(Asharq Al-Awsat) The question of population demography has been a source of worry to the UAE nationals, as it must certainly worry Your Highness. You have announced some initiatives in this regard, uncovering a few of them. Could you tell us more about these initiatives?
(Sheikh Mohammed) This question is important because of its ramifications and interconnection of its economic, social, and cultural dimensions. His Highness the President of the UAE has defined our approach toward this question. He has said that we have a positive outlook toward the demographic structure, showing the ability of our people and state to mix this human quantity and variety in a human framework, capable of creating a model highlighting the power of human interaction in the process of building and raising our state to assume an advanced position on the level of civilization and development. Such a model will help us in gaining the respect and appreciation of local and international organizations for our human and civilized treatment of all residents in our country, providing incentives for them to take active part in the development process of the UAE.
This vision, as defined by His Highness the President, does not remove from our sight the necessity of preserving our national identity. This was the starting point which led to the formation of a high-level committee, headed by the minister of interior, to deal with the question of demographic structure. We highly appreciate the work of this committee, which drew out a number of initiatives to deal with this question and take active measures in this connection. We are preparing other measures and decisions within our declared and transparent policy for dealing with the question of demographic structure in a civilized manner, without violation of our human and international commitments, ensuring the objective of variation of the demographic structure in our country.
Naturally, our children and new generations will remain the actual solution for this question. Hence, the development of education, the competencies and capabilities of the UAE nationals will remain our main priority. We are optimistic about our youth, and proud of their spirit of national belonging, of their growing realization of the importance of self-reliance and active participation in building the homeland. I follow their activities and expect a great deal from them, and ask them to double their efforts in learning and enhancing their competencies in various fields, in orders to become a distinguished group eagerly sought after by public and private sectors. We are eager to increase the rate of Emiratization in government and private sectors. I informed the Cabinet last march that the rate of Emiratization in the ministries has not reached the targeted level, as it did not exceed 54 percent and 25 percent in the Federal Authorities. I gave directives to prepare a study to denote the reasons for such a situation in order to draw suitable programs to fill this gap.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Almost a year ago, Your Highness introduced a major reshuffle in the Cabinet. You mentioned that any minister is liable to change. Is there a plan for a cabinet reshuffle soon?
(Sheikh Mohammed) There is a fact which should not be absent from the minds of people – that is, the government is at the service of the people. A reshuffle is introduced when there is a need for it, and when we find that it suits an active handling of the need of national demands, to ensure the power of the union to achieve the objectives of its strategy, and whatever objective that may come up to meet the actual developments. I still say that any minister or a man of responsibility entrusted with him is open to replacement by another one who is more capable of shouldering that responsibility. The basic reference in any decision of this type is the criteria of performance and level of fulfillment of plans for development projects.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Frankly, people outside the Emirates think there is a kind of sensitivity among the seven Emirates. With reference to the federal system adopted by the state, how do you respond to that?
(Sheikh Mohammed) I do not understand what you mean by “sensitivity” and the relation of the word to the federal system. But I know the reason behind your question: it is the media reports which tried, in handling the reflections of the international financial crisis on the UAE, to place hurdles and fabricate differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. These are vicious attempts that ignored the way the UAE faced the repercussions of the global financial crisis and the superb performance of our federal entities, under the leadership of His Highness, the President of the UAE. The performance was excellent, and it presented a new proof of the capability and power of the federation to face difficult challenges. Anyhow, since you brought the subject up, it is useful to remind everybody that the seven Emirates chose the federal system, realizing that it is the most viable system to survive and develop. The founding fathers had wisdom, vision and a future perspective. Whoever knows the history of the area and its situation prior to the establishment of the union will realize the great achievement of the union in the establishment of the UAE. If the results are the test, then look at the advance and achievements of the UAE after 37 years of the Union. The UAE is a state of institutions governed by a constitution, which covers the allocation of responsibilities to local and federal authorities. Like all federal states, the Federal government is concerned with all the sovereign affairs, whether related to defense policy, the armed forces, national security, foreign policy, and financial policy, legislations related to justice, economy, labor or residence of foreigners.
Among the most important historic achievements we take pride in is the building of the national Emirati identity which did not exist before the rise of the Union state. This identity settles deep down in the souls of all Emiratis, runs in their blood-veins, and fills them with feelings of dignity and loyalty to their country, the UAE.
Every citizen and person of responsibility in the UAE puts his Emirati national sense of belonging above that of his own area. Basically there is no conflict, but integration, between the two. When a person introduces himself as coming from Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, or Dubai, he is not unlike an Egyptian who introduces himself as coming from Cairo, Asyut, or Alexandria, or a Saudi, who introduces himself as coming from Riyadh, Mecca, or Dammam.
Unfortunately, some people who do not know the Emirates and the facts of life there, pass judgment on what they do not understand. We are, in the words of my brother Sheikh Khalifa, members in one body, strong and held together. There are no sensitivities among the Emirates, but there is mutual cooperation and help within the one state, the one national identity; and at the same time, within the one state there is room for competition in the fields of good deeds achievement, excellence, and the service of the country and citizens.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you support increasing the scope of the federal government’s authorities while decreasing those of local governments towards the overall welfare of the UAE?
(Sheikh Mohammed) There is no conflict between the local and federal authorities. There are federal and local roles which are clearly articulated by the Constitution of the UAE. All sovereign issues fall within the jurisdiction of federal government, represented by His Highness, The President, Members of the UAE Supreme Council, The Cabinet, The Federal National Council, Federal Law.
The federal government enjoys full authority to carry out its mandate articulated by the Constitution. Extended or limited scope of authority is not a theoretical issue. Meanwhile, promoting non-central governmental models and offering more authorities to local governments is now a growing trend in different parts of the world, even in single region state. Decentralization has proven quite successful in handling development requirements, enhancing government performance and increasing productivity of public organizations.
In the UAE, we are very keen on ensuring complementary roles and responsibilities among ministries and federal authorities and the local departments and establishments towards achieving highest government performance levels across the UAE.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In times of crises, Dubai always comes into the world’s focus. Are you concerned by international reports highlighting Dubai’s economic shortcomings during the global financial downturn?
(Sheikh Mohammed) We are completely aware of our capabilities and we don’t overestimate our abilities. Dubai’s success in introducing a unique developmental model has gained remarkable international recognition. As you know, success implies a certain burden that cannot be avoided. The international focus on Dubai is absolutely normal. During crises, people usually turn their attention to those who have proven a successful track record. The current crisis has brought Dubai’s developmental model with all its successes into a tough test. Some have speculated that Dubai will fail this test, simply because they do not know the UAE nor what Dubai has achieved based on solid foundation of knowledge, expertise and business ties across the globe. Dubai’s achievements are part of the UAE’s remarkable progress. I know that some people from outside the region have wished that Dubai model will go down the river. I am fully aware that some financial and economic circles were not happy with the progress we managed to achieve on various tracks including investment, aviation industry, IT and global competition in managing and financial markets.
The UAE has proven remarkable competency in addressing difficult questions imposed by the global financial crisis. I strongly believe it won’t be long before international focus will shift from what is claimed to be Dubai’s shortcomings to Dubai’s and the UAE’s overall success in passing this difficult test.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Almost a year ago, and during your visit to Asia, you warned against the global financial crisis. Why precautionary measures have not been undertaken to avoid negative impacts of this crisis on both Dubai and UAE?
(Sheikh Mohammed) The crisis have taken the whole world by surprise and evolved in tremendous pace. During my visit to Asia, I had warned against turmoil in financial and commodities markets, marginalizing the role of international financial institutions and potentials that these institutions fall short from fulfilling their expected roles in a world where all international markets became very much related, turning into one huge global market which does not follow any international rules, regulations or supervision.
I had urged leading world economies to move swiftly and reconsider roles and mechanisms of international financial establishments and institutions, especially the International Monetary Fund — and that what exactly the G20 summit did last month earlier this month.
Regarding the precautionary measures, I believe that no preventive measures neither in the UAE or any other country in the world, would have provided the desired immunity from the ramifications of the global financial meltdown. The UAE’s solid economic structure, efficient performing establishments, adoption of a balanced model of conservative banking policies overseen by the Federal Central Bank and liberal economic approach, were the key elements that enhanced the country’s ability to survive the negative implications of the global crisis and prevented any case of bankruptcy in any of the country’s banks or major corporations. The impact of the crisis on our economy was significant during the last quarter of 2008, yet it was not as harsh as on other major economies.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Despite Dubai government officials repeated rebuffs of bailing out some companies to Abu Dhabi, speculations in that regard have never stopped. Isn’t normal for the Emirates to cooperate among themselves to overcome such difficult times?
(Sheikh Mohammed) Cooperation among the seven Emirates has never stopped and they don’t wait for crises to show this cooperation. There are several joint ventures between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Founders and stakeholders of most of the UAE Public Joint Stock companies are from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi investors have huge investments in Dubai and vice versa. Dubai has always welcomed business and investments from across the UAE.
Regarding the speculations you referred to in your question, they will always remain just speculations. I believe they are meant to be evil gossip as part of a vicious campaign against Dubai model. These speculations were not only refuted by Dubai government officials but also by His Highness the President of the UAE last March.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you believe that the UAE economy will contract this year? Or will it achieve certain growth? And at what percent?
(Sheikh Mohammed) We are confident that our national establishments’ abilities, combined with the economic measures undertaken by the government, will lead to economic growth this year. Yet, we expect that growth may not come at the same rate of pervious growth records we sustained over the past few years. While speculating global economic contraction of 0.5 percent, international financial bodies forecast a slight growth for the UAE economy. Other forecasts speculate a 3 percent growth for the UAE economy.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Maybe every cloud has a silver lining. The financial crisis has restored balance to the markets following years of inflation which posed a threat to Dubai’s and the UAE’s economies. Do you see this tough correction, for instance to the real estate market, a good solution to a problem that could have escalated in the future?
(Sheikh Mohammed) Sometimes opportunities are born from the wombs of crises. The most important thing is to focus on the future and develop appropriate frameworks that guarantee highest levels of performance on heels of the crisis. Measures undertaken by the government on both local and federal levels will ensure that we shall emerge from the global financial crisis with least damage. The UAE has proven remarkable ability in facing and overcoming previous crises. Specialized committees and task forces are closely monitoring the development of the global crisis and analyzing its impacts on our economy and subsequently propose action plans to resiliently cope with these ongoing changes.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Many rumors are targeting Dubai claiming it has turned into a ghost city and that tens of thousands are being laid off every week. Don’t you feel upset about these rumors and the way the impact of the crisis has been perceived outside Dubai?
(Sheikh Mohammed) Actually, we don’t pay attention to rumors and our response always comes in actions rather than words. As a matter of fact, Dubai visitors these days are surprised by these rumors and I’ve met with many of them recently and they expressed their amazement at Dubai’s traffic jams, overbooked hotels and crowded markets.
Dubai’s success — which it has sustained over the past years — is the true reason behind this type of mixed reports. Those who spread such rumors — are they aware of the fact that global nature of Dubai makes it more subject to impacts of global changes than any other city? We totally endorse freedom of expression but we always urge responsible freedom that promotes principles of integrity and objectivity.
It is truly sad to find international publications that have usually boasted about factual and precise reporting issuing articles based on mere rumors and baseless speculations. We are fully aware of the hidden fierce global economic competition between different parties who are in the same line of business. When a city or a country decides to integrate itself as an effective international player, it should not expect an easy journey full of roses and good wishes.
Do you know how many major international airlines are closely monitoring Emirates’ performance? Do you think that international port services companies are happy with the success accomplished by DP World in managing and operating dozens of ports around Europe, Asia and Africa? Do you expect international financial markets are pleased with Dubai Financial Market’s success in its accusation of some of the world’s most important financial markets in the world?
I will tell you more. Emirates Airlines’ successful model has not led only to achieving an internationally recognition but also has induced the launch of other Arab airlines that followed the same model. Emirates has encouraged many established Arab airlines to enhance their fleets and upgrade their services. This has ultimately led to increasing Arab airlines’ share of the international travel market. Leading by example, Emirates has set new benchmarks for quality services not only regionally but also internationally. One can only gain world recognition by proving success and ability to take the initiative, yet this recognition may not necessarily reflect acceptance.