LONDON: The Emirates Society, a UK-based friendship group dedicated to strengthening UK-UAE ties, organized a Ramadan iftar in the heart of the British capital to celebrate Emirati culture and heritage.
“Ramadan of course is important for those of the faith and of those who are not, because we know how much it means at home (the UAE), and we all want to celebrate that and it’s just that happy opportunity at the end of the day to get together,” Alistair Burt, a former British government minister and chairman of the Emirates Society, told Arab News.
The event, which was held at the UAE-owned Carlton Tower Jumeirah in London, attracted a wide range of people, including MPs, ambassadors, heads of think tanks and charity organizations, and businessmen, all of whom are interested in fostering UK-UAE ties.
Burt, who has been involved with the society since its launch in 2018 by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, is stepping down as chairman to give the opportunity to someone else to take it to the next stage.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ve had some landmark events, both in person, and virtually, we’ve been to Mars, and we’ve had opportunities here, we’ve spoken about difficult things, we’ve spoken about easy things, we’ve really looked at culture, and art and design in London, and I think we’ve built up the relationship with colleagues very much, so it’s ready for the next stage,” he said.
In the last year, the society has held a variety of exhibitions, lectures and discussions on topics ranging from food waste, to archaeology and investment opportunities.
“For me, it’s always been about broadening the relationship away from the things that the newspapers talk about. Newspapers and politics are all about some very straightforward things, it’s defense and security, it’s taking in the Middle East in that context.”
During his tenure as the British minister for the Middle East, he said he was more interested in the “people underneath all this,” who are interested in contemporary things, whereas in Britain “there’s a tendency to look back.”
He said: “I always wanted the Emirates Society to be something that recognizes that vision but took it on in a contemporary way, and I think that’s where we’re going,” adding that there are a lot more opportunities in science and in social media to come.
Burt, who vowed to continue being involved with the Emirates, also said they were working with younger people, as well as universities and students, to attract more youth to the society.
The iftar event was hosted by the UAE’s Ambassador to the UK Mansoor Abulhoul, who said now that the COVID-19 pandemic has lifted, he would like to see more events being hosted and an increase in members and youth engagement — as they have a strong Emirati student base in the UK — as well as private sector involvement.
“The purpose of the Emirates Society is as a friendship platform, and to foster greater ties across the relationship, which is so key, when you have a very strong bilateral relationship, you want to ensure that people connectivity is optimized,” Abulhoul said.
With currently over 100,000 British expats in the UAE, making it among the largest British communities in the world, he said there are a lot of people with ties in the UAE as generations of Britons have been born there.
The UAE has shared a special relationship with Britain since its founding in 1971, developing strong, strategic ties in the economy, defense, education, culture, health care and the energy sector.
The ambassador said the iftar event also coincided with Zayed Humanitarian Day, which is marked on Ramadan 19 each year, where they celebrate the Emirates’ founder and his contributions to helping others less fortunate
“It’s wonderful to be able to do it within Ramadan on Zayed Humanitarian Day, and I think he did an exemplary role over his career that was breathed into his sons in terms of foreign aid assistance we give around the world, assistance we give within our own country to those who are less fortunate,” Abulhoul said.
Nusrat Ghani, the Conservative MP for Wealden in East Sussex, said holding the iftar was “incredibly valuable” as it brought people together and gave them the opportunity to enjoy other cultures.
“It’s lovely to meet so many of my Emirati friends and those in the diplomatic services, we haven’t met up for quite some time because of COVID-19, and just catching up on conversations we had a few years ago,” she said, adding that they spoke about the environment, the new technology that the UAE could be harnessing and exploiting for many more people across the world, upcoming elections in Lebanon and extremism.
“There’s a lot of overlap in what happens between our countries and what interests our voters, our constituents, and I’m hoping that we can continue these conversations and make some really good decisions about things that matter to them, everything from security to the environment,” Ghani added.