UAE business and philanthropy leader Khalaf Al Habtoor received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual C3 US-Arab Summit in New York on October 6, 2014. His strongly-worded keynote address earned him a standing ovation as he pointed out why Western ways don’t always work in the Middle East. Joanna Andrews reports.
Khalaf Al Habtoor has long been referred to as the ‘unofficial ambassador’ of the United Arab Emirates. It’s easy to see why. Al Habtoor recently delivered a strongly worded keynote speech at the C3 US -Arab Summit in New York where he talked about Democracy and Human Rights.
“I have always been conscious about the importance of bridging the East and the West, finding the similarities instead of the differences between different cultures,” he told the record number of attendees.
Al Habtoor enthralled delegates with his distinctive view of an appropriate political partnership model for Eastern and Western nations that respects Arab traditions and celebrates the successes of governance instead of seeking to apply Western models as one-size fits all solutions.
Drawing a contrast between Western models and the governing system that has led to astronomical growth in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Al Habtoor remarked, “Leaders in the democratic countries are locked away in their ivory towers, with thousands of guards keeping them from the people they are supposed to listen to. In my country, I can meet the rulers any time I have a need and they will listen.”
Expanding on his view of how universal human rights can be better achieved, Al Habtoor went on to say, “The leaders in the UAE are reachable and approachable, and they are interested in what their people have to say. Our rulers care about their people and the residents of the country. The leaders of the UAE care about all humanity, and not just in words, but also in actions.”
Al Habtoor outlined the strengths of the UAE and praised his country’s visionary leaders - the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
“If we compare what the Western nations provide for their citizens and what the UAE offers, the difference is huge,” he said. “We have virtually no unemployment. While the streets of the richest cities in the world are full of homeless people living under bridges, tunnels and train stations. Safety and security are the number one priority for us. And we do not compromise on them. We have used an iron fist with anyone who jeopardises our security, but this is our right and our duty - and we will not apologise for it!”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was made in recognition of Al Habtoor’s long-term contribution to Middle East peace and prosperity and support to building an understanding between East and West. The award was jointly presented by Dr John Duke Anthony, President and CEO, National Council on US-Arab Relations and C3 Summit guest speaker and former US Congressman Paul Findley.
Ransel Potter, Founder of C3 International, praised Al Habtoor’s insights saying, “In his business success and unrivaled dedication to giving back, Mr Al Habtoor exemplifies the best of what C3 imagines business leaders to be and thus it was fitting that he became the first recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. His address perfectly framed the discussions for the day drawing out the important themes of cross cultural collaboration and how we can all work towards greater human rights for all.”