet formation?

A: We hope the council, in cooperation with the executive authority would be able to draft regulations that can create a healthy climate for popular participation, spread a culture of democracy that respects citizens’ rights and allows them a larger margin to freely express their opinions. We hope it will make it its priority to deeply entrench the measures we launched to strengthen democracy, reform, and the empowerment of women and youth, and push the march of comprehensive development towards its human goals with all the related development of educational, training, and health systems, and other services that are directly related to the security and prosperity of the citizen.

As for female participation in the electoral process, it is a continuation of the woman’s role in public life, which has enabled her to actively participate and achieve different levels of responsibility, including seats in the cabinet. The success that UAE women have accomplished in all these positions indicates that they can only achieve more success in the FNC by expressing the society’s issues, especially those pertaining to women’s rights and those related to the family. We have confidence in UAE women and their capabilities. We expect a lot from them, especially in terms of a strong presence in the elections as candidates and voters.

Q: Do you not feel that the UAE’s constitution, three and a half decades after its adoption, needs to be reviewed and amended so as to be consistent with local socioeconomic transformations and regional developments? Will the parliamentary reform – so to speak – be a precursor for such amendments?

A: The real problem that faces constitutions does not lie in amending them but in the ability of citizens and constitutionally empowered institutions to respect and implement the rules and principles of these constitutions. We do not need a constitutional amendment to endorse the freedom of opinion and expression because they have been stipulated by the constitution, which also stipulates the right to assembly, the right of association, and the right of foreign workers in the country to enjoy the rights and freedoms recognized by international conventions and legislation that preserves the rights of workers and the interests of employees. We are proud of this constitution and consider it an important civilized accomplishment in the foundational stage. We will work on focusing efforts during the new stage on its interpretation and application, and if required, in accordance with the constitutional procedures, on the introduction of abrogation, amendments, or additions as may be necessary.

Q: The long intervals between the meetings of the Federal Supreme Council and the abolition of the Ministry of State for Supreme Council Affairs have given the impression that this council no longer maintains its former role of outlining the supreme policy of the UAE. Is what the council experiencing a temporary phase or is it a precursor of its diminishing political role?

A: The Federal Supreme Council is not an executive council that meets weekly or monthly; it is a supreme council that is constitutionally authorized to outline and manage the supreme affairs of the state and take the relevant strategic decisions. Other details fall within the powers of the head of the state and the executive authority, that is, the cabinet, the ministers, and the various federal councils, committees, authorities and institutions. Moreover, meetings are not an end in themselves as long as there are modern means and channels of contact that allow us much room for holding ongoing consultation with the Federal Supreme Council members, the rulers of the emirates. We are engaged in continuous and ongoing contact, and the council has been and will always be the highest constitutional authority in the country. The last cabinet reshuffle, which abolished ministries, merged some, and introduced others, was the result of serious study and an in-depth analysis of our overall experience as a federation since its formation in 1971. In line with the general trend to build a state of institutions with a clear separation between authorities, a recommendation was made to abolish the ministry especially with the presence of the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, which, by virtue of its statute, is capable of all duties that the former ministry was responsible for.

Q: Those following the progression of the UAE over the past two years in particular, would sense an expansion in the role played by local authorities in the UAE’s emirates, which was evidenced by some emirates choosing to independently provide services that federal authorities offered, or by launching giant real estate or service projects. How do you view the role of new local governments? Does this new role undermine the role of the federal authority? How will you harmonize between these authorities and the general national project?

A: The UAE is a federation that was formed by a treaty between the political entities that were present before the federation and which forfeited – strictly of their own will and without undermining their status – some of their authority in order to establish an all-inclusive federal entity. The constitution regulated the relationship between the federation and the emirates, distributing the authorities and specializations among them. If you refer to the constitution and its amendments, you would find that everything taking place in the UAE is constitutional and does not infringe upon federal authorities, privileges, and duties.

Q: Some believe that the development of the UAE’s resources, whether as a result of the rise in oil prices, investments, or the improvement of the services and trade sectors, were not met by an improvement in the federal budget’s resources. Does the absence of a budget amendment indicate the central government’s abandonment of some of its social and developmental duties and how will you deal with the impact that scarce budget resources would have on some areas?

A: Our economy is strong and is a successful model for developing economies. The United Arab Emirates has one of the highest growth rates in infrastructure and human development indicators in the Middle East. Would all these accomplishments have been possible without the necessary financial allocations? Is it logical for all this to have taken place in isolation of the international increase in oil revenue? The federal budget does not suffer from any shortage of resources and is growing every year. Perhaps proof of this is the budget for the current fiscal year, which has reached a balance between its revenue and expenditure with no deficit for the second consecutive year. The contributions of the different emirates to the budget have increased in comparison to last year. In addition, financial allocations to education, health, and the projects sector have increased. The cabinet made a decision stipulating that the federal government would contribute to the capitals of new public limited corporations, which would automatically lead to an increase in revenue. The state will never shirk its responsibilities toward its citizens. The education of citizens, their housing, health, and security are the responsibilities of government that we shoulder on both the federal and local levels. There is no discrimination between citizens in the United Arab Emirates and there is no difference between one area and another; development will be equal and balanced as it has been since this state was established.

Q: The demographic structure and its continual imbalance has posed a great national, social, and security threat; how do you plan to remedy this imbalance, especially in light of the recent legislative changes that have allowed foreigners a form of property ownership?

A: In the UAE, we are aware of the dangers of this imbalance. We believe that it is not impossible, nor difficult, to remedy the situation. We are exerting effort on several axes with the ultimate objective of bringing the imbalance down to a safer level that can be controlled and managed through integrated and long-term strategies, programs, and plans that can be followed up, measured, and evaluated and which serve legitimate national interests instead of taking the form of temporary partial measures.

Q: What are these axes?

A: The main one is to reinforce the role of the citizens in production and management by strengthening the national skilled work force. This will entail a huge effort – one which we have already begun – to restructure the education and training sectors so that they can yield qualified graduates to meet the demands of the labor market with all its different sectors. We are also gradually applying a qualitative national ownership by restricting certain professions to citizens only.

The second axis lies in restructuring the economy by setting all the conditions needed to facilitate the shift from the traditional stage, which is a labor-intensive one, into an economy that is built on advanced knowledge, technology and skilled labor with the purpose of replacing unskilled labor with modern technology. We have indeed started preparing investment policies and legislation to encourage capital- and technology-intensive industries over labor-intensive industries, which would mean that the upcoming years will witness a large decrease in the unskilled labor force, which is the social sector that affects the demographic imbalance the most. This transformation would also create more job opportunities for citizens.

The third axis lies in raising the efficiency of the bodies that regulate foreign labor. It would also include increased coordination between the relevant bodies and raising public awareness as to the importance of the issue. The national strategy to remedy the demographic imbalance incorporates social and educational axes, as well as cultural programs and media campaigns with the aim of propagating and strengthening the sense of responsibility and loyalty while cementing work ethics and values.

Q: With the openness the UAE is experiencing, there is growing international media interest in issues that range from foreign workers and their rights to the course of the various activities of life, which are being monitored by human rights groups and other international organizations. In the UAE, do you feel that you are dealing with this criticism or these reservations in a prompt manner that dismisses the concerns expressed by these groups, or do you feel that some of these reservations are exaggerated?

A: Since its establishment, the UAE has been careful to include the human rights issue into its constitution and has introduced a number of mechanisms to help strengthen and protect these rights, guaranteeing that the basic rights of workers are respected and met. A series of stringent laws were endorsed to protect the rights of workers and improve conditions for them. We also drafted a law to combat human trafficking, which was preceded by the implementation of new measures that seek to prevent the exploitation of foreign household workers by companies and institutions. Our efforts, however, were met with huge exaggerations in the reports issued by some international human rights organizations that do not possess a true understanding of what is being implemented in reality. As you probably know, the workers that the UAE hosts cannot be considered immigrant workers because they work on a temporary basis through limited employment contracts, which means that the immigration laws observed in Western countries do not fully apply to them.

Q: A considerable period of time has elapsed since you embarked on this approach or option that opens the UAE economy to the world, how would you evaluate the benefits reaped by the citizens of the United Arab Emirates?

A: There is no doubt the UAE benefited from its open economy policy. All our emirates and cities have become destinations for Arab and international tourists, as well as investments that helped activate the wheel of economic development while boosting development on a general level, achieving prosperity and creating more job opportunities for citizens. One of the results of this policy was that many family-owned businesses transformed to become joint-stock companies that were open to the public, enabling them to participate in economic growth. Various UAE companies also benefited from this openness by expanding their investments in several world countries, from GCC states to Arab, Asian, European and American countries. We expect that the presence of internationally renowned educational, cultural, and vocational institutions in the UAE will prompt their domestic counterparts to raise the efficiency and quality of their operations and products so that they may survive and compete.

Q: Does it not concern your highness that this openness and multiculturalism could affect the country’s identity?

A: The righteous Islamic belief and the noble Arab culture are the two most important elements in the set of components that make up the UAE’s identity – they are two impregnable forts that we are confident can protect this identity and improve its ability to confront any deviant culture or behavior. We will not fear for our identity from the diversity of cultures that continue to flood in, as long as the people are proud of the elements that form their identities and are committed to their cultures and values. As for the effects of cultural exchanges, it could provide advantageous additions to our identity, such as openness and an enhanced ability to learn about, accept and respect the different cultures. These are all significant aspects that help enrich the national character, and all our educational, cultural, and religious institutions endeavor to fortify these aspects and inspire them along with their efforts to preserve and protect our identity and educate future generations on the heritage of our fathers and forefathers.

Q: The UAE is negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States, but will there be a political price to pay for this agreement when considering rumors of US’s stipulations pertaining to an amendment of laws governing the labor sector and the freedom to form political gatherings?

A: Negotiations are underway with the United States and they are being led by a highly qualified and skilled negotiation council that has a clear vision and it is supported by a variety of specialized teams and technical committees. The council is entrusted with the task of achieving the best results in a manner that guarantees the local product’s ability to compete in the world’s largest economy while attracting state-of-the-art industrial technologies and protecting the country’s economic interests, also ensuring that it reflects positively on the different sectors. Our negotiating position stems from a vision that was derived in the aftermath of the council’s consultations with parties linked to the public and private sectors. Our negotiators have clear orders not to concede our country’s sovereignty or its independent will under any circumstances, especially since these negotiations came in response to the UAE’s national demand based on our open economic strategy as this agreement will offer our national economy a multitude of opportunities to advance and prosper.

Q: The UAE financial market is in a state of instability and decline, what steps are you taking to minimize the effects of this market disorder on the local economy in general, and on small investors in particular?

A: Despite the regression and sharp fluctuations that financial indicators experience from time to time within the downward trend that has swept across the entire region’s markets, we are not worried because the factors needed to boost market performance are available to us, those being: Political and security stability, a strong and booming economy in all sectors, a satisfactory rate of foreign and domestic investment flow into all the state’s emirates, and high oil prices in international markets.

Q: We recently witnessed intense cultural activity in the capital Abu Dhabi during the launch of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award; do you have plans to turn Abu Dhabi into the Gulf region’s cultural beacon through a continuous and comprehensive cultural process?

A: The Sheikh Zayed Book Award that we recently launched is an annual scholarly award named after our late father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, may his soul rest in peace. The financial awards it offers in nine categories amount to a total of AED 7 million, making it the largest book award worldwide. The award in essence is a tribute to our late father’s pride in science and scholars, as well as his appreciation of the importance of literature and art in the building of nations and people, in addition to his recognition of the status ascribed to books in the Arab and Islamic culture as repositories of science, civilization, and knowledge. Through this award we seek to encourage innovators and thinkers, honoring the most creative and contributing personality which has the greatest impact on the Arab cultural movement. We believe the launch of this award supports the cultural movement in our Gulf region, especially because the award ceremonies that Abu Dhabi will annually host will be accompanied by a variety of activities, book and art exhibitions, and a diverse range of cultural activities that will boost the country’s status in this area and open up new horizons for advancing the publishing, distribution, and translation industry.

Q: You chaired this year’s GCC summit, how would you evaluate the GCC’s current role, and do you feel that its security and political priorities have taken a backseat in comparison to economic cooperation?

A: We regard the GCC as a manifestation of a historic and social relationship between the member states, and it therefore surpasses its original role as a framework for political and economic cooperation. Perhaps it was the social and historical dimensions of the relations between the council’s countries that helped preserve this organizational bond all this time. Apart from the current lag in pace in the joint cooperation between GCC member states, prospects for cooperation remain promising. Perhaps the vast improvement in the flow of trade and investment, coupled with the new legislation that allows foreigners to own estate and become active players in the economy will generate an economic and social reality that promotes further ties and interests between the council’s member states.

Political and security priorities that dominated the cooperation march in the 1980s and 1990s were a result of regional circumstances at the time, but this is not to say that there was no economic and social cooperation – it might just have not had such strong media presence as it does now. I believe that no matter how priorities change, the chief measure of our success in driving the cooperation march is the availability of aspirations, which continues to grow by virtue of the increased ties and interests between the GCC countries.

Q: GCC states have expressed their concern over the Iranian nuclear program and have stressed the importance of a diplomatic solution. How would you evaluate the recent contacts, and were you able to obtain assurances during your latest meetings with Iranian officials and other concerned countries that the region would not lapse into a new military confrontation?

A: The Gulf region’s concern over the Iranian nuclear program stems from the firm principle that the Gulf region and Middle East must be steered clear away from any arms race for weapons of mass destruction. GCC states have individually and collectively informed the Iranian leadership of this principled position, and in return we have obtained guarantees that the Iranian nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes. We said that these guarantees need reassurances that the program conforms to the standards set by the IAEA so that GCC countries may be satisfied not only with the safety of the program, but also with the availability of the technical know-how that would ensure the safety of these installations and prevent any malfunctions that could damage the regional environment, of which Gulf countries are a main part.

Q: Can the UAE capitalize on the international pressure over Tehran to bring the issue of its three occupied islands – Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa – back to the forefront, or would the world’s preoccupation with the nuclear issue hinder the UAE’s efforts to regain its right to the three islands?

A: Our approach to regaining our three occupied islands does not obey any regional or international political agendas, but rather is based on a national legitimate position that preceded the Iranian nuclear program. Furthermore, the solutions proposed to the conflict by the UAE have not changed and are based on international arbitration and law and on a brotherly understanding. We are in no way exploiting foreign positions or policies and we still hope to resolve the matter either through constructive dialogue, or through the International Court of Justice.

Q: The humanitarian dimension of the UAE foreign policy is an evident one and is one that has brought the UAE great international acclaim. This dimension was displayed through the humanitarian aid that you sent to the Palestinians in Gaza, the victims of the latest Israeli aggression against Lebanon, the Tsunami victims, the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan, and to the impoverished African and Islamic countries. How does your highness view the importance of this aid in creating amity between people the world over and promoting the message of love and peace between their countries?

A: The humanitarian dimension is an important and noble part of UAE foreign policy that was founded by our late father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, God rest his soul, who said, “God Almighty bestowed upon us this wealth so that we may develop our country and simultaneously contribute to the development of others”. In achieving this goal, the state set up relief agencies and charity organizations, the most prominent being the UAE Red Crescent, the Zayed Charitable Foundation, the Mohamad Bin Rashid Charity Organization [The Mohamad Bin Rashid al Maktoum Charity and Humanitarian Establishment], and other organizations that play a pivotal role in achieving our policy on this level. This approach has enabled us to maintain close relations with countries with whom we have friendly and brotherly ties, and has enabled the state, through its capabilities and resources, to acquire a lofty position in the international system of development, humanitarian and relief aids.

Q: There have recently been intense talks between you and the Saudi leadership, and it was said that the border issue was among the key issues discussed; do you regard this issue as a problem that threatens the excellent relations maintained between the two countries, and how close have these efforts come towards a solution?

A: Our contacts with our brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are continuous, and regardless of the nature of the topics we discuss, the spirit of fraternity is the prevailing one in our meetings. Additionally, our keenness to maintain these brotherly ties is no less than that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader, my brother the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and his Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz.

Q: A growing number of people in Washington are demanding that Iraq be partitioned so that the US forces deployed there may be withdrawn; where do you stand on this?

A: In the UAE, we share the absolute conviction of the rest of the Arab world that the region’s security, peace, and stability depend on a unified and stable Iraq. We conveyed this position to all the concerned parties, and we said that any calls, regardless of their source, for dividing, dismantling, or partitioning Iraq geographically, or from a sectarian standpoint do not serve the interests of Iraq, its people and the nation. We are confident that the Iraqi people and government favor the option of unity, and they are more qualified than others to defend this crucial position.

Q: The Palestinian scene is at a critical phase due to Israel’s unjust practices against the Palestinian people. How does your highness view the current Palestinian situation, and do you see any real chance for reviving the peace process after all that has transpired?

A: The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is tragic because not only are the people suffering from the repercussions of the occupation and the daily attacks on unarmed civilians, but also because they suffer from the deadlock in political efforts, which make their plight seem endless. We wish to renew our complete support for our brothers the Palestinians, as well as calling on them to strengthen their national unity.

Q: Arab countries took the Palestinian cause to the Security Council [The United Nations Security Council – UNSC], but their efforts did not trigger any developments that could contribute to the revival of the peace process; does your highness feel that the chances for peace in the region are diminishing, or did the repercussions of the recent war on Lebanon generate international pressures to seek finding a final solution?

A: Despite our disappointment with the role the United Nations (UN) played regarding the Palestinian cause, we still believe that it has a role to play in implementing international resolutions towards establishing a just, permanent and comprehensive peace in the region.

Q: The Lebanese scene has been in a critical state since the beginning of the 33-day war with Israel, and the UAE has always been historically keen – ever since the days of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, may he rest in peace – on preserving Lebanon’s stability; how do you view Lebanon’s escalating and chronic crisis?

A: Our support for Lebanon or any other brotherly Arab country is a duty we have always recognized and is an essential part of our foreign policy, which has been shaped by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan, God rest his soul, and in whose footsteps we will follow, God willing. No matter how difficult the situation in Lebanon is, we believe in the ability of its people and government to recognize the real dangers and work on unifying the ranks, uniting their discourse, and placing the interests of Lebanon and its people before all allegiances and commitments – because the homeland comes first. Lebanon’s future is in the hands of the Lebanese people, for it is they who are best equipped to assess the situation and take the decisions that preserve Lebanon’s stability and security. I wish to emphasize here that we are fully prepared to do all we can to help reconcile opinions and help in rebuilding what the unjust aggression destroyed so that Lebanon may return to its natural position at the heart of the Arab world.

Q: It is true the wave of terrorism that struck the world and a number of the region’s countries has receded, but how do you view the next phase in the war on terrorism? Do you believe that the wave’s recession is proof that extremism has lost its momentum, or are there fears of its reemergence?

A: Our position on terrorism is firm and has not changed, and our contribution to the war against it is a continuous one because we believe that terrorism is a dangerous international epidemic that aimlessly strikes and is based on a dark narrow-minded vision. Within this understanding of terrorism and its hazards, we ask that it be deprived of its lifelines – of the international tensions, poverty, and hunger, which when combined create an atmosphere of despair that can be exploited by fundamentalists and terrorists. Even though we do not deny the effects of counterterrorism efforts which a number of countries have contributed, what is needed is a political consensus that runs parallel to these efforts in a bid to prevent terrorists from exploiting regional conflicts and international instability to provide a cover for their criminal actions and terrorist activities.

Q: Some insist that there is a clash of civilizations, while others try to falsely accuse Islam of terrorism; how does your highness feel Islam should be defended and saved from these unjust campaigns? How can relations characterized by amity and cooperation be established between the different cultures?

A: We must first admit that the relationship between Muslims and the West has suffered recently, partly because of internal Arab-Muslim problems, but even more so from the approach Western governments have adopted in dealing with major Arab and Islamic problems and causes – the chief ones being the Palestinian cause, the definition of terrorism, and the attacks that seek to distort our values, culture, systems and doctrines. This misunderstanding has led to the emergence of various points of tension, both political and cultural between the two sides, as well as leading to the emergence of some pessimistic theories on the inevitability of conflict between the Islamic and Western civilizations deeming it a relationship that is doomed to end in war.

We do not advocate this opinion and we still believe that the relationship between the two civilizations must be one of dialogue and communication; it should be complementary and interactive. If we are to achieve this aspired goal, we need, today more than ever, to build a coalition for understanding and peace that would allow both sides to uproot violence and hatred and spread an outlook that stresses forgiveness, recognition and acknowledgement of the other, respecting the different religious values and cultural idiosyncrasies. A human dialogue of this sort is the best way out of the current crisis. The West must also improve its understanding of other civilizations, especially the Arab-Islamic civilization. I call for the organization of an international UN-sponsored conference that aims at improving understanding between the civilizations and laying the groundwork for tolerance.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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