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UAE ‘Year of Tolerance’ in 2019 wasn’t very tolerant at all

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  • The United Arab Emirates planned for 2019 to be its “Year of Tolerance,” marked by a slew of progressive initiatives across schools and governments. 
  • But any gains from the project at home were overshadowed by a series of blunders, many of which were defined by their intolerance.
  • From the escape of Princess Haya, the Emir of Dubai’s wife fearing for her safety, to a national gender balance awards where men won all the awards, here’s how it went wrong for the UAE in 2019.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

The United Arab Emirates hoped that 2019 would be remembered as its “Year of Tolerance.”

Despite being a relatively conservative nation, in a region not known for openness, its president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed had the confidence to put tolerance front and center at a launch event in December 2018.

Sheikh Khalifa’s plan had five targets, which focused on informing citizens about diversity and religious freedom as well as doing more as a government to modernize.

The plan was huge and visible project inside the UAE.

Dubai’s government-owned Emirates airline covered a plane in “Year of Tolerance” branding. Year of Tolerance-themed Christmas trees went up in December in Abu Dhabi, and in Dubai, the Year of Tolerance bridge became a tourist attraction.

But the UAE was the subject of a series of high-profile, negative news stories in 2019, the impact of which has eclipsed any benefits garnered from the project at home.

The escape in July of Princess Haya, the wife of Emirati Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed, brought the Emirates’ poor rights record into the spotlight.

Events like the building of Dubai’s first Hindu temple, and the first-ever visit by a Pope to the country in February, seemed hollow alongside a crackdown on dissidents and activists and the breaking of an UN arms embargo.

Here’s where it went wrong.

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