Why every nation needs a cultural diplomacy strategy to address global challenges

The UAE has positioned itself as a hub for cross-cultural connection, embracing diversity, and has created an inclusive environment in which people from different backgrounds can co-exist harmoniously

By Eman Al Mughairy

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Published: Fri 22 Mar 2024, 2:44 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Mar 2024, 8:57 PM

With the world becoming increasingly interconnected, millions of people of different nationalities and religions cross paths daily, travelling not just physical distances but cultural ones. Fuelled by advancements in technology and trade, this interdependence fosters cultural exchange through dialogue and experiences.

Coming from a diverse background myself, as half Emirati and Omani, I’ve been able to witness how this cultural interplay can nurture cultural curiosity and notable acceptance among individuals. Likewise, being part of the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy as a master’s student during the formidable years has exposed me to the impact of soft powers such as cultural diplomacy through my encounters with diverse international delegations.

Additionally, the rise of social media platforms has transformed the way we engage with diverse perspectives, erasing language barriers and allowing us to instantly connect with people from different corners of the globe. Similarly, advancements in transportation have made travel more accessible, providing opportunities for first-hand experiences, while global marketplaces deliver international goods to our doorsteps.

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Culture is central to people’s lives, and it is shaping more than just communities and countries. Today, it is leveraged in the international relations landscape – opening opportunities and leading to the creation of foreign policies and cultural diplomacy.

According to Zaki Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, cultural diplomacy is the “exchange of ideas, art, and language for the greater purpose of creating understanding between nations and people.”

With its ability to build bridges and mutual understanding between nations, cultural diplomacy facilitates collaboration within the international community, aiding the effective tackle of challenges such as climate change and extremism.

At a time when cultural diplomacy is gaining more recognition and greater importance, it can be regarded as an investment, which develops a sense of shared culture. The role of diplomacy has expanded beyond conventional political confines, calling for a more inclusive and impactful approach. Cultural interplay has emerged as a pivotal factor in addressing such concerns specifically during international agreements and discussions, shaping the dynamics of diplomacy and guiding a more informed collaboration between nations.

This interplay has been exemplified by forums like the United Nations General Assembly, where delegates from various nations engage in dialogues that extend beyond political considerations, incorporating cultural perspectives. At last year’s G20, members recognised culture as “a transformative driver of SDGs”, recognising the creative economy as an engine for inclusive growth, multilateral cooperation, and social cohesion.

The UAE is one of many countries across the world that is leveraging cultural diplomacy. Especially showcased during times of uncertainty, the UAE has eloquently used culture to convey its foreign policy objectives. Built on the foundations laid by the nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE government has carried forward his vision of upholding the values of tolerance, peace, and stability, while promoting cultural diplomacy.

The recent COP28 unfolded concrete plans and practical solutions aimed at addressing the climate crisis, facilitated by cultural diplomacy. The conference provided a platform for delegates to exchange various attitudes towards climate challenges, highlighting its inclusive and united nature. The event welcomed the Group of Friends of Culture-Based Climate Action (GFCBCA), led by the UAE Minister of Culture and the Brazilian Minister of Culture. Comprising 33 countries and UN agencies, this coalition advocates for recognising culture’s essential role in climate change policies.

The UAE’s commitment to cultural diplomacy has greatly contributed to the country’s development and today, the UAE has positioned itself as a hub for cross-cultural connection. The government’s emphasis on embracing diversity, respecting different cultures and religions, and promoting inter-faith dialogue has created an inclusive environment in which people from different backgrounds can co-exist harmoniously.

With these measures in place, the UAE was ranked 10th in the latest global Nation Brand Strength Index, reflecting the growth of its soft power – both globally and regionally. This showcases the nation’s continuous dedication to fostering an environment of opportunity, development and tolerance for all its citizens, residents and visitors.

While the UAE’s progress in cultural diplomacy is commendable, it’s crucial to recognise the potential of leveraging it as a global tool for addressing pressing challenges. This necessitates a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach where governments alone are not solely responsible for funding cultural initiatives.

Specifically, concerted efforts between cultural organisations and governments are needed to position cultural diplomacy as a key player in promoting peaceful coexistence and unity. Additionally, embedding cultural diplomacy in academic curriculums is also paramount, developing open-minded and tolerant future leaders.

By embracing the practices of cultural diplomacy, countries can leverage cultural differences to tackle various challenges through mutual understanding and dialogue that will lead us to a more effective unified action.

(Eman Al Mughairy is a National Experts alumna in the culture and identity sector)


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