Gulf Standard Time Zone UTC/GMT +4 hours
Capital City Abu Dhabi
Currency United Arab Emirates dirham
National Day December 2
BACK HOME, THE new Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates His Excellency Mansoor Abulhoul likes to start his day by getting on a bike. He declares: “It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors and nature before it gets too hot, and everyone else wakes up!” In August, he began his pledge to cycle the length of the UK, from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End. “This way, I can organically meet British people, listen to and understand them,” he explains. “I can then communicate to the UK about the UAE through a people driven approach and exchange of cultures.” Surely a first for an ambassador posted to the Court of St James’s?
Arriving in London in June with his wife Victoria and their baby son, Mr Abulhoul was excited to return to the UK, where he completed his sixth form studies; boarding at Gordonstoun (Prince Charles’s alma mater), followed by University of Leeds. “London is a special place with a vibrant community. After the bustle of the city, we always enjoy stepping into the beautiful royal parks.”
After a few years grounding at the Dubai Corporate office of Barclays Bank, he joined the family business, founded by his mother, Isobel Abulhoul. “Always interested in education and literature, my mother created an educational toy and bookshop in its earliest form.” In 2000, he joined the business, helping to increase its retail footprint. “We grew from humble beginnings into what is today a household brand name in the UAE: Magrudy’s. The business model has changed over the years and we’ve adapted. We were also the official bookshop to the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature when it was first founded.
Meanwhile, his father worked for the UAE government for many decades. The exposure to leadership circles meant that throughout his upbringing, Mr Abulhoul felt extremely “connected to the UAE and its vision. The nation was formed in 1971, and I’m 45-years-old, so we’ve really grown up together.”
As Ambassador to the UK, Mr Abulhoul will “build on the success of [his] predecessors – working on those deep economic ties, and the strong security cooperation between the two nations.” He continues, “This is a relationship with deep historical ties that go back 200 years. But culture and humanity is where I see that a lot more can be done. That onus falls upon myself and my team to raise our game in terms of engagement with people not just in London, but across the country. As old friends, you need to look at the value in the relationship and build further platforms.”
Much of his focus will be on public diplomacy. “I will strive to make a real difference there. Our leadership has astutely recognised this, with my appointment, and some other young ambassadors. The UAE can be humble in terms of its presence on the global stage and what it does. We have quietly achieved all these fabulous initiatives, but they need people to amplify these successes and bring awareness of them.”
He’s also quick to highlight “the serious diplomatic engagement the mission conducts – especially connecting ministerial visits with their counterparts, linking them with the UK strategy and areas that compliment one another. The diary is full!”
How might Brexit impact the relationship between the two countries? “The UAE will continue to be a strong ally to the UK outside the EU. We stand beside the UK and are confident that it will find the best way forward,” he remarks. “But we are also highly focused on opportunities to further strengthen the relationship. The UAE is ready to do business with the British government. We believe there will be significant areas of opportunity for the already robust bilateral trading relationship.”
It was Mr Abulhoul’s great passion for sport and nature that led to the idea of his epic cycling journey. “It’s a great way to engage. We have a lot of UAE students studying in the UK. As I travel through the country, I’d like to bring them on board and listen to their initiatives and ideas.” He and his wife were introduced by mutual friends due to their love of horseracing, show-jumping, riding and polo. But in practical terms, he says that it’s cycling that keeps him on the straight and narrow. “I need my fix of sport every day to keep me sharp and freshen my mind. Having come from the private sector, this is a new chapter in my life. But luckily, I have a wonderful, engaged team at the mission, who provide me with plenty of inspiration. They’ve been very patient with me!”