Expo 2020, the mega-event launched in Dubai on Thursday night, opens its doors on Friday and its 200-plus pavilions will welcome visitors from all over the world for the next six months.
It will host ground-breaking innovations, explore humanity’s most pressing challenges and amuse its visitors with more than 60 live events a day. It will allow nations to showcase their culture, cuisines, art and journeys. It will inspire, engage, entertain and bring people together in the largest gathering since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Expo 2020 signals to the rest of the world that the worst is definitely behind us. It stands as a beacon of hope.
In the last few years, the UAE has undergone a strategic shift in its foreign policy direction, which soon translated into increased soft power. And there is no better example of that than Expo 2020. Connecting nations and building bridges through innovation and inspiration, Expo 2020 is the epitome of soft power — a model of appeal and attraction; a symbol for all that the UAE represents.
International relations have taught us — thanks to American political scientist Joseph Nye — that countries use soft power to persuade others to do what they want, without force or coercion, as well as to shape their long-term attitudes and preferences. And so the US, as an example of a successful proponent, has projected its soft power through its commercial companies, universities, Hollywood, culture, and values.
For a country like the UAE, which is often referred to by analysts as the rising regional power, or “Little Sparta,” the term soft power goes a step further. For decades, international foreign aid was the leading soft power policy strategy, but today it comprises several equally important tools. The UAE has long been a tourism and trade hub, the home to international brands like Emirates airline and the Jumeirah group, but it has now also emerged as a leader in technology, science and startups. Where others export music, local cuisines and soap operas, the UAE is exporting ideas, innovations and best practices.
As a young nation that is about to turn 50, the UAE has succeeded in becoming a significant global soft power. It continues to attract not just Arab youths, making it the top country of choice to live in for nine straight years — even above the US and Canada, according to the 12th Arab Youth Survey. It has also emerged as a model nation for expatriates of all ages and nationalities, who choose to work or simply live here. It has revamped its residency laws and programs, and has launched an international campaign to attract foreign talent and the brightest of minds, including doctors, engineers, students, artists and scientists, along with their families. It is executing a long-term vision to make the UAE a home for residents to live in, retire and prosper.
It also continues to be among the most preferred destinations for migrating high-net-worth individuals, when many thought it would experience an exodus during the pandemic. Over the past 20 years, the UAE has been one of the world’s biggest recipients of migrating HNWIs. The latest World Wealth Report estimates that more than 35,000 HNWIs moved to the UAE between 2000 and 2020. Many of these individuals came from India, the Middle East and Africa.
Expo 2020 is the world in a city — a representation of how the UAE models its soft power through alliances, partnerships and creativity. It takes center stage in solving the world’s most challenging problems in climate change, energy and sustainable development. It embodies the UAE’s core values of tolerance and coexistence. Expo 2020 will showcase countless technological advancements and life-changing innovations. It will explore the future of air travel, healthcare challenges, how to adopt artificial intelligence to serve humanity, and will host a pavilion inspired by the great Dr. Stephen Hawking.
The event’s vision is to build a better world by connecting minds and creating the future, and that is a simple reflection of the UAE’s dynamic soft power vision.
• Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and a writer interested in gender and development issues.
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