And in August, the federal monarchy fired up its first nuclear power plant. The emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who serves as the UAE’s vice president, praised it as the “Arab world’s first peaceful nuclear power plant.”
These technological feats reflect the UAE’s new aspirations as a regional power, says Cinzia Bianco, an expert on the politics of the Arabian Peninsula at the European Council for Foreign Relations. The country’s space programme and nuclear power plant are intended to signal that small states, too, can dream big and develop, says Bianco. “It wants to send a signal to Arab states and the global community,” she says.
The space programme and nuclear reactor carry huge symbolic significance for the UAE and are intended to link back to the impressive historical achievements of the Islamic world. This thinking is manifested in a report by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), which states that, “This new phase draws inspiration from the past, when Arabs were leaders in all fields of science, pioneering the early theories of space, physics and astronomy, when most other medieval societies were marred by stagnation.”
According to the ECSSR, this will ring in a new dawn for the Arab world, “in which limitless ambition and determination, coupled with cooperation and tolerance, will once more benefit humanity.”
But the UAE is not just seeking to lead a renaissance in the Arab world. Its nuclear power programme is also born of a highly pragmatic consideration, namely to ensure a reliable energy source for the future, says Sara Bazoobandi of Washington’s Arab Gulf States Institute.
For many years, the UAE has been readying for the time when fossil fuels run out, says Bazoobandi, who is currently working as an associate at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg. She says the country established the Mubadala Development Company in 2002 to invest worldwide in technologies of the future, including renewable energies. “The UAE’s political leadership is well aware that transitioning from an oil-based to a knowledge-based economy is key,” Bazoobandi says.
Masdar City, an artificial urban space created in the desert that is designed to largely rely on renewable energy, is another project underscoring the UAE’s ambitions, she says. However although it was launched in 2006, the project is still nowhere near completion.
Joining the big players
These ambitious projects are designed to impress not only the Arab world, but the global community at large, says Cinzia Bianco. Only a handful of actors, including the US, Russia, China and the EU, can currently afford a costly Mars programme. The UAE has essentially joined the big league as a junior player in the race to the red planet.
“This is a highly ambitious undertaking; the UAE wants to show that despite being a small country, it is a significant one in terms of civilization,” says Bianco. “It wants to portray itself as a new middle power.”
However, the UAE wants to cooperate wherever possible. It plans to share all Mars research with any interested parties, according to the ECSSR. This knowledge will be made available and shared in the interest of all humanity in order to improve everyone’s quality of life, the ECSSR says.
Becoming a regional power, however, requires national unity. The UAE’s leadership has therefore launched a number of initiatives promoting awareness of the country’s history and fostering national customs and traditions. Special historical museums, as well as festivals and national day parades, have been established for this purpose, according to the US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
— This article has been provided by Deutsche Welle