Launch of Emirates Leadership Initiative, Remarks by Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba

"At the launch of the new Harvard Kennedy School Emirates Leadership Initiative on October 3, 2014, Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba stressed the need to address and eliminate the root causes of violent extremism. Please see below for his prepared remarks.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to welcome you to the UAE Embassy this afternoon. It’s nice to see so many new faces who are visiting the Embassy for the first time.

A big thank you to Dean Elwood for his enthusiastic support on the Emirates Leadership Initiative.  The UAE could not have selected a better partner than the Harvard Kennedy School to help us prepare future government leaders in the UAE and across the region.  I’d also like to recognize Ms. Ruba Al Hassan a fresh Kennedy School graduate. Ruba is the real force behind this new program.

Most of you here today are graduates and products of the Kennedy school.  You know better than anyone that there is no one better at building the leaders, institutions, and systems that allow tolerant, open and progressive societies to succeed.

Ten years from now, I hope that my successor can stand here in this same room and look out at an audience that includes many more public sector professionals from the UAE and the Middle East.  Future editions of this forum need to be about growing economies, building infrastructure, delivering social services, and lastly but most importantly, improving education.

I also hope by that time, we can look back on current global events and reflect on how we as a global community defeated extremism.

And let me be clear, extremism MUST be defeated if our open and tolerant way of life is to survive.

Over the last two weeks, the UAE Air Force has flown dozens of missions alongside the US and other partners in the coalition confronting ISIS and other extremists.  This military effort is having an impact – putting ISIS on the defensive for the first time and seriously degrading their capacity.

Now we must confront the extremists on new fronts.  We must take the fight beyond the battlefield with the same tempo, intensity and coordination.  We must challenge the entire militant ideological complex and all of its associated support networks.  That means stopping extremist funding, disrupting the recruitment of foreign fighters, securing borders, preventing the exploitation of the web and social media, and contesting the use of religious centers to promote hatred and violence.

On funding, we welcome the US Treasury’s action last week to add 11 more people to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.  These individuals were cited for providing financial and material support to the extremists and for facilitating the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters. This is a positive step and we hope to see more like it. 

Over the last few years, the UAE also has taken more aggressive steps to stop the flow of illicit funds to extremists.  Now is the time for other governments in the region to get serious about illicit financing.  Promises of new laws are not enough.  There must be aggressive enforcement.  Charitable fundraising must be monitored.  Money flows must be examined and exposed.  Over the long term, disrupting their funding will do more to slow down extremists than any amount of air strikes. Funding is the extremists’ oxygen and we need to cut it off.

Similarly, we welcome President Obama’s leadership to restrict the recruitment and movements of foreign fighters.  Encouraging nations to adopt new laws are the first step, rigorous enforcement is the next.  

Another subject we need to debate is internet and social media.  I believe it's both important and timely to have a conversation on what is and what is not appropriate use of social media.  It is time for responsible nations to seriously contest the extremists online. This can include a wide range of policies and practices from providing counter narratives to creating the legal authorities to shut down extremist websites that promote violence.  But we need to engage in this debate sooner rather than later.

We must also do a better job of providing an alternative to extremism.  This means better economic opportunities and most of all education, for boys and girls.  I was struck by a line from Nick Kristoff’s NY Times column yesterday.  He said  “the extremists greatest strategic threat comes not from a drone but from a girl with a book.”  This is the real antidote to extremism: education and empowerment. 

In all these areas – funding, recruitment, social media, education – we must bring the same leadership, and the same commitment that we bring to the battlefield. And just as we have with our military, the UAE is prepared to lead on these other fronts as well.

The forces of openness and tolerance and progress will win. But winning means providing alternatives to extremism and that means building more inclusive, forward-looking, and efficient governments.  And the people to lead them.  

And this is why this relationship with Harvard is important. Because this is the type of leadership we need to create.

The title of today’s discussion is “Leadership in a Turbulent World.” The three leaders you will hear from certainly know a lot about a turbulent world.  

But in ten years, let’s promise to get back together in this room.  Let it be filled with hundreds of Emirati, Egyptian, Libyan, Syrian and Yemeni gov’t leaders.  

Hopefully, David, Nick, Jim and I can lead a panel titled “Leadership in a Peaceful World.”  

On behalf of the entire UAE leadership, I offer my congratulations to Dean Elwood, David Gergen, Nic Burns and the Kennedy School team for the beginning of what will be a long and meaningful relationship.

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