Evangelicals, UAE FM talk future of Abraham Accords - opinion

Joel Rosenberg recounts how MBZ told his Christian delegation he was ready for peace with Israel.

 Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, receives at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi the Abraham Accords Delegation of Evangelical Business and Media Leaders, Apr. 27, 2022 (photo credit: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation via ALL ARAB NEWS)
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, receives at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi the Abraham Accords Delegation of Evangelical Business and Media Leaders, Apr. 27, 2022
(photo credit: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation via ALL ARAB NEWS)

On Saturday, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, turns 50.

But the soft-spoken, brilliant and thoughtful minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates – widely known by his initials “ABZ” – is far more interested in discussing the future than the past.

Indeed, this fascinating and innovative son of Sheikh Zayed – the founder of the modern nation state known as the United Arab Emirates – lights up when he’s talking about helping forge the future of his country and region for the next 50 years, and leaving a legacy of hope and progress for his children and grandchildren.

His older brother, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), is the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the visionary ruler of the UAE.

Together, they are leading the most dynamic and exciting era of change in the modern history of the Arab and Muslim world.

MEETING ABZ

I first met ABZ in Manhattan in September 2018 when we were finalizing plans for the first delegation of Evangelical leaders that I brought to Abu Dhabi the following month.

He and the crown prince both graciously met with that delegation and invested many hours with us, ABZ first and then MBZ the following day.

At that time, MBZ confided to our group that he had decided it was in the UAE’s profound national interests to make peace with Israel and not only accept the Jewish people’s right to live in safety and security in their ancient homeland, but to build a true, enduring and warm friendship and alliance with the Jewish state.

We were stunned and encouraged.

We were even more encouraged when, less than two years later, MBZ kept his word and announced the historic Abraham Accords.

OUR SECOND EVANGELICAL DELEGATION

Once COVID began to recede, I wanted to organize this Abraham Accords Delegation of Evangelical Business & Media Leaders to visit Bahrain, the UAE and Israel, and thank the leaders of each country for literally changing the course of history.

Thus, I was deeply grateful when the foreign minister invited me to visit him Tuesday evening and bring four of my colleagues.

What ensued was an intimate conversation that lasted for 90 minutes.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets Joel C. Rosenberg and an Evangelical delegation in Abu Dhabi, Apr. 26, 2022 (Credit: Courtesy / ALL ARAB NEWS)UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets Joel C. Rosenberg and an Evangelical delegation in Abu Dhabi, Apr. 26, 2022 (Credit: Courtesy / ALL ARAB NEWS)

“Joel, it is so wonderful to see you again,” Sheikh Abdullah said with a warm and broad smile and as he greeted me and my colleagues. “Thank you so much for coming to see me and for bringing your friends.”

“I’m so honored to see you again, Your Excellency,” I replied. “Thank you for making time.”

“Of course! How could I not see when you’ve come to my country and you’ve been so supportive of my people?”

“Well, you’re a very busy man, Your Excellency,” I replied. “There are many reasons for you not to have the time to see us. But I’m very grateful that you did because as an Israeli and an Evangelical follower of Jesus, I want to thank you personally for forging and signing the Abraham Accords. And I want to ask you to convey to the crown prince my deepest thanks that he kept his word, he truly made peace with Israel, just as he promised me.”

“Did you believe him when he told you that he would make peace with Israel?” he asked.

“Absolutely. We all did. In the two hours he spent with us, we could see that he is a man of character, a man of deep conviction and principle. There was no reason for him to make us this promise unless he really meant it.”

THE BIGGEST BOMBSHELL

“Why didn’t you leak the news?” he smiled. “Weren’t you tempted?”

“I was,” I confessed. “We were sitting on a bombshell – the biggest story regarding the future of Arab-Israeli peace in the last quarter of a century. But Jesus teaches us in the New Testament to be men and women of our word. The crown prince had made it clear up front that our meeting was off-the-record. It was clear that he was trusting us with very important and sensitive information. He asked us to pray for him that he would know how best to get it done. And we had no intention of betraying that trust.”

“Were you surprised that in the end he really kept his promise?” the foreign minister asked.

“Not at all,” I said. “I was just incredibly excited when it really happened.”

I went on to share with him how emotional it was for me to sit on the South Lawn of the White House on Sept. 15, 2020, witnessing him actually signing the Abraham Accords, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s foreign minister.

BULLISH ON THE FUTURE?

We asked him how he felt the accords are working so far, what other Arab countries are likely to join next, and how he sees the threat posed by Tehran and other radicals in the region.

The short version:

  • ABZ is incredibly bullish on the Accords. The UAE has signed more trade and investment deals than he could remember off the top of his head. What’s more, he said there are now 77 direct flights between Israel and the UAE every week. That’s astonishing. Real, tangible progress. After all, private airlines wouldn’t be running so many flights unless they were full of paying customers.
  • ABZ didn’t want to speculate on future possible participants in the accords, stressing his desire to make sure the countries who have already signed are maximizing its success.
  • Not surprisingly, he sees the regime in Tehran as the most serious threat to the Accords, but he believes that’s all the more reason to forge the closest possible alliance between moderate Arab states, Israel and the US, even if there are occasional political disagreements.

WHAT IS THE EMIRATI BRAND?

What became clear as we sat with senior Emirati officials, including ABZ, is just how determined they are to forge a distinctive brand as a forward-thinking Arab country that completely rejects extremism and radical Islamism.

The United Arab Emirates wants to be, and be universally seen as:

  • Pro-growth
  • Pro-innovation
  • Pro-American
  • Pro-Western
  • Pro-peace
  • Pro-religious freedom

They have built the tallest building in the world – the Burj Al-Khalifa tower in Dubai. They were the first Arab country to send a mission to orbit Mars and will launch a lunar mission later this year. They were the first Arab country to send troops to Afghanistan in 2002 to fly alongside the US and NATO against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

They are the only Gulf Arab country with some 750 Christian churches freely operating. They were the first Gulf Arab state to invite a delegation of Evangelical Christian leaders to meet with its senior leadership – the one I led in October 2018. They were the first – and thus far only – Gulf Arab state to invite a Roman Catholic Pope, not only to visit, but to hold an open air mass, attended by 150,000 in 2019.

They were the first Gulf Arab state to make peace with Israel, clearing the way for other Muslim countries like Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and Kosovo to follow their lead.

They were also the first Arab state to host the World Expo, which just concluded after attracting more than 44 million visitors despite the COVID pandemic.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Impressive prospects. Very impressive.

If the UAE didn’t exist, you’d have to make it up.

Yet neither MBZ nor ABZ are satisfied. There is so much more to do, the foreign minister told us.

Not only do they want to create a better future for their own children and build on the legacy of their legendary father, but they also want to create a successful, dynamic model that other nations in the Middle East will embrace.

In light of the horrors in the region when the radicals have led the way, let us pray that the Emiratis and their model are wildly successful.

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ARAB NEWS. He is a New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical who lives in Jerusalem.