On September 21, the UAE celebrated the International Day of Peace, a holiday declared by the United Nations General Assembly. The UAE’s celebration comes in light of the policies that the country has been adopting over the past years to promote the values of peace and tolerance regionally and internationally. This interest in peace issues is linked to a number of main factors, perhaps the most important of which is that the UAE is located in a region of severe crises and problems, which requires regular engagement in order to maintain stability. Moreover, the UAE’s cosmopolitan character has made it a model of peaceful coexistence between different segments of society.
Over the past years, the UAE has created a number of key pillars and directions governing its vision of peace and tolerance, which can be surveyed as follows:
1- Linking between stability, peace and the economy: The Emirati vision is premised upon creating a link between peace and economic development. During his participation in the I2U2 summit, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, highlighted the importance of consolidating peace and stability in the world. "The UAE believes that the economy offers the best way to achieve peace, security and progress, especially when governments and people have the will and courage to build partnerships and face challenges," said His Highness. This approach of linking peace and the economy was also expressed in the UAE President’s speech on 13 July 2022, when he said that "The UAE’s policy will continue to champion peace and stability in our region and the wider world, supporting others and advocating for wisdom and cooperation for the good of mankind. We will continue our work to strengthen cooperation and enable positive, respectful dialogue between countries to achieve stability and prosperity for all."
2- Strengthening the legislative structure: The UAE has worked to strengthen the legislative structure in a bid to enhance the value of tolerance and coexistence between different nationalities and religions. For example, in July 2015, Federal Decree Law No. 2 of 2015 on Combating Discrimination and Hatred was issued to consolidate a culture of global tolerance and confront manifestations of discrimination and racism. In 2016, the UAE Cabinet approved the National Tolerance Program to cement the values of tolerance and cultural pluralism as well as renounce discrimination, hatred and intolerance. Over the past years, there have been many governmental and community initiatives in support of the idea of tolerance.
3- Institutionalizing tolerance and peace: To complement the development of the legislative framework for the values of tolerance and peace, the UAE created some institutions such as the Ministry of State for Tolerance in February 2016 to support the country’s commitment to spreading the values of tolerance, pluralism, and acceptance of the other. The UAE also established the International Institute for Tolerance, IIT and Hedayah Center to combat violent extremism, as well as the Sawab Center to reject hatred and intolerance.
In this context, the UAE has formulated several initiatives and created awards that serve tolerance and world peace, including the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Award for Tolerance which was launched in 2016 to build young Arab leaders and talents in the field of tolerance. The award supports intellectual, cultural and media productions related to promoting tolerance and acceptance of others in the Arab world. It seeks to impact 130 million people in the coming years in all fields. The second award is the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for World Peace, which was launched in 2011 to honor all groups and entities that have distinguished contributions to peacekeeping and maintaining stability in the world.
4- Intensive adoption of the values of coexistence: By looking at the official policies and discourses of decision makers in the UAE, one could argue that there is an intensified adoption of the values and discourse of coexistence among all groups. The country has more than 200 different nationalities and has diplomatic relations with more than 190 countries in addition to 73 consulates and more than 110 foreign embassies. It cannot be overlooked that these facts have strengthened the UAE’s role in spreading a culture of peace and tolerance regionally and internationally.
Based on the dimensions of the Emirati vision of peace and tolerance, the UAE is acting in various ways to support peace and tolerance regionally and globally. The most important of these efforts are as follows:
1- Engaging in regional de-escalation efforts: The UAE’s moves in recent years have reflected attempts to achieve regional stability. Perhaps this is what became clear with Abu Dhabi’s announcement, last August, of returning its ambassador to Iran. This confirmed its commitment to establishing positive relations with Tehran and all parties in the region. This trend also surfaced when the UAE signed a peace agreement and established diplomatic relations with Israel in September 2020. The UAE confirmed that signing this agreement aims to enhance stability in the region and to search for a sustainable and just solution to the Palestinian cause. Decision makers have underlined, on several occasions, the UAE’s continued commitment to supporting the Palestinian cause and seeking just solutions to it.
2- Mediation efforts in some conflicts: Over the past years, the UAE has played an active role in achieving international peace by mediating in some conflicts. Abu Dhabi played an important role in bringing Ethiopia and Eritrea together, which eventually led to the two countries signing a peace agreement in July 2018 after many years of hostility. In March 2021, several reports indicated that the UAE played a major role in brokering secret talks between India and Pakistan to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, which led to the armies of the two countries declaring, through a joint statement in February 2021, a pledge to abide by the 2003 ceasefire agreement. The UAE was also keen to play a mediating role in Sudanese affairs and bring the key players closer during the transitional phase after the rule of President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
3- Attempting to formulate a global framework for coexistence between religions: As part of its efforts to spread peace and tolerance worldwide, the UAE has sought to formulate a framework for coexistence between religions, and to propose this framework as an alternative to conflicts between civilizations. In February 2019, the UAE hosted Pope Francis on a visit that included holding a huge mass that attracted about 120,000 people, not to mention the signing of the Human Fraternity Document between the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Pope.
The UAE also tried to adopt this trend domestically. In the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, there is the Maryam Umm Issa Mosque, which was built in 1985 under the name ‘Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed mosque’, but in June 2017, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed decided to rename the mosque to Maryam Umm Issa. In the vicinity of the mosque, there are the Catholic and Orthodox churches and cathedrals in the Mushrif area, which underlines the country’s efforts to promote religious coexistence and tolerance.
4- Participating in regional counter-terrorism activities: The UAE is committed to implementing its national strategy and laws that aim to combat terrorism. For example, over the past years, the UAE has put in place a number of laws to combat extremism in cyberspace. The UAE and the US jointly established the Sawab Center in March 2015. It is an interactive electronic messaging initiative aimed at supporting the efforts of the global coalition in its war against terrorism and extremism. The UAE is part of the international coalition against ISIS, in addition to the role it played in combating terrorism in Yemen over the past years.
5- Expanding the role of peace forums: Over the past years, the UAE has worked to develop the role of peace forums in supporting and promoting stability and peace regionally and globally. Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace, which started its activities in 2014 under the name of the "Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Communities," with the aim of spreading the values of tolerance and peace. The official website of the forum indicates that the forum discusses the present problems and issues facing humankind which have resulted from intellectual and sectarian conflicts in Muslim societies. The forum also provided an opportunity to host experts and scholars from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
During the past years, the Forum announced a number of major initiatives, such as the Marrakesh Declaration in January 2016 on the rights of minorities in the Islamic world. The declaration strived to instill a culture of religious coexistence and preserve the rights of religiously different people in Muslim societies. The forum’s activity entered a new phase in 2021 with an announcement, during the annual meeting of the forum in December 2021, of its transformation into the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace and the issuance of the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Inclusive Citizenship framework, which affirms the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence within different societies.
In conclusion, the policies adopted by the UAE over the past years to promote the values of peace and tolerance have become an important determinant of the UAE’s endeavors to boost its distinctive national brand regionally and globally. This comes amid the shifts in foreign policy tools and relations between countries, and the growing focus on building soft power by state actors. This greatly supports the economic and political interests of the UAE, especially given its location in a turbulent region.