A Global Citizen



A Global Citizen

Abu Dhabi is working to expand its influence in the region and the wider world, and has set foreign aid and humanitarian assistance as key priorities for its diplomatic policy.

The federal capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is the largest and wealthiest of the seven Emirates, and the central hub of administrative power in the country. Over the past 40 years since the founding of the UAE, Abu Dhabi has experienced significant population growth and economic expansion. With a view to assuring the future prosperity of the Emirate, the Government has developed a long-term development plan known as Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. According to this guiding strategy, the promotion of economic growth, which has been phenomenal, should be complemented by paying special attention to social and human development. This is reflected directly in investments in education, healthcare, housing, infrastructure, and social welfare. The Vision sets out guidelines for reaching key financial targets for the next 20 years. One of the most important reasons for the success of the Emirate’s development over recent decades has been the focus on people as the primary beneficiaries of economic growth.

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been the President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi since 2004. The Deputy Prime Ministers are HH Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both have held their positions since 2009. The Deputy Prime Minister is appointed by the President, as is the Cabinet, or Council of Ministers. The loyalty and genuine affection of Emiratis—who make up an estimated 20% of the total UAE population—for their rulers is based upon a social contract in which they receive generous state benefits including free healthcare and education, along with an extremely high standard of living and other benefits such as subsidized food and fuel prices, courtesy of the federation’s massive oil revenues. These revenues are mainly provided by Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is widely regarded as the most solid, and statesmanlike of all of the Emirates, and is by far the richest. Possessing 8% of the world’s proven crude oil reserves, it is a major oil producer and exporter; the rest of the Emirates have not been blessed with such resources. Abu Dhabi’s economic situation is admired the world over, and its sovereign wealth fund is by far the largest in the region, and the envy of many larger and more powerful states. Managed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, founded in 1976, the fund has helped assure the prosperity of the Emirate, and allows Abu Dhabi to be generous and beneficent with not only its own citizens, but also with its neighbors, the region, and the world at large.


As an emerging regional and global player, it is clear that Abu Dhabi, and the UAE more broadly, must deal with numerous political challenges on many levels. It does this largely in cooperation with a diverse group of allies, primarily in the GCC, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations. UAE foreign policy also emphasizes the strong relationship and mutual interests the country shares with the US and other countries, including the UK and the European powers. HH General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces has stated that the UAE respects and recognizes “the importance of diplomacy and its role in supporting connection and collaboration with other countries of the world” and this idea underpins the guiding philosophy by which Abu Dhabi operates in the global arena.

In 2014, Abu Dhabi has also been showing its diplomatic strength in efforts to assure lasting peace and stability in the region. There have been some contentious periods recently between the members of the GCC, but in late 2014 regional relations showed signs of clear improvement. In the final days of the year it became clear that a rapprochement had been reached between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, who had previously disagreed on a number of regional Arab political issues. At the 35th GCC Summit in Doha, Gulf leaders announced plans to create a regional police force and a joint naval force to further bolster regional defense ties. The Government of Abu Dhabi said the police force would improve cooperation against terrorism, help to counter crime, and serve to assure regional peace. The police force will be based out of Abu Dhabi while the naval force will operate out of Bahrain. The police force will be known as GCC-POL, was announced at the conclusion of the Gulf bloc’s annual summit in Qatar. The GCC already possesses a land-based joint military force, known as the Peninsula Shield Force, which is currently based in Saudi Arabia.


Foreign aid and humanitarian assistance are among the top priorities of the UAE’s approach to diplomacy, and again it is Abu Dhabi that is leading the way. The philosophy behind this role is based on two key ideas: firstly, it is guided by the Islamic belief that helping those in need is a primary duty; and secondly, that part of the country’s wealth from oil and gas should be devoted to assisting less fortunate people across the globe. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE, expressed this very clearly when he declared, “We believe that the benefit of the fortune granted to us by God should spread to cover our brothers and friends.” The Emirates spent $5.4 billion in aid in 2013, a 435% increase from the previous year, taking the UAE’s global ranking from the 19th largest donor nation globally in 2012 to the first in 2013. This policy is consistent with the increased importance the UAE is placing on its role as a provider of development cooperation, which is also reflected in the creation of the Ministry of International Cooperation and Development (MICAD) in 2013. The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) is the core-financing agency among the many UAE actors involved.

However, Abu Dhabi’s bridge building activities reach beyond the boundaries of the Muslim world as well, primarily in the form of generous development assistance to countries in need, regardless of their faith. In a new and innovative program, the UAE-Pacific Partnership Fund was formed to disburse $50 million in grants for renewable energy generation projects in Pacific island countries. Project agreements between the UAE and six Pacific countries—Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu—have been signed to date, with completion times estimated for 2016. Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy arm, acts as project developer and manager. The Fund is administered jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Directorate of Energy and Climate Change, with the necessary capital provided by the ADFD. Founded in 1971, the ADFD is a state-managed development bank financed by the government of Abu Dhabi. Since its founding, the ADFD has provided more than $5.4 billion in aid to over 287 projects in 53 countries. Decisions about projects and funding types are made by ADFD’s governing board, which is led by several members of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. The majority of Abu Dhabi’s development assistance funding supports infrastructure development, including transportation, water, and electricity, while alternative energy is also a priority. According to Business Insider, the ADFD said in early 2015 that it will provide $57 million worth of concessional loans for clean energy projects in five developing countries. The fund is committed to supporting renewable energy projects in cooperation with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is also headquartered in Abu Dhabi. Concessional finance of up to $350 million is available over seven cycles. Projects approved for funding to date include solar, hydropower, wind energy and other alternative fuel programs in Ecuador, Mali, Maldives, Mauritania, Samoa and Sierra Leone.

Assistance to global health initiatives is also a key area of focus. The Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD) has pledged $25 million to assist in a partnership to “Roll Back Malaria”—an international partnership dedicated to fighting this disease. MICAD and the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are partnering to implement a $5 million project to fight the Ebola virus in the three West African nations of Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

HH General Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has asserted that “the importance of diplomacy and its role in supporting connection and collaboration with other countries of the world” should form the core of Abu Dhabi’s global mission. His Highness also stressed the importance of “highlighting the UAE’s leading position and its economic development, as well as its values of co-existence and tolerance and human interaction, to open the doors for more fruitful collaboration with all other countries in the world.” A more apt description of Abu Dhabi’s role on the world stage is difficult to imagine; going forward, the emirate will continue to expand its programs to proactively deal with international issues in a peaceful, constructive, and diplomatic fashion, and use its wealth and influence as a force for good.