UAE launches pioneering programme to promote tolerance

Sunday 04/09/2016
Pope Francis receiving Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi

DUBAI - The UAE cabinet in June approved a pioneering programme designed to cultivate tolerance. The programme sets out a framework for nationwide collabo­ration between federal and local entities to develop a strong govern­ment role as an “incubator” of tol­erance; strengthen the role of the family as an institution of nation-building; steer youth away from ex­tremist narratives; enrich scientific and cultural content in the every­day lives of its people; and support international efforts in promoting tolerance.
These objectives point to a multi­dimensional approach for promot­ing tolerance rather than simply outsourcing it to a ministry of cul­ture or a ministry of religious affairs as has traditionally been done in Muslim-majority countries.
The United Arab Emirates hopes to go further still. It plans to set up a Centre for Tolerance Studies, which will be tasked with generating sci­entific and cultural content. It will also draw up a Charter of Tolerance, Coexistence and Peace to promote cultural understanding and diver­sity to address violence, extremism and racism.
Officials also said they would es­tablish a Council of Tolerance to develop policies and initiatives to promote tolerance locally and inter­nationally.
Public and private organisations will be encouraged to develop toler­ance-responsibility programmes in the way many firms have social-re­sponsibility programmes. The UAE government aims to draw in and en­gage a broad range of stakeholders. Properly executed, the approach has great potential for producing so­cially positive outcomes.
The UAE’s steps place the country at the forefront of the fight against extremism, which is leaving many governments and societies divid­ed, confused and prone to extreme right-wing nationalist politics. The West is suffering from misplaced but growing Islamophobia and much of the Islamic world continues to pro­vide explanations for the causes of extremism rather than confront­ing this increasingly lethal menace head-on.
The UAE is building on efforts of the past few years, including the He­dayah Institute — billed as the first international centre of excellence for countering violent extremism — established in Abu Dhabi in 2012.
UAE Minister of State for Toler­ance Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid al- Qasimi led a delegation to the Vati­can in late May, inviting Pope Francis to visit the Emirates. Sheikha Lubna has spoken of the importance of the invitation for strengthening dia­logue between cultures and respect for values.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum, UAE vice-president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, posted on Twitter: “Our goal is to protect our society from the winds of ignorance and hatred blowing around us. We aim to build a model of tolerance in our region.”
Emirati society has flourished in large part because of its tolerant spirit that enabled communities and cultures from East and West to be brought together and propel the UAE into epicentre of development in the Middle East. The principles of tolerance have been instilled into the national culture from the start with the vision of the UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. The UAE government’s recent steps seek to build on that historical lega­cy explicitly.
Despite its legacy, however, the UAE has not been immune to ter­rorist threats and extremist nar­ratives. In March, a UAE security court sentenced 38 members of a terrorist cell inspired by a religious fanatic for planning attacks around the country. In December 2014, a 38-year-old radicalised Emirati woman was arrested for killing an American woman and attempting to plant a bomb in front of the home of an American doctor. She has since been executed.
“Tolerance is the basis for build­ing societies and promoting values of peaceful coexistence,” Sheikh Mohammed wrote in an opinion piece published in February. The UAE aims to set an example for its neighbours and herald a new golden era for the Arab world in particular through reinvigorating the spirit of tolerance and cultivating a pros­perous future through focusing on youth development.
Youth figures importantly in the UAE’s future vision and the govern­ment has been energetic in develop­ing young leaders — the average age of its cabinet members is 38 and the story is little different with key pub­lic and private sector organisations across the country. The Ministry of Happiness, established in February with the Ministry of Tolerance and a Ministry of the Future, is led by Ohood al-Roumi, a 22-year-old Emi­rati woman.
The UAE has become a regional hub of thought leadership and inno­vation in governance issues as well as business. Aside from hosting the World Government Summit — a fo­rum that explores the agenda for fu­ture governments to better harness innovation and technology to solve governance challenges and support of human development — in Dubai every year, the UAE is actually walk­ing the walk.