The world's eyes are increasingly turning to Dubai: for trade, investment, travel, for guidance in regional affairs, and in the run-up to World Expo 2020, for inspiration. The Emirate's government policies are adapting to this heightened international scrutiny, building on a tradition of a liberal and outward looking business environment to take Dubai to new levels of international importance. As HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum writes in his Foreword to The Business Year: Dubai 2015, Expo 2020 “brings together the country's objectives and our goals both internationally and at home. The event will bring the world to Dubai to learn, experience, and share ideas.”
At the same time, security issues in the wider Middle East region are calling upon Dubai's role as mediator and aid donor as never before.
Dubai is working ever more closely with its GCC partner members on security (the UAE has joined the Saudi coalition of countries in the military campaign started in March 2015 in Yemen). The country's role in the GCC is also increasingly one promoting trade and general diplomatic cooperation across the region and beyond. The Emirate's stability affords it an almost unique role in hosting international conferences on global affairs, in addition to its well-established reputation as the region's foremost center for international travel and business. The country's government structures are at the heart of shaping these efforts.
Since its founding in 1971, the UAE has been governed as a federation of constitutional monarchies. The balance of power between the seven Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fukairah, and Umm Al Quwain favors Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as the largest Emirates, with the greatest share of power. The ruler of Abu Dhabi also serves as the country's President, while the ruler of Dubai is the Prime Minister and Vice-President. The government, at federal level, has responsibility for foreign and economic policy, as well as national security.
Since 2006, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has served as Ruler of Dubai, Prime Minister and Vice-President of the UAE. The Al Maktoum family has ruled Dubai since 1833. HH Sheikh Mohammed also sits on the board of the UAE's Supreme Council, the country's highest executive body, in which each of the seven Emirates is represented. The Council formulates and regulates national legislature relating to fiscal, budgetary, trade, and security policy and trade agreements.
The last parliamentary elections were in 2011, when 20 seats on the Federal National Council were appointed. At the same time, the UAE sought to expand the country's electoral college to more than 130,000 eligible voters, widening participation in the political process and including female candidates also. Dubai has eight representatives on the 40-member Council.
Dubai also, of course, has its own local government, in the form of the Dubai Municipality. The Municipality was established in 1954 by HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the late Ruler of Dubai, and chaired by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai. Charged with overseeing local government entities, Dubai Municipality is responsible for the city's transport and infrastructure, planning, housing and environment, health and education, and financial and budgetary management.
Dubai's liberal climate toward foreign investment and cooperation and its modernizing outlook have encouraged extensive and long-lasting relations with Western countries as well as close ties with much of the wider Islamic world. Fostering strong and mutually beneficial international relations is an enduring, and founding, principal for Dubai. The city was arguably built on trade, on links with other countries, and on maintaining an approach to policy that is welcoming and outward looking. The Emirate, and the wider UAE, plays a pivotal role as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Arab League, OPEC, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), the UN, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Dubai is increasingly host to conferences and forums from around the world. In a troubled and often turbulent region, the UAE provides much-needed stability.
Through both military and, increasingly, diplomatic means, the UAE has found itself playing an ever greater role in working to resolve regional security issues in 2015. War and conflict in neighboring countries are threatening the region's stability and prosperity as never before. Faced with this grim reality, the UAE has adopted a fresh approach that seeks to bridge religious divisions above all else, with Abu Dhabi hosting an international conference in 2014 to encourage countries and religions to work together to “counter religious extremism.”
Alongside this regional effort, the UAE—and Dubai in particular—is quietly fulfilling its remit for foreign aid. Indeed, the country is the biggest humanitarian donor in the world, pledging upwards of $5.89 billion in 2013. Some 140 countries around the world have been the recipient of the UAE's foreign assistance, distributed via 38 donor groups. Foreign aid accounts for 1.33% of the country's gross national income.
In 2014 to 2015, there has been a particular emphasis on providing assistance to countries in the Middle East and North Africa strongly affected by war and instability in recent years. Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Libya have been the particular focus of aid spending.
The International Humanitarian City (IHC) was founded by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2003 to support infrastructure projects, and relieve poverty, assist refugees and victims of natural and humanitarian disasters, and families suffering famine. The Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference and Exhibition is now in its 12th year. The conference is held annually in Dubai and has become a foremost event in the calendar for bringing together leaders from around the world, and influencing international policy on key humanitarian issues and situations globally. The conference attracts more than 10,000 delegates.
AN INTERNATIONAL CENTER
In 2015, as momentum for World Expo 2020 builds, this international outlook is shaping Dubai as never before. By 2020, Dubai alone plans to attract more than 20 million visitors a year. The 2020 strategy seeks to build on Dubai's reputation as a center for business and pleasure, fully utilizing the Emirate's transport infrastructure and biggest-in-the-world airports to handle up to 160 million passengers per annum.
Dubai has perhaps grown more swiftly over the past 15 years than any city on the planet—the remarkable scale of the change matched only by the city's dizzying architecture. Yet in the midst of such change, Dubai's values have held true. Its outlook has never been more open—to ideas, to trade, to diplomacy and international relations. That constant is set only to strengthen in years to come, as the region, and the wider world, increasingly looks to Dubai as a shining example.