Dubai is building on its international fame as never before in the build up to the city’s hosting of Expo 2020. In his foreword to The Business Year: Dubai 2016, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum writes, “We look forward to welcoming many more people from all those countries as we proudly host, in four years’ time, Expo 2020. Under the appropriate banner of ‘Connecting the world, creating the future,’ Dubai will showcase to the international community its success in realizing its vision.”
Dubai’s history has been heavily influenced by its openness to other countries and, most importantly, to foreign trade. This long-established approach has made the Emirate a beacon of regional diplomacy, a leader in international relations, and an example of tolerance and stability in a region that is all too often riven by conflict and instability.
In 1971, the UAE was founded as a federation of seven constitutional monarchies, or Emirates. Since 2006, the Ruler of Dubai has been HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, under which role he is also Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE. Although Dubai has only been fully independent since 1971, the Al Maktoum family has ruled the Emirate since 1833. HH Sheikh Mohammed also sits on the board of the UAE’s Supreme Council, the country’s highest executive body, and governs Dubai’s local administration, the Dubai Municipality. Dubai Municipality was established in 1954 by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. The Dubai Municipality is responsible for overseeing the city’s transport, housing, and development generally.
The parliamentary elections in October 2015 saw 330 candidates contest the 20 elected seats of the Federal National Council (there are 40 seats in total, with 20 appointed). The National Election Committee was established in 2011 to oversee the process. The Council’s speaker since November 2015 has been Amal Al Qubaisi. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the only two of the country’s seven Emirates to hold the power of veto.
In February 2016, HH Sheikh Mohammed announced his new cabinet, in a rare re-shuffle of his ministers. There are currently 29 ministers, including a new Minister for Happiness, a Minister for Youth Affairs (HE Shamma Al Mazrui is just 22), and a Minister for Climate Change and the Environment. The average age of the new ministers is 38. The eight new ministers include five women.
Over and above the many events, conferences, and diplomatic efforts, looms Expo 2020, Dubai’s hosting of which will be the first by a country from the Middle East. The monumental event, to take place in four years’ time, was announced in November 2013, when Dubai’s bid won at the last minute over those from three rival cities. The event centers on the themes of sustainability, mobility, and opportunity under the banner of “Connecting minds, creating the future.” The day after the announcement, HH Sheikh Mohammed promised that Dubai would “astonish the world” in 2020. The events’ staging and the preparatory work that started in 2014 will create upward of 277,000 new jobs as the city prepares for an expected surge in visitor numbers of more than 25 million. The main site of Expo 2020 will be a 438ha location midway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to the south of Dubai and close to the port of Jebel Ali. The entire project is set to boost the Dubai economy by a cool $40 billion.
In addition to the one-off spectacular that is Expo 2020, Dubai plays host every year to a myriad of conferences and seminars, summits, and fairs drawing delegates from all over the world to meet on the pressing issues and opportunities of our time. Of these, the World Government Summit is one of the most important, held every year in Dubai, with the fifth edition scheduled for February 2017.
Dubai is the most populous city in the UAE, and the most culturally influential. Home to an immense array of nationalities, the city is proud of its multiculturalism and culture of tolerance. As one of the foremost financial centers in the region—and one of the most stable and growing economies—Dubai’s importance in undeniable. The UAE plays a pivotal role in regional and international affairs and is a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League, and is a member of OPEC, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and the United Nations.
A major concern for Dubai since 2011 has been the growing instability driven by conflicts in Syria and Yemen, in which Dubai has played a leading role in the latter. In 2016, the UAE was leading the relief effort in the southern Yemeni port city of Mukalla, driving out Al Qaeda insurgents and helping locals to rebuild their homes and infrastructure. After Saudi Arabia, the UAE is the second largest donor of aid to Yemen (the poorest country in the Arab world). Since 1971, Yemen has received AED6.65 billion in aid donations from the UAE.
The UAE as a whole is one of the world’s biggest donors of humanitarian aid, pledging almost $6 billion in 2014 to assist projects and fund causes in 140 countries. The foreign aid budget represents 1.33% of the country’s total gross national income. The top recipients of UAE aid since 1971 are Egypt (total to 2015 AED47.26 billion), Syria (AED12.35 billion), Morocco (AED12.25 billion), Jordan (AED11.48 billion), and Palestine (AED7.68 billion). The International Humanitarian City (IHC) was founded by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2003 to support infrastructure projects, relieve poverty, and assist refugees and victims of natural and humanitarian disasters and families suffering from famine. The Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference and Exhibition is now in its 14th year. The conference, which attracted more than 10,000 delegates from over 50 countries, is held annually in Dubai and has become the foremost event in the calendar for bringing together leaders from around the world and influencing international policy on key humanitarian issues and situations globally.
In 2015, the UAE sent a mission to Nepal to lead relief efforts in Kathmandu in the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck the city in April. This follows similar missions in the past 10 years to Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and today Dubai is regarded by the international community as a leading expert in post-earthquake recovery operations. The country’s efforts to eradicate polio has seen 86 million vaccinations administered to children across Pakistan in 2015-16. This follows a total of AED1.17 billion of aid donated to Pakistan since widespread flooding across the country in 2010. Other major aid projects include the 2014 pledge to assist the redevelopment of Gaza with AED736 million in grants.