Emiratis and Bahrainis on what the Abraham Accords mean to them

September 13, 2022

By Ramola Talwar Badam

The UAE, Bahrain and Israel signed the agreements at the White House two years ago this week

There have been agreements between governments, deals between companies, and airline routes between cities since the Abraham Accords were signed.

But it is the relationships built by ordinary people that will be the legacy of the accords, which were signed two years ago this week.

Emiratis and Bahrainis and who have visited Israel say they have found common interest and friendship ― not to mention high-tech businesses and a bustling economy.

Shared cuisine and occasionally common language can only help, too, they say.

The accords were signed on September 15, 2020 in the White House between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel. Morocco followed soon afterwards.

A work in progress

Emirati entrepreneur Reem Al Musabbeh, a chemical engineer, has founded several companies including Retech, which builds mobile applications, websites and provides business consultancy services.

Her trip to Tel Aviv's non-profit Start-Up Nation Central was only the start of an interest in Israel, giving an insight into how businesses can tackle problems together.

“Israel is well known for innovation, that is one of the reasons I want to understand more about their technology, entrepreneurship and the start-ups that emerge from there," she said.

“What I’m trying to achieve is understand more of their culture, technology knowledge, what makes them different and bridge the gap.”

Speaking to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians highlighted similarity in customs, tradition and food, she said.

Ms Al Musabbeh is a firm believer that new friendships are forged face to face.

“I will be honest and I tell this to everyone, I’m not a politician to speak about what is happening between both sides,” Ms Al Musabbeh said.

“What I believe is regardless of how many papers have been signed, it’s down to awareness of a person and their mindset.

"It will take time to build people-to-people connections. But I believe there is hope for people to give this a try because in the end, this is for the future of the youth and betterment of the country.”

'Not everyone shares my views'

Nawaf Al Sayed, 49, a Bahraini lawyer, said the accords will make the Middle East a safer place.

"We need quietness in this region, we need peace," he told The National.

Ties between leaders and businesses are gradually giving way to something more organic, he said.

“Economic relations is a first step, people can also be interested in the culture, understanding the Israelis, understanding Judaism," Mr Al Sayed said.

“The accords makes us realise whatever difficulties we face with Israelis in regard to different subjects, it’s possible it will be resolved ― not easy but possible to be resolved.”

Ms Al Sayed has enjoyed meeting Israeli entrepreneurs keen to bring technology companies to Bahrain.

He takes the opportunity to speak about his Arab heritage, his outlook on life, and reads up on Jewish history and culture.

Not everyone held the same views of the accords, he said, and old attitudes took time to change.

“Israel is a reality to be experienced and discovered," he said.

“It is sometimes difficult to be the one talking about these ideas but I always explain to my colleagues and friends that the Abraham Accords are a reality.

“We are living in that reality so we have to keep our emotions aside, be practical and understand the scientific, historic and political factors involved."

The speeches of UAE leaders encouraged Emirati father of four, Majed Al Seyabi, to be part of the change that the pact signified.

“I started to think that personally as an individual Emirati I should be part of the Abraham Accords and have a connection with the Jewish people and with Israelis,” said the Abu Dhabi resident, who works as the office manager for a chief executive in a petrochemical company and has interests in real estate.

“I’m passionate towards this relationship, I want to build it. I believe I have the responsibility to build connections, promote culture, coexistence and enhance peace between people.”

Mr Seyabi has posted photographs of his visit to Israel on social media. He is unfazed by comments from people who do not approve of him working with the Jewish community in the UAE and overseas.

“I’m very passionate about the youth relationship between our community and the Israeli community because this promises the continuity of the Abraham Accords,” he said.

“I feel I have the opportunity to convey Emirati kindness, tolerance and our way of living. I believe people-to-people relationship is key.”

Only the beginning

An 85-strong delegation from the American Jewish Committee is in the UAE this week to celebrate the second anniversary of the accords.

The private, non-profit organisation opened its 13th global office in Abu Dhabi earlier this year aiming to promote greater understanding about the Jewish faith, and influence opinion and policy.

“The accords are a historic achievement that have really changed the way that people think about peacemaking in the Middle East,” said Marc Sievers, the committee's director.

“They were the act of great imagination and courage on the part of everyone who signed them. The first decision-maker was (President Sheikh Mohamed) since the UAE was the first to announce its agreement to normalise relations, the Bahrainis followed and the Moroccans after that, so we are celebrating this."

Mr Sievers said tourism, business and educational opportunities had opened up and the group was keen to promote people-to-people exchanges.

"We will engage with government officials and citizens, particularly young people," he said.

"We hope to expand our contacts in this country and other parts of the Gulf."

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