The United Arab Emirates, a fast growing country with many opportunities

Edition 31 October 2019
Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, H.E. Mrs. Hissa Abdullah Ahmad Alotaiba
Former positions: Ambassador to the Netherlands (2019); Non-resident Ambassador to the Principality of Andorra and to the Holy See (2010); ambassador to Spain (2008)

On 23 January 2019 you presented your credentials as Ambassador to the Netherlands. What is your impression of the Dutch people and the Netherlands?

As you know in the diplomatic corps, there is no place for preconceived opinions. I tend to keep that as a golden rule, reserving my judgment till I’ve had time and experience. When it came to the Dutch, I was pleasantly surprised. I appreciate their warmth towards outsiders and their willingness to offer help, especially navigating social issues. As for the country itself, being surrounded by greenery is defiantly a thing of beauty.

Is there a strong bilateral relationship between the Netherlands and the UAE and since when does this relationship date?
Bilateral relations between the Emirates and The Netherlands were established in 1972, then in July 28, 1977 the Netherlands opened its embassy In Abu Dhabi. In 1987 the Netherlands appointed its first ambassador based in Abu Dhabi. In addition to the Embassy, there is a Consulate General in Dubai. On 17th September 2002 the UAE Embassy in The Hague opened. Since then, relations between the two countries have developed considerably as the UAE has become an important trading partner of the Netherlands in the region.

How many Dutch companies are settled in the UAE and can you mention the most important ones? Do you have any idea how many Dutch are living in the UAE?
Dutch companies in the UAE account for 40% of Dutch investments in the Gulf region, more than 250 companies are active in the UAE. The most important Dutch companies operating in the country are: Shell, Van Oord excavation, Unilever, Boskalis, Frieslandcampina, ABN AMRO Bank, AkzoNobel, Philips.

About 5,000 Dutch nationals currently reside in the UAE, and most of them live in Dubai.

Which are the main import- and export products between the two countries?
Imports and exports relate to commodities such as food and live animals, beverages and tobacco, inedible raw materials, mineral fuels and lubricants, animal and vegetable oils, chemicals, main manufactured materials, machinery and transport equipment, various manufactured goods and other miscellaneous goods.

How can you explain the tremendous growth of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the last 30 years?
Building countries take time, and we started more than 45 years ago. The tremendous growth is credited to our investment in the most important component, our people. The vision of our founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – God rest his soul – for the prosperity of our country, had the human factor in its core. Our current leadership stayed true to this principle and that made The UAE an innovative advanced country in such a short period of time.

How important is the tradition of pearl diving in the UAE?
Pearl diving in the Arabian Gulf, played a vital role for many centuries before the discovery of oil, it was an important occupation and the mainstay of local economies. It represents, until now, an era that provide a source of pride and endearment to the Emirates.

I was informed that the Netherlands was one of the first countries to support the UAE’s bid to host Expo 2020. Do you think that Dutch companies can benefit from the opportunities that will arise from Dubai hosting Expo 2020?
The benefits of Dubai Expo2020 will not be only limited to business opportunities. Expo2020 is providing a chance to shape the future to all participating countries. A world united for a better future for generations to come.

When will the Expo 2020 take place and what will this mean to your country?
Expo2020 will open its doors on 20th October 2020 until the 10th of April 2021. The UAE provides sound and encouraging business environment, Expo will highlighting this for our guests and will enable us to showcase the best our country has to offer in terms of socially and environmentally responsible practice.

You named 2019 a Year of Tolerance in the UAE. Would you care to elaborate on this?
This year we are celebrating a value that is embedded in our culture since the establishment of our state back in the 1970s, Tolerance. The UAE is a guardian of values ​​of tolerance, peace, security and multiculturalism, with more than 200 nationalities sharing life with each  other and enjoying respect of their values, with laws in the UAE that guarantee all justice, respect and equality.

Furthermore, the UAE is a key partner in several international conventions and treaties related to the rejection of violence, extremism and discrimination becoming a global capital in which East and West civilizations converge to promote peace and tolerance among all peoples.

The UAE also was honored to receive Pope Francis, in a first visit of a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula in February 2019, promoting the strengthening of human values and coexistence among all human beings. I had the honor of being part of this historic event, which was initiated when I was the first female ambassador in the history to Vatican City during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI.

You were the first Lady Ambassador to Spain, the State of the Holy See and now to the Netherlands. This is quite an achievement. How is the women empowerment in the UAE?
Women of the Emirates always had an active role to play in their society. From safeguarding their land, protecting their homes and raising the children, while men went to provide for their family, which in many cases took them far from their land, to meeting new challenges and responsibilities for them to fulfill. The advancement of education for girls opened doors for our women. However, the pivotal move forward was orchestrated by HH Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. Exposed to her husband’s Sheikh Zayed unrelenting efforts to modernize the state, Her Highness, a humanitarian & a philanthropist, started to dedicate her time amd energy into transforming the UAE into a progressive haven for women.

Emirati women nowadays are ambassadors, ministers, members of parliament and working in the army, police force and Space Program.

Which are the most important museums which were recently opened in the UAE?
Louvre, Abu Dhabi comes to mind immediately. This is the first Louvre to open outside Paris. It was opened in Abu Dhabi in November 2017. It is designed like a shallow dome that houses 600 artworks and artifacts offering a glimpse into the history of the world and its many religions.

Which highlights can you recommend to visit in your country?
The unique thing about the UAE is that it caters to every interest. Visitors would be spoilt for choice. I can only give few highlights.

The United Arab Emirates globally well-known for its remarkable high-quality services, which attract European tourists looking for the unusual mix of cultural diversity and heritage, Arabian nights in the desert, Emirati cuisine, traditional markets in Ajman and Umm al-Quwain, safari tours and camel and horse racing and tax free shopping. Enjoying the diversity of landscape in Ras AlKhaima and AlFujairah is highly recommended.

Saadiyat Island  is world class leisure, residential, business and cultural hub of global proportions, housing the world’s largest single concentration of premier cultural assets including the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Qasr al-Ain, better known as the Al Ain Palace, is one of the biggest and most preserved cultural places in the UAE. A former residence of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan the founding father, the palace is kept alive and furnished true to its original condition. It is a great place to see the true impression of the everyday life in the ruler’s fort.

There is also Al Fahidi Fort, known as the Dubai Museum, is located in old town Bur Dubai amongst some of Dubai’s well-known heritage centers. The museum tells a story of the past and how today’s development and vision and leadership has derived from it.

Sharjah Natural History Museum with its Arabian Wildlife Center where visitors can get a glimpse of wildlife in their natural habitat, a Petting Zoo, and Botanical Gardens. Children love the learning part of the museum and even more so when they reach the wildlife sanctuary.

The Women’s Museum of Bait Al Banat. This museum was an attempt to remove stereotypes about women in the Arab world and preserve their history and achievements, especially women in the history of the UAE.

Are there many Dutch people visiting UAE?
The number of Dutch tourists who visited Dubai alone in the first three months of this year rose 6% year-on-year to 48,000 visitor, which explains the increase in the number of flights operated by KLM, Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and very soon Fly Dubai.

If you can describe your country in one sentence, what would you say?

The sky is the limit.