Today we had a full day of activities plus a surprise visit to the Crown Prince. After seeing a session of the Federal National Council, speaking with three of the representatives, having a tour of the building, visiting the premiere research institution of the UAE, eating a rushed lunch with women leaders, and viewing a presentation on the investment strategy of the UAE we were taken to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s palace. Not only did we get to shake hands and take a picture with the Crown Prince, we got to witness his majlis. The Crown Prince sat to speak with anyone who shows up with an application with a complaint, request, or an invitation to a celebration. It was beautiful. We were seated at the end of the line to observe the Emirati citizens having individual meetings with their leaders. They offered tea and coffee as well as dry dates and helo (clarified butter with sugar that had a consistency like thick jelly). Our Emirati hosts explained the ceremony to us as we went along and it was a good opportunity to compare notes on how citizens interact with their leaders in different countries. It also provided the opportunity to discuss why there were no women in line to speak with the Crown Prince. A few ministers were there as well (including the Minister of Education) and they dispersed among us to discuss the country and its future. As we were preparing to leave, Sheikh Mohammed posed with us for a photo and then gave a brief speech.

To me the speech seemed pretty standard. He said that the exchange was very important to our countries because we have to understand each other in a world that moves so fast. Then he said to the young Emiratis who are our hosts, “These young people are very important; they are more important than the 2.5 million barrels,” of oil that the country pulls from the ground every day. (I am not certain if that’s the number he gave, but that’s what more than one of us heard.) We thanked him and left the palace.

Later I was speaking with one of our hosts and he explained to me that Sheikh Mohammed’s comment had brought many of the young Emiratis to tears. It is very powerful to have a government that values the human resources of the youth more than the industry that keeps the entire country running.

I think there are two pieces of background information that will increase the salience of this moment. The first is that Sheikh Mohammed is the son of Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE. One of the first things our hosts told us on this trip was that Sheikh Zayed was so beloved by the people of the UAE that when he died the hospitals were overwhelmed with people having nervous breakdowns. As Abdulla described it, “We love him like we love a father. Not loved, love.” The second piece of information is that, while all of the young Emirati hosts were extremely touched by the comment, for the women it was particularly significant because they would normally not go to the Crown Prince’s majlis at all. (The Emirati sitting next to me explained that it wasn’t that they weren’t allowed to bring an application but that they would be re-directed to the woman’s palace. One of the ministers later added that perhaps if we came back in 10 years we would see men and women together.) Everyone was very excited.

More than anything this made me realize how much I had taken for granted the fact that my country appreciates the potential and power of my generation in a very serious way. How many times have we been told, “You are the future”? Even though I’ve often felt thwarted by bureaucracy and authority for authority’s sake, I never felt that the country didn’t value me. While I’m not certain on the importance of the Crown Prince (since the idea of royalty has been engrained in me as something to rebel against (and I’ll take almost any chance to rebel)), I do know that this was a very touching and enlightening experience.