The UAE is embracing an unpublicised policy of openness.
The news in August 2017 that a 27-year-old grandson of the country’s founding father was injured in a military helicopter crash in Yemen illustrates just how much the UAE is changing.
With four percent of the world’s oil reserves and about three percent of its gas, the UAE is in a position of global power. Critics at news organisations in New York and London are often on the offensive when it comes to pointing out Abu Dhabi’s and Dubai’s shortcomings.
With the drop in the price of oil (from $147 a barrel in July 2008 to $30 five months later), the Government began announcing long-term plans to put their citizens in a healthier position. The leadership introduced UAE Vision 2021 (intended to increase the number of Emiratis working in the private sector by tenfold by 2021); and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 (a plan to transform the economy of the emirate, which represents 89 percent of the landmass of the UAE).
More recently, changes that would touch the daily lives of Emiratis were also introduced, including the lifting of petrol subsidies; mandatory national service for Emirati men between the ages of 18-30; and the announcement that the the UAE and KSA would begin applying a value-added tax (VAT) on January 1, 2018.
As changes were coming to the UAE, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in San Francisco launched a social media platform in 2010 created specifically for the mobile phone. The UAE fell in love with Instagram. Today, the UAE has the highest mobile penetration rate in the world, according to Newzoo’s April 2017 Global Mobile Market Report. (The only other GCC country that is in the top 50 is Saudi Arabia at 17.) And so just as a country needed to disseminate a new message amongst a population with mobile phones, there appeared a medium.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has 1.4 million followers on Instagram, and over the past few years has posted pictures of himself with Pope Francis at the Vatican; holding his infant grandchildren; and riding his bicycle (while wearing his bike helemet no less) at Yas Marina Circuit.
Ministers are also fond of the power of the app. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the Foreign Minister, has posted pictures of himself praying in mosque; wearing a cowboy hat at the Calgary Stampede in Canada; and shaving his head in solidarity with sick children at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain.
In Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Prime Minister and Vice President, has 2.7 million followers and has posted pictures of himself with students at their first day of school; praying with his daughter; and on the beach with a sea turtle.
The Crown Prince of Dubai has 5.7 million followers, and can be seen scuba diving; standing on the edge of a cliff at Yosemite National Park in the United States; and riding the XLine in Dubai. In August, he also posted a heart icon with a picture of Sheikh Zayed Hamdan, the grandson of the founding father injured in that helicopter crash that killed four and injured two others. (As of the writing of this, that picture has 120,000 likes.)
No other GCC country has its leadership on Instagram. What is important about this particular social media platform is that it’s designed for the mobile phone and it was created for images, which means anyone can see what the country’s leaders are doing.
For instance, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi posted pictures when meeting the families of the soldiers killed in the August helicopter crash in Yemen. These are intimate photographs that present Sheikh Mohammed in an honest setting with real people. For a country looking to operate in a transparent manner, this is as open as it gets.
Michael Jabri-Pickett Speechwriter • Editor • Journalist