Expat recaps journey of 4 decades in the UAE

Iraqi expat Wissam Al Dabbagh says his first memory of the UAE is the warm greeting he received when he landed in Abu Dhabi in 1979.

By Wissam Al Dabbagh

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Wissam Al Dabbagh
Wissam Al Dabbagh

Published: Thu 24 Jun 2021, 1:42 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Nov 2023, 11:05 AM

At 3.15am on Saturday, March 3, 1979, an Iraqi Airways plane from Baghdad brought me to the UAE. The moment I set foot outside the plane, I was hit with a gust of heat and humidity, unlike anything I had experienced before.

I was greeted with a gracious "welcome" and a smile at passport control and quickly finished the efficient entry procedures. Airport employees were warm and welcoming, just like the rest of the Emirati people, who continue to be generous and hospitable to this day.

From then on, my journey began.

First stop: Abu Dhabi

My job hunt started for something that suited my academic qualifications and professional experience. It was never an easy journey, and was indeed filled with many challenges, even some failures. I was soon appointed to a temporary advisory mission working on a study on administrative work development for the Sheikh Khalifa Committee, which was later renamed the Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings.

With the grace of God, I completed the study, and the department advanced the project following the implementation of my recommendations. This was my first accomplishment in the UAE capital and it made me proud.

At that moment, I felt a palpable sense of serenity, comfort and reassurance, and the desire to leave a legacy, a mark on this good land, even in the smallest of ways.

Next stop: Dubai

In Dubai, I was appointed in the Studies and Research Department at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. Upon my arrival, I felt as if God had blessed me with the opportunity to achieve my goals. I was tasked with coordinating with UAE University in Al Ain to prepare a new organisational structure study for the ministry, which perfectly suited my specialisation.

Soon, I had the opportunity to work closely with experts from different walks of life. All of us, citizens and residents, worked hard in an environment of care and camaraderie, which became even more harmonious.

When UAE University graduates from all disciplines were recruited to work with us in the various state departments, their great enthusiasm facilitated their ability to gain the practical experience they needed to keep pace with the country's vast and robust vision. They were trained to build a new and modern state under the leadership of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Massive development drive: A dream come true

Meanwhile, infrastructure projects were underway and at an accelerated pace as if in a race with time. From schools, hospitals, roads, bridges to public and service buildings, a new building appeared every day, a new road paved, and a new landmark erected all over the country.

What we witnessed was a rare phenomenon, of dreams coming true, step by step, under the guidance and support of a wise leadership and incisive laws that aimed to secure progress and development. It is a leadership that sought to establish the pillars of this nation and protect it from anything that may stand in the way of its pioneering journey.

Setting up my home

The third stop was Sharjah. Sharjah is where I made my home and where I was able to lay the foundation for my most significant accomplishment: Raising a family. This family, which I am immensely proud of, motivated me to continue working hard and raising my children to excel in their education and become dedicated and hardworking role models in everything they do. With the grace of God, my efforts paid off and, today, their contributions in society are as clear as day, each advancing the specialisations they are in, be it media, education, culture, literature, arts or development of new technologies.

Settling down in Dubai

And as with any journey, there is always a final destination. As destiny would have it, I eventually settled in Dubai, a city known for its energy and drive to be a pioneer in all walks of life... A place that rose above the clouds with the Burj Khalifa, conquered space with Hope Probe and is crowned with pearls of wisdom that calm the soul and bring peace of mind.

Fondest memories

More than four decades in the UAE have borne many beautiful memories. Especially given that they were shared with some wonderful people — citizens and expatriates— who I came to know and work within the various positions I assumed since the beginning of the UAE’s state-building journey.

My fondest memory, perhaps, is when the UAE announced its victory in organising Expo 2020.

It was a highly-anticipated milestone event, and we held our breaths as we awaited the results. Another fond memory is the qualification of the UAE national team to the World Cup in Italy in 1990, which resulted in an atmosphere like no other! And of course, we can’t forget to mention the successful launch of the Hope Probe to Mars in what placed the UAE among the ranks of scientifically and technologically advanced countries.

Secrets to the UAE’s success

The UAE was able to lay down the right infrastructure for building a modern state. What the country has achieved in the past 50 years is unprecedented in world history. The UAE has become an inspiration for many regional and global countries that are trying to emulate and even compete with it but have yet to do so.

The secret to UAE’s success lies in three main values: The absence of the word “impossible” from its leaders’ core principles and planning strategy; the irreplaceable goal of being “first” in every task no matter what it takes; and the unity of all members of the Emirati society.

This report is part of a weekly series that pays tribute to the 50 years of hope and inspiration the Emirates has sparked in everyone who calls it home. Meet the Emiratis and expats who have seen the UAE story unfold.

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