For more than a century, global exhibitions have gathered people and nations to unleash human imagination, creativity and inventions, and show the achievements of human civilizations across time. They have long transformed cities and shaped worldwide views and debates on key issues. While educating the public, reflecting the technological evolution and predicting the progressive future, global exhibitions have helped humanity embrace change and set priorities for the future based on cooperation and innovation.
In fact, the first World Expo was held in London in 1851 to exhibit the rapid changes of the Industrial Revolution bringing in competition while promoting the exchange of ideas and collaboration with other nations. “The Great Exhibition of the Works of industry of all nations” has contributed to the construction of the Crystal Palace. Due to its popularity, many countries realized the importance of expos in promoting cultural exchange and cross-border cooperation. They began to organize global expos to showcase new technologies and creations, as well as their art, culture and industrial achievements. They also achieved architectural and technological creations, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in the United States.
It was not until 1928 that the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) was formed as a common regulatory framework for organizing international expos and their bidding. A convention on international exhibitions was also signed by 31 countries for legal recognition. Through time, the focus of expos grew beyond technology to adapt to the emerging political, economic and social changes. It has thus included beside technology, issues related to world challenges, such as peace, health, human rights, climate change, etc.
On the 27th of November 2013, Dubai won the right to host Expo 2020. And after 8 years of planning and organizing, DUBAI Expo 2020 opened on Oct. 1, 2021, to mark the first World Expo to be held in the MENA and South Asia region. Although the Covid-19 pandemic delayed its launch for a year, the spectacular exhibition is expected to attract global visitors and businesses from all continents to discover this land that turned into a dream, gathering people of all kinds to access the daily “space-aged” interaction.
A few years ago, the 438 hectares site of Expo was a total desert. Today it turned into a high-tech area filled with technology, architectural sites, music, culture and arts. It gathers 191 nations that also came to celebrate their achievements through their custom-built pavilions and showcase their discoveries, technologies, attractions and aspirations.
The overarching theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” and its subthemes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity reveal that the exhibition will delve into new horizons of global development. It will go beyond the exposition of technology, infrastructure, architecture and commerce, to become an agent for future global progress in connecting and moving people and/or goods and services across markets and securing sustainable development. Through exchanging visions and ideas, Expo 2020 Dubai will tackle the world’s many challenges, of which the pandemic and climate change.
If this global expo was able to happen in this part of the world, it’s all thanks to a vision-driven leadership that has turned a desert into a miracle. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler and the force behind the Dubai Expo 2020 and the massive transformation of the emirate during the past few years, is a true leader whose ambitions for his nation have made it a model of human excellence while people of the world are discovering its continuous accomplishments. From the creation of Dubai Internet and Media city to the establishment of Jumeirah beach and Burj Khalifah, to the creation of Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Center to his UAE vision 2021, Dubai has become in just a decade a “global city”.
In fact, the country in general, has attracted Western as well as Eastern businesses due to its rapid growth in infrastructure, financial growth and lately its achievements in astrology, renewable energy and aquaculture among others. These milestones cannot be achieved without a leadership that is visionary, inclusive and open to innovation. If we take the success stories the country has made only the past two years - such as its plan to contain the pandemic in the country, the rapid adaptation to provide online learning for all, the UAE Hope mission to Mars and now the Expo 2020 - strongly indicate how the UAE leaders have set new standards for their nation that is now capable of embracing challenges and turning them into opportunities for growth based on a culture of inclusivity, tolerance, collaboration, connectivity and innovation.
“Expo’s opening is a moment of pride for the entire nation” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said at the opening of Expo 2020. “Today, the UAE starts another chapter in its journey to the future with a new sense of purpose. It is a journey full of exciting possibilities where new dreams and ambitions can be realized”.
As the world today is watching how the United Arab Emirates is bringing the future to present, I believe that the Expo 2020 has already succeeded before it has begun.
Dima El Hassan is a consultant at the Hariri Foundation for Human Development.