These remarks were delivered at the 62nd Annual Conference November 20, 2008.
Michael Ryan: Tomorrow we will disagree; today we will agree that the two gentlemen that we are going to honor tonight are held high in all of our esteem. The first is His Excellency Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates. I have to say it is my greatest honor to be up here at a time like this, because as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs we know of the tremendous opportunities and challenges presented by the world at large. The whole world comes to the door somehow of the United Arab Emirates. But tonight we are honoring Dr. Gargash for championing political and economic reforms at home.
As Chairman of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking he is able to fulfill his longstanding commitment to combating that trade, which he so aptly describes as a crime that exploits the vulnerable by promising hope but delivering misery. The United Arab Emirates, with its large expatriate population, presents special challenges for his work but he can be proud of the achievements that have made his country at the forefront of these reform efforts. For example, in 2006 the UAE passed a law against human trafficking, the first of its kind in the region, and there have been convictions already. So the law has some teeth; it has meaning. The National Committee which he heads was established in 2007, underscoring the government’s commitment to protecting human rights and enforcing the rule of law.
But it does not stop there. Training programs have been organised for police officers and investigators because the UAE rightly sees human trafficking as a human rights issue but also as an issue of national security. While his government expands its efforts to fight human trafficking it has not neglected the victims and has authorised the UAE Red Crescent, among others, to help set up shelters for women and children who have been victimized by trafficking. The UAE has also worked with UNICEF and other international organizations to safeguard children from abuse.
His Excellency Anwar Mohammed Gargash is truly a renaissance person. He has taught at the United Arab Emirates University. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from George Washington University and a PhD from Cambridge University. I can think of no one better to start off the formal part of this than Anwar Mohammed Gargash. Please join me in welcoming him.
I will present the Middle East Institute’s Award to Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, for his accomplishments in promoting human rights in the United Arab Emirates. It is my great pleasure, sir.
H.E. Anwar Mohammed Gargash: Thank you very much. Before I start with my remarks, I want to say a few words about our efforts in combating human trafficking. It is a challenge that we took seriously. Like all economically and socially attractive societies we do have a problem, of course. I think the stigma with human trafficking is not that the society suffers from it but the stigma is that we do not do anything about it. In the UAE we have taken that as a challenge. It is a work in progress; it is continuous work because of the nature of the crime.
We have gone through a four-phase strategy and it is tough work, it is not easy. The first phase is to have the correct legislation, a tough legislation to combat human trafficking. The second component is to make sure that that legislation is actually implemented. That includes changing mindsets, training with law officers and prosecutors, et cetera. The third phase is what I call the social support, which is basically the shelters that are important to support many women. In the traditional way people see them as culprits, but really they are victims of a crime that is transnational. The fourth phase of our national strategy is to combat it in a collective manner. You cannot combat that crime on your own. You have to collaborate with source countries, with other countries. We have done that through a generous gift that we call the UN gift, that the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has given to the United Nations to create further awareness. We do it at operational levels. Let’s say our police force is dealing with other police forces in source countries, our shelters are dealing with other shelters in source countries, to break this cycle of misery.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it and I think that this highlights that our work is recognized. But we are still not very satisfied. We need to put more effort into it. Thank you very much.
If you allow me, I would like to move on and address this wonderful crowd. I start by saying that I am delighted to be here in Washington, D.C., and addressing this distinguished audience. I would like to thank the Middle East Institute for the opportunity and for the kind invitation. It is also exhilarating to be here in Washington at this particular moment. It is a new season, new beginnings – they are always exciting, in many ways. We in the United Arab Emirates, indeed in many areas of the world, have followed the American presidential campaign with interest. Television is not the same following the end of the elections so we have to find another pastime on TV.
As we gather here we also recognize that this is an exciting period. I think we all are looking and trying to grasp subtle shifts in policy and many other shifts perhaps that are less subtle, to understand what are the next four years going to look like for the Middle East, for the economy, for many other areas. Certainly for our region in the Arabian Gulf, the Arab world, the wider Middle East, we appreciate that the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama will bring in many areas different perspectives. These will be different partly in style and partly in substance. Needless to add, from our perspective in the UAE a constructive and influential American role in the Middle East is both desirable and welcome. We look forward to a constructive American role in the Middle East and we look at that kind of role and that kind of leadership. I think we can safely say that early engagement in the region’s hotspots – the Arab-Israeli conflict and Afghanistan – is needed. Early engagement is needed.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are part of a larger global community. As such, it is not only regional issues that concern us but at the same time a much more complex array of opportunities and challenges and problems. We are today not a very big country but in regional terms we are the second-largest Arab economy with a GDP close to $200 billion. So it is quite substantial. We are also the most globalized, so to speak. As such we follow with acute interest the current global economic crisis. It affects us. We are not insulated from it. How this issue is handled is not an academic exercise to us. It is very much pertinent to our economy and pertinent to our society. I truly believe that our views and the views of many other countries of similar size and weight must be canvassed during this period because it is truly a global crisis and it is important to deal with it collectively.
Similarly, we are also at the center of many relevant issues such as the debate over sovereign wealth funds, the debate concerning energy and its future supply. What I am really saying is that it is not only regional issues that concern us but also issues that are affecting every corner of the world. We are part of that kind of description that this world is. In many areas the UAE has always played the role of a moderate advocate in seeking practical balance in issues, whether these issues are oil production, oil supply, regional issues. Taking that practical and balanced position, after a while people take notice and say, “Here is a friend we need to listen to.”
Ladies and gentlemen, as many of you are aware, the UAE has been building a successful model of development in the region. It is a functioning example of a state that is modern and at the same time Arab and at the same time Muslim. In that instance – because it is modern, Arab and Muslim – it breaks many stereotypes and misconceptions. Many know of the impressive infrastructure that we have designed and built – the tallest this, the longest that, the biggest that. We are proud of them because they are world-class facilities of leisure, business, communications and social infrastructure. But behind this loud type of headline there is a real success story there. There really is a real success story which is much deeper and much more profound. In many ways it is a model that treasures openness. It treasures tolerance. As I said earlier, when you think Arab, Islamic state but treasures openness and treasures tolerance – we break stereotypes in this way, and I think this is very positive.
Furthermore, when I say that what has happened is more than skin-deep, look at education, look at improving health care – change has not been cosmetic. Change has been real and it has been tangible. We have today for example, just to throw in a few figures, 93 percent literacy. That is quite an achievement, it is a tangible achievement, 93 percent literacy. We have over 60 government and private universities. For a country of our size that is a real achievement. We have 200 hospitals and health centers. That is also quite an achievement. Our life expectancy is 77 years for men and 80 years for women. That is also quite substantial in many ways. Infant mortality is eight of every 1,000. That is also a real achievement. The maternal mortality rate is almost zero. These are real numbers. These are numbers that matter and numbers that say behind the headlines there is substantial achievements that have been brought to the fold.
One of our great success stories has been the expansion of the role of women in the UAE. This is very important because it embodies our belief again that you can be Arab, you can be modern and you can be Islamic. By expanding the role of women, supporting that expansion in what is really a traditional society – we have to know that it is a traditional society – I think you are sending that message and you are sending it loud and clear.
I think also it is logical that in a country that suffers from human resources, that this huge reservoir of talent that women represent is tapped in many areas. Maybe in the beginning families wanted their daughters to just be schoolteachers but no longer. They are all over. Many of the women, very talented, that we have are today in their CV-building stages. They are building their careers and I can see an explosion coming, a very positive explosion, of many women taking leadership roles more across the board than we see currently. Seventy percent of all our graduates are women. They form 22.5 percent of our National Assembly. Sixty percent of the workforce in our government sector are women and thirty percent are in senior positions. Numbers do tell a story of a country that has always put stretched targets ahead of it and has been able to reach these stretched targets and put other stretched targets ahead. So please look beyond the tallest building and the longest bridge and so on, because there has been substantial success.
We do face many challenges in many areas, of course. As a young nation, we are a nation in transition. This is coupled with a dynamic economy and, to be honest, there are many times that we struggle to keep up. On the one hand we have the resources, maybe mostly in the human resource sector, of a developing country but we are also judged as a developed country. There is that tension of trying to achieve – the intention is there definitely – but also trying to reach out is not always easy. We have to keep up concerning various issues, including labor, human trafficking and migrant relations. But we deal with them. We wake up every morning and we deal with them, and we wake up the next morning and we deal with them. We try hard to tackle these issues. We learn international best practices. We realize that if we do want to attain universal standards we cannot be selective. We cannot say that we want universal standards in things we like and we do not want them in things we do not like. We either accept that we are judged by these standards in every area or then we come back to our shell and say we do our own standards. That is not the way we work. The way we work is we reach out for universal standards. We know we are lagging behind in some. But it is not for lack of intention or lack of trying, but we need to keep working on it. It does not mean we are always successful the first time but we keep trying.
I witnessed this from my work as chairman of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking. We still have a big issue, we are not totally successful but we are happy that people acknowledge that we are trying. We are a very attractive economy, we are a very open and attractive society. We have close to 200 nationalities living there. As such, you get the good and you get the bad. You have to deal with it and handle it. I spoke earlier about our four-point national plan. We have an annual report that maps out what we have done on the human trafficking front.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a tough neighborhood. This is the Middle East Institute so people know that. We do live in a tough neighborhood. In the last few years it has not been an easy period. I always call our area traditionally as a two or three-conflict region but by our own tough standards currently it is a five or six-conflict region. Exceptionally, it is very tough. You look around you and you see pirates in Somalia. You look around and you see Afghanistan and Pakistan. You look around and there is Iraq, and of course there is the Arab-Israeli issue and the Iranian nuclear issue. So really what is traditionally always a tough area, a two or three-conflict region, is today a six-conflict region, which makes things much tougher. I am sure you will all appreciate that navigating such a landscape is not an easy task, not at all. At times your sensors must keep track of many variables. You have to keep track of states, you have to keep track of moving ideologies, you have to keep track of NGOs, you have to keep track of non-state actors, you have to keep track of individuals. You really need pretty good sensors for that.
Additionally, all those who understand Arab politics – and there are many in this room who understand it – recognize that in our region there is a real propensity for conflict and ideas that can whip up public imagination and concurrently cross national borders. So you need to keep track of that. You need to understand that a problem in a certain national state will not stay confined there. There is this great propensity to spill over and touch other areas. That is why you really need to keep a watch on these things. These and other concerns must always be taken into account in the complex world of Middle East politics.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to summarize our understanding in the United Arab Emirates of some of the more relevant regional issues in our area. I am sure most of you will not be surprised when I say the first is Iran. With Iran we have a very long historical relationship. We are neighbors. We share a waterway. Communication has been easy, at times even communication from the UAE shores to the Iranian shores were easier than going to, let’s say, Saudi Arabia, to Riyadh or to Jeddah. A hundred years ago it was much easier because it was easier for you to cross the sea than to cross the desert, in many ways. So we have had this relationship with Iran. It is a complex pattern that linked geographic neighbors all around the world. If you look at geographic neighbors in many areas around the world there is this complex relationship. There is people-to-people movement, there is commerce, there are relationships that are diverse. I think the same thing applies here. We share an important region with our large neighbor to the north. I call this relationship mature. I think the word mature is general enough to cover many things.
I think also there are of course common areas of interaction but there are also serious areas of divergence. These areas of divergence, to simplify I will put them under three important issues.
The first is the UAE has three occupied islands by Iran. It has been 37 years that these islands have been occupied, the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb and the island of Abu Musa. Our position has always been that we have a problem with Iran – let’s sit and negotiate. Let’s sit and discuss this. If we do not agree let’s go through international arbitration. We have never veered away from that. Always, for 37-38 years, whether it was the imperial regime or the republican regime, our message has been the same. We are neighbors, we have a problem here, let’s sit and negotiate, and if we cannot agree let’s go to international arbitration. At the end of the day a country our size living in our neighborhood, we really need to elevate international law because there is protection in it and it is important for us in many ways.
It has been a consistent position over more than three decades. Tehran unfortunately has not addressed this issue in a rational and neighborly manner and the occupation continues. I think positive overtures over the issue of the islands sends very strong messages not only to the UAE but to many of its Arab neighbors and will substantially improve Iranian relations with its southern Arab neighbors.
The second issue of divergence with Iran is its nuclear program. We feel the program is not transparent and needs to adhere to strict international regulatory standards. We feel that uranium enrichment is not the way forward. We need the program to be transparent to give us the assurances that are due for future regional peace and security in the area. There are many dangers connected to this program – an arms race and proliferation in the area, which can be a serious development in the area – but other than that we also drink from this Gulf. The whole Gulf drinks from desalinated water and it is important for this program to be safe, secure, transparent and verifiable. If you have any kind of faulty technology or any kind of emergency, other than the military area of course this will be disastrous for the whole Gulf in many ways.
The UAE currently has its own embryonic program and we are trying with international agencies and with friends to develop nuclear energy for electricity purposes. We feel there is a gap between our requirement of about 40,000 megawatts in 2020 and what we can produce, which is about 20,000-25,000 megawatts. But what we really are trying to do is through that program – we are trying to make our program, together with our friends and international agencies, so transparent that we want to make a gold standard for how a national state in our area can pursue an energy program through nuclear power and be so transparent that everybody will be reassured and actually offer an alternative that can even be offered to the Iranians, to tell them here is a program that is very transparent. Look at it, there is no enrichment in it but there is security in terms of energy requirements and so on.
The third area of difference here is interference in internal Arab affairs, whether this interference is in Iraq, Lebanon or Palestine, as well as other areas in the Gulf. Certainly we feel that respect for national sovereignty and non-interference is essential for stability in the area. We need to push for these to be cardinal rules applied if we really want our area to get out of this six-crisis mode and really focus on development, which I think is required.
I must add here that the UAE and other GCC countries should be in the loop over any future arrangements or any future incentives that will be offered to Iran. I think we should be in the loop here. There is a fear that future incentives will be offered without taking our opinion into account and I think this is not the way forward. The way forward is to come and include the Gulf states, the GCC states – and the UAE is part of the GCC states – to understand that incentivizing one party is not detrimental to the other parties but actually we can have a win-win situation in this case.
On Iraq, traditionally the UAE views a united and sovereign Iraq as essential for the balance of power in the Gulf region. This has always been our approach. We always thought of a united and sovereign Iraq as essential for stability in the region and for the region to play the role that it should. We believe strongly in reenergizing the Arab role in Iraq and we believe this role – the collective Arab role – will assist the independence and unity of the Iraqi state. To that effect we have reopened our embassy in Baghdad. We have an ambassador already there. We have cancelled debts worth (with interest) about $7 billion. We feel we have done the right things here. But that also has to be a collective Arab approach to Iraq and this will support all the efforts to actually have a stable and unified and sovereign Iraq.
Additionally, our relations with Iraq include a large volume of trade and investment as well as a very important element in our relationship with Iraq – people-to-people contact. Today many Iraqis meet in conferences in the UAE. They like to come to the UAE, they like to have their conferences there. We welcome that. The Iraqi national team when it won the Asia Cup, their first stop was the UAE. The celebration started in the UAE. I think this is an essential, important part. As you build a strategy on the political level, it is extremely important to also build on the retail level, to build the people-to-people contacts. This is essential for our approach with Iran.
Ladies and gentlemen, we also believe that it is time to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. We believe that an early American commitment is essential to reach this goal. We feel that over the years there has been an accumulation of good work being done here on the American side, on the Israeli side, on the Arab side. We feel that we need at this stage this kind of American involvement to cross the T’s and dot the I’s and to try and conclude. We must all work on the basis of the Roadmap. The Arab Initiative has been hailed by Israeli politicians, by the Israeli president recently. This has been very positive. There is general agreement on the two-state solution. There has been an accumulation of good work and I think it is time now to come and conclude in this. We feel this is extremely important because success will bring substantial rewards to the region. We feel that the fruits of this peace will spill over in many other regional fronts, in many regional relationships. We feel it is important to build on that.
A note also, if you allow me, on Afghanistan and Pakistan. On this front preliminary meetings of the Friends of Pakistan were held in Abu Dhabi three days ago. They were very successful. The message is that the Pakistanis and all the parties involved are very enthusiastic. They really want to build a community that goes beyond the role of a donor. They want to build an effort that is qualitative in many ways. What can we do to bring further stability and support Pakistan as a society, as a state, as a government, and at the same time support Afghanistan? It is key to have a good relationship between these two neighbors; this is key. We are all working to that and early signs are encouraging. But I do not kid myself and I do not kid you – there is a lot of work to do there.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United Arab Emirates is not a large state but it is a state that works hard for a Middle East region that is tolerant, that is stable and that is developing. We see ourselves in this tolerance, we see our goals in this stability, and we see our development as part of this larger regional development. Our short history since independence is one of fostering regional understanding and peace. It is also the story of a nation that has used its income wisely to create a thriving economy and a dynamic, tolerant society. We believe it is these goals and values that are most needed in the region.
With regards to America, we look at this relationship, our friendship with America, as a strategic choice. We seek to solidify the relationship in the years to come, to build on the good work that has been compiled over the last few years. We have been and will continue to be friends. Needless to say we will be working together in the coming period. I am sure we will bring favorable results in our bilateral link and for the region in general.
I would like to conclude my remarks by thanking everybody here for taking the time to come here and listen to these remarks. At the same time I would thank the Middle East Institute profusely for the opportunity. Thank you very much.