IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE AZERI OBSERVER, THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES AMBASSADOR TO BAKU, MOHAMED ALQUBAISI, TALKS ABOUT THE MAIN PRIORITIES OF HIS COUNTRY IN AZERBAIJAN, PROMOTION OF BILATERAL COOPERATION IN THE NON-OIL SECTOR, A 200 PERCENT INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF UAE TOURISTS IN AZERBAIJAN, TRADITIONS OF TOLERANCE AND MULTICULTURALISM IN BOTH COUNTRIES, AND THE PREPARATIONS FOR EXPO 2020 DUBAI, WHICH WILL BRING MORE THAN 200 COUNTRIES TOGETHER.
BY KATIE DUSTMAN
AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR
Question: The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Azerbaijan opened in 2011. What are the main achievements since its opening?
Answer: The United Arab Emirates was one of the first states to recognize the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Since that time, the ties between our countries have developed highly and fruitfully in various spheres. It also should be mentioned that our relationship became much closer after the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates was opened in Baku in 2011. Within one year, the Embassy’s efforts to bring the two countries closer resulted in the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry establishing its first overseas office in the capital of Azerbaijan. Now, Baku is the Dubai Chamber’s door to the other countries in the region, and at the same time, the Dubai Chamber makes it easy for the Azerbaijani businesspeople and companies to have access to the economic opportunities in the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to this office, Air Arabia and Etihad Airways, the second-largest airline company of the United Arab Emirates, have launched direct flights between our major cities and Baku. Our partnership has also resulted in high-level official visits between our countries, such as the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s, official visit to Azerbaijan in April 2015, and President Ilham Aliyev’s official visit to the United Arab Emirates in February 2016.
It is clear that we have developed strong, reliable friendships and brotherhood relations. These relations cover not only politics and the economy, but also culture and mutual support.
Q.: How strong are the economic ties between the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan? What do you see as the UAE’s strategic business interests in Azerbaijan?
A.: Bilateral relations between the United Arab Emirates and the Republic of Azerbaijan are based upon the strong friendship between our rulers, governments, and peoples. This friendship has formed a reliable partnership between our countries. One of the priorities of our economic cooperation is the development of trade relations. To this end, in May 2017, I initiated the UAE-Azerbaijan Trade Majlis, and there has been significant progress in the bilateral non-oil trade relations between the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan ever since.
Our cooperation in agriculture, real estate, and services such as hospitality are also very promising. Business conditions provided by President Ilham Aliyev have made it favorable for foreign investors to come and do business in Azerbaijan. There are nearly 300 companies based on UAE investments that are operating in Azerbaijan. At the same time, the Intergovernmental Commission in Economy, Trade and Technical Cooperation plays an advantageous role in this regard. I believe that with the support of the Azerbaijani Government, we will have new achievements in this field during the upcoming years.
Q.: Could you tell our readers about the activity of the Dubai Chamber’s representative office in Baku, and how it helps enhance economic ties between our countries?
A.: The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry International Office in Azerbaijan was established in November 2012 to help promote bilateral trade and investment relations between Dubai and Eurasian countries. Azerbaijan is the focus of the office. Numerous trade and investment missions have been conducted with the intention of promoting bilateral relations in retail and franchising, banking, logistics, food exports, and other industries. These missions bring together influential partners and stakeholders from our markets to conduct specific industrial discussions, networking, and business facilitation. Our Embassy works closely with the Dubai Chamber to support the expansion of Azerbaijani businesses to the UAE and vice versa.
Q.: What are the most attractive spheres of the Azerbaijani economy for UAE investors? What are the most significant UAE investment projects in Azerbaijan? How has the volume of the UAE investments in Azerbaijan changed over the last few years?
A.: As I previously mentioned, agriculture, real estate investment, and services such as hospitality are the most attractive spheres for the Emirati businessperson. The UAE was among the top five investors in the non-oil sector of Azerbaijan during 1995-2015. Our big project is the inclusion of the DP World Company in the Baku International Sea Trade Port complex. We believe that there is considerable potential in our economic relations that we can benefit from, year after year.
Q.: What opportunities does the UAE hold for Azerbaijani investors?
A.: The economic prospects of the UAE are bright. Our government keeps making business-friendly reforms, which play a significant role in the country’s progressive and sustainable development. My country has always been open for brain drain, professional specialists, and innovative ideas which help keep the country present with the modern world. Azerbaijani businesspeople can enjoy the many favorable conditions that UAE has created.
Q.: Both Azerbaijan and the UAE have a very developed oil industry. What kind of cooperation in this sphere could pose an interest in our countries?
A.: As for the cooperation in the oil sector, both the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan are oil-producer countries, and we cooperate within OPEC+. There are also companies with UAE investments operating in Azerbaijan’s oil sector. We are both interested in developing trade relations in the non-oil sector. Azerbaijan has now entered the post-oil stage of its development. We want to import Azerbaijani agricultural products for our domestic market. Also, the UAE has a large market for Azerbaijan to export its products to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The UAE has Free Trade Zones and a stable and reliable banking system. We have everything, which is necessary for good business.
Q.: Baku is sometimes called the “Second Dubai.” Do you think that this nickname is justified? Do you see similarities between these cities?
A.: Every city has its own uniqueness, and Baku is a city like no other. We can see both ancient and modern times at the same moment in the center of the capital. When we enter İçərişəhər, we find ourselves transported back to the 12th century. We go out, and the Boulevard meets us, then the modern buildings capture us. For me, it is like a painter who, from time to time, brings new colors to his picture. Even Baku’s amphitheater landscape exudes the arts. Baku is a dynamic city like Dubai. Both are ready to undergo rapid changes with new parks, centers, restaurants, and trade malls, which make its residents and visitors happy.
Q.: The number of tourists coming from the UAE to Azerbaijan has increased by over 200 percent over the last several years. In your opinion, what makes Azerbaijan so attractive for your compatriots? What was the reason for such impressive results?
A.: The sharp increase of the tourist inflow from the UAE to Azerbaijan is the fruitful result of the cooperation and brotherly relations between our countries. Factors such as the short distance between our countries, similar traditions, and visa facilitation, no doubt, have established strong ties between our countries. As the Ambassador, I exert all of the necessary efforts to enhance relations between my nation and Azerbaijan and bring them to the highest level. Our Embassy promotes Azerbaijan among the Emiratis. We continue to do our best to build up a brilliant model of friendship together with our Azerbaijani friends.
Q.: The UAE is also very popular among Azerbaijani tourists. Are you planning any additional initiatives to promote your country as a tourist destination among Azerbaijanis?
A.: The United Arab Emirates is seven Emirates, one destination. Each Emirate is unique and offers tourists a different enjoyable experience. Every year at our National day events we give organizations and companies a chance to demonstrate their offers. This day has numerous events where more than 300 guests representing government and private enterprises join our celebration. The UAE is very well-known for its high-level hospitality services all over the world. Of course, my country does not stop at what is achieved. We prefer to be progressive in all of the fields of life.
Q.: Both of our countries pay a lot of attention to multiculturalism and tolerance, and 2019 was even declared a year of tolerance in the UAE. What events and initiatives will be implemented in your country this year? Could you tell our readers about cooperation between our countries in promoting the values of tolerance and multiculturalism in the Islamic world?
A.: With more than 200 nationalities living peacefully and successfully in the United Arab Emirates, the UAE society has been an undisputed example of being a tolerant and inclusive country. The construction of the region’s largest Anglican Church was started in Abu Dhabi to accommodate more than 4,000 worshipers. In 2017, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan renamed a mosque in Abu Dhabi to “Mary, Mother of Jesus” to build a stronger understanding between Christians and Muslims. The other most obvious example of religious tolerance in the UAE is that it is home to over 200 nationalities, 40 churches, a Sikh temple, and two Hindu temples – substantially more centers of worship of other faiths than all of the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries combined. Last November, the National Tolerance Festival was initiated and organized. This initiative recognizes the visionary leaders of the UAE who have managed to build the UAE as a role model for tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which continues to gain the respect and appreciation of the whole world.
It’s not surprising that the UAE government announced 2019 as the Year of Tolerance to strengthen the nation’s role of encouraging stability and prosperity in the region. This year, the UAE announced that it will join the new Global Tolerance Alliance and will act as a global coordinator for cooperation and promote acceptance around the world. This year will be the first time that the Special Olympics World Games will be held in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The games will take place from March 14th through 21st, and are expected to attract more than 7,500 athletes from around the world and an estimated 500,000 spectators.
The UAE is always represented by high-level officials at the international events held in Baku. My country took an active part at the Islamic Solidarity Games of 2017.
Q.: In 2020 Dubai will host the World Expo. Could you provide some details about this huge event?
A.: Expo 2020 Dubai is one of the most important achievements currently underway. The exhibition is an implementation of international cooperation policies and plays a central role in expanding and bolstering bilateral and multilateral relations. The exposition is expected to host more than 200 participating countries. It will contribute to strengthening cultural understanding and nurturing cultural dialogue between nations while changing the prevailing perceptions on the region. Expo 2020 Dubai will position the UAE as a cradle of emerging technology, an incubator for SMEs, and a hub for entrepreneurs in the region.
Q.: On a different note, you have lived in Azerbaijan for more than three years and have had the time to get to know our country and our people. What would you say are the biggest cultural differences between Azerbaijan and the UAE? What are the similarities?
A.: You may know that we, the Emiratis, love traveling a lot. We have seen most parts of the world. Azerbaijan is different. Its nature, cuisine, and culture are much more attractive than its luxurious restaurants. Of course, catering service is noteworthy, but it is more important to enjoy the environment of hospitable people, who take care of you like you are a member of their own family.
It was October 2015, when I came to Azerbaijan for the first time as the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates. From the very first moments, this country captured me with its warmth and brightness, which is where our similarities begin. Second are the Islamic values we share. These are our beliefs, family values, childrearing practices, and traditions. Many words in our two languages have similar meanings. I think there are many more similarities between us than the differences. The more extensive the cooperation between our countries becomes, the closer our nations feel.
Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Azerbaijan, Mohammed Ahmed Hamel Alqubaisi, started his Baku-based mission in October 2015.
Ambassador Alqubaisi is a diplomat with a military background demonstrated at various military authorities. He had training in military helicopter control in France and was awarded the title of Pilot in 1979. He then joined the U.S. Command and Staff Institute where he received the Command and Staff Certificate in 1989 and the testimonial of the U.S. Air Force University in 1999. He served as the military attaché of the United Arab Emirates in the U.S. from 1990 to 2007. He retired in 2008 as Major General. In 2010, Mr. Alqubaisi was appointed the UAE Ambassador to Singapore, which is one of the largest trading partners of the UAE. It was an important post as the country’s first ambassador to Singapore, where the trade volume between the two countries tripled compared to its size before taking office.
During the first year of Ambassador Alqubaisi’s tenure to Azerbaijan, high-level reciprocal visits began, trade missions and exhibitions were held between the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan.
In 2017, the Ambassador organized a club of trade partners between the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, which has brought together companies, organizations, and businesspeople from both countries.
As a result of the efforts made by Ambassador Alqubaisi, statistics have already shown remarkable progress in the bilateral relations. The total number of UAE nationals coming to Azerbaijan has increased remarkably, and the volume of exports from Azerbaijan to the UAE has grown significantly.
The State Embassies to Singapore and Azerbaijan received the Foreign Minister’s Award for Excellence in 2014 and 2016 during the tenure of Ambassador Alqubaisi.
Ambassador Mohammed Ahmed Alqubaisi holds a Master’s degree in Military Sciences from the Egyptian Military Academy and currently continues his education at the Ph.D. degree in International Economics at the Azerbaijan State University of Economics.
He is fluent in Arabic and English.