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The Middle East: Moving from Confrontation to Coexistence

In a year when the top news item was a pandemic, peace has been the one sign of hope that humanity could hold onto. The year 2020 witnessed historic moves toward peace that nobody could have envisioned even just one year ago, the Abraham Accords seeing once divided nations embracing brothers and sisters across the region, signaling a landmark shift in mentality.

Tolerance has been a part of the UAE’s fabric for several years now, from educational reforms to the announcement of the Abrahamic House, the region’s first multifaith worship center embracing all three Abrahamic religions. And now, that’s been realized further with the Abraham Accords, forging new relationships across the region for the good of all humanity.

Language is critical in perception and we must now expand the focus on tolerance to bring about a fundamental change in the mindset of the whole region to move from the state of confrontation to the state of coexistence. We need to move beyond tolerance, a state of “putting up with others,” into a state of coexistence.

We have to live together regardless of religion and ethnicity and we need to send this message to the region. Tolerance was a step in the right direction but coexistence is the essence of what we must achieve now. It’s something from your heart, something deep; it’s not about tolerating. Christianity and Judaism are both part of the region. Other ethnicities, too – Kurds, Berbers, Druze – these are all cultures that are part of this region’s rich tapestry.

We are moving into a new kind of state, a national rather than “nation” state, which is an open state that believes in the values of inclusive citizenship and peaceful coexistence with all peoples in all societies. The national state, in essence, is a state of coexistence, tolerance and forbearance. It is a multiethnic state with religious, linguistic and cultural diversity.

This diversity and pluralism enrich society and contribute to its economic progress and social prosperity. The national state is the first guardian of a society of tolerance and coexistence because it is founded on law, rights, duties and inclusive citizenship.

Nations that aspire to and work for the future, dreaming of a better life for the generations to come, must abide by and practice these values of coexistence. The destinies and futures of human societies are bound by their ability to embrace the values of coexistence and tolerance and achieve a state of peaceful coexistence throughout society under a legal system guaranteed by the national state.

The world has evolved and developed in such a way that no state can dispense with or do without the competencies, knowledge and expertise of other countries. Hence the importance of the Abraham Accords, which promote cooperation across the fields of economics, security and health care, among others. If we isolate and satisfy ourselves with our available resources, we will eventually decay, retreat and then inevitably be annihilated.

Coexistence has become a life necessity for individuals and communities as well as societies. Therefore, it is necessary to understand, fully embrace, live by and apply in practice, the value of coexistence. The key to this lies in accepting the other and believing that difference and diversity are necessary. It is imperative to respect different beliefs and dissenting views, to interact positively with those who hold these different beliefs and views and refrain from interfering in or judging their beliefs. Most importantly, it is necessary to avoid disrespectful acts and words against others.

The value of coexistence must be reflected upon, promoted and instilled in social life in a way that makes it an intrinsic part of our culture and traditions and these values must in turn be institutionalized. We must establish legal systems that sustain coexistence and prevent violations against the rights of certain social groups simply because we oppose or disagree with them.

All must realize that we live in a different time than that of our ancestors. There are no more empires or caliphates or colonial powers, and there is no open, unclaimed geographic space. We live in a world in which the outdated concept of nation-state controls the movements and actions of humans according to its standards, using tools such as nationality, identity and passports.

Acceptance of this reality requires a change in human and collective consciousness so that one’s awareness is liberated from obsolete historical and political entities. Instead, the national state is a future necessity to ensure pluralism and maintain the security and stability that we enjoy today in Emirati society.

Religion alone will not unite us, nor will sect, doctrine or race. It is the national state that unites us and provides us with the overarching framework through which we may enjoy security and stability and achieve development and prosperity for our futures.