Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Singapore,
Your Excellency, Dr Mohamed Omar Abdulla Balfaqeeh,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am honoured and happy to be invited to speak at the inaugural United Arab Emirates (UAE) Cultural Day in Singapore, held here today at the National Library Building.
2. For the past several decades, Singapore and the UAE have had excellent bilateral relations. We enjoy broad-based cooperation across the various political, economic and social spheres. Our governments cooperate in matters related to public sector development, security, legal administration, and environmental management; while we have business linkages in areas from petroleum to jewellery. However, despite these different public sector collaborations and our continual work to elevate our overall economic ties and expand our investment linkages, we are less familiar and aware of each other’s vibrant culture and unique history.
Similarities and Common Values
3. This could be perhaps surprising to several audience members here, but Singapore and the UAE do share many similarities in spite of the more obvious differences in our geographical surroundings and culture. These include not only our similar pragmatic outward-looking approaches, but also the emphasis we place on quality of life, multiculturalism, as well as safety and security. I also believe we have other important common values that form the foundation of our close bilateral relationship, and which should be explored and pursued further by our two countries as natural partners. Let me illustrate.
4. The UAE is highly regarded globally for its commitment towards promoting tolerance, moderation and inter-faith understanding, and Singapore is a strong supporter for the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, an international forum under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the UAE’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Just last year, the President of the Forum, Shaikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, was honoured as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)’s Distinguished Visitor, and spoke at our 5th MUIS Distinguished Visitor Programme with a lecture titled “Faith, Compassion and Human Dignity”. In this keynote lecture, he addressed the universality of our respective values, and the need for authentic dialogue that highlights the unifying role of religion in upholding human dignity through a civic-minded and compassionate way of living. As a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society ourselves, Singapore admires this mindset greatly and aims to echo this commitment. Like the UAE, we want to be a strong proponent of diversity, and since our independence, we have worked hard to maintain harmony and cohesion between the different communities within our society.
5. The UAE specifically has also been a valued partner to Singapore, by providing humanitarian and community service to the Muslim community in Singapore, and reaching out to local beneficiaries here. For instance, in June 2017, through the UAE Embassy in Singapore, the Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan Foundation collaborated with our own Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation (RLAF) to organise a Special Iftar or breaking of fast for 200 needy families at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands. They also extended gifts of Ramadhan Hampers to these families and sponsored two elderly Muis zakat recipients who were performing the haj pilgrimage for the first time. Such civic-minded and community-based collaborations should always be encouraged and I hope our two countries continue to explore such partnerships further.
Learning, Understanding and Appreciating One Another
6. In this day and age, even countries with long-standing friendships like us, can still get overly preoccupied with issues such as increasing economic opportunities, or enhancing security cooperation. We then become less involved with other meaningful engagements such as bolstering cultural, community and social ties. This would be a shame as the UAE in particular has such a rich cultural heritage, which I have had the pleasure to experience and enjoy myself during my past visits there - most recently, in September last year.
7. I thus welcome this UAE Cultural Day event and am delighted that more of my fellow Singaporeans will have the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful country through the exhibits and activities here today. Whether through learning about the founding of the UAE as a nation, or participating in the fun, interactive activities such as henna or Arabic calligraphy, this UAE Cultural Day will serve as a bridge between the people of Singapore and the people of UAE. It will further strengthen the relationship between two already friendly countries and facilitate a greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s vibrant cultures and heritage. Thank you.