The Values of Cultural Diplomacy
A Letter from His Excellency
Dr. Zaki Nusseibeh
— Cultural Advisor to the President of the UAE & Chancellor of the UAE University
We are blessed to live in a stable, prosperous and optimistic country, but our turbulent region and a changing world pose many challenges to the UAE. These are problems that can only be solved through more cooperation, but we are living in a time in which we too often see division and distrust replacing mutual respect and collaboration.
Therefore, it is imperative that we work to build greater trust and understanding with other countries and their people. Whether it be global challenges such as tackling climate change, regional ones such as countering extremism, or domestic ones such as diversifying our economy, they all require that we work hand in hand with the international community.
…it is vital that we give other countries a better understanding of our culture and values
To build the international cooperation we need, it is vital that we give other countries a better understanding of our culture and values, as this can provide the foundation for long-term partnership on political, economic and security issues.
By communicating our progressive culture and values to other countries, we can give people in our region something hopeful to aspire to, which is what so many young Arabs desperately need. By demonstrating that being proud of our Muslim and Arab heritage and culture can also mean being modern and cosmopolitan, we can help to show people a positive alternative.
For this reason, I am honoured to have been asked by His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to establish an Office for Cultural and Public Diplomacy (OPCD) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC). The core mission of OPCD is to work closely with the Federal and local Cultural, Educational, Science and Technology, Sports and Environment Authorities in the UAE to help our wide network of diplomatic missions abroad build international understanding of, and affinity for, the UAE’s culture and values, to enhance political, economic and security cooperation with other countries.
One of the ways we can do this is through cultural exchange. This is why the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Expo2020 are so important, because they enable a powerful conversation about our common humanity. But it is also why we will look to help the creative and knowledge sectors of the UAE’s economy to get exposure overseas.
The creative arts provide a powerful vehicle for conveying our culture and values.
The creative arts provide a powerful vehicle for conveying our culture and values. At their best they engage people in a two-way conversation, they tap into emotions that all humans have in common, and they eliminate language barriers.
We can also Communicate our shared values by bringing people to study in UAE universities and encourage the study of our culture in foreign universities, by participating in international sporting events, or by finding new ways to engage the millions of people who visit the UAE each year.
OPCD works with colleagues inside and outside MoFAIC to join the dots between these our rich cultural tapestry and our robust foreign policy, to ensure that the UAE’s embassies are doing as much as they can to support and amplify those efforts.
OPCD provides a ‘toolkit’ for UAE embassies and works with the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy to support our diplomats in cultural diplomacy. The priority is not on just communicating with political leadership but with opinion leaders in the cultural, media, business, education and sports sectors, as well as the wider public.
And our focus should not just be on western countries, which the UAE has traditionally targeted, though countries such as the US, France and the UK remain very important to us. But it is also a priority that we build stronger connections and cultural understanding in the major Asian countries, such as China and India.
Equally, we must do all we can to cement ties within our own region, working closely with our trusted allies and partners in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia, and reaching out to strategic neighbours like Iraq. Our cultural diplomacy should convey the non-sectarian and tolerant nature of the UAE’s values, thereby strengthening the UAE’s connection with all Arab people, whatever their religion or sect.
Despite the obvious transformations of our country over the last half century, our culture remains rooted in the same values as always: a commitment to women’s empowerment, to invest in the well-being of our people, to provide an open, economically attractive and culturally rich environment for expatriates and visitors, to constant innovation, to compassion for the less fortunate, to tolerance of other religions and cultures, and to respect and civility towards one another.
These values are demonstrated every day by the people of the UAE, whether they be Emiratis or foreign residents. This makes OPCD’s job easy: to give other countries a window into this culture and promote dialogue around a shared set of values. For in a world in which too many people are closing doors, it is in the UAE’s national interest, and our national character, to keep pushing them open.