Photos by Hind Ait Mout

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy Speak at NYUAD About Rising World Challenges

Former British and French Heads of State attend Abu Dhabi Ideas Festival.

Mar 4, 2018

On March 2 and 3, NYU Abu Dhabi hosted the Abu Dhabi Ideas Festival. The festival included an invitation-only forum which was held in the Arts and Humanities building. Organized by the Aspen Institute and Tamkeen, the forum was held as a platform to discuss the complex challenges requiring innovative thinking and creative problem solving.
March 2 consisted of two series of talks titled Polarizing: Bridging the Gaps and Cancer: An End in Sight. March 3 included talks titled Artificial Intelligence: Our Super-Intelligent Friend and The Modern Silk Road: A New Era Of Globalization. These talks were named Moonshots by the organizers, in reference to the energy that flows in Abu Dhabi and the ambitious Emirates Mars Mission.
Besides experts in medicine, university professors and entrepreneurs, two former heads of state — David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy — were the main guests representing the political side.
David Cameron, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 2010 and 2016, was invited to speak at the first Moonshot moderated by Ed Williams, CEO of Edelman. Cameron spoke about the role of polarization in the British vote for Brexit. Although he expressed his dissatisfaction in regards to Brexit, he believes the referendum was a good decision.
“I think we voted the wrong way… I still think [the EU] is… the biggest single market in the world. We are not going to have better access to it from the outside than we would from the inside. But … I think we will still get there in the end,” said Cameron.
Cameron also believes that the reason conservatives won more votes in the 2017 election is immigration.
“Clearly in Britain, we have to do better in controlling immigration … [it is the] number one political issue year after year.”
Cameron also addressed the issue of Islamic extremism and the real cause behind it before discussing how to defeat it.
“I found [that] in all issues I was dealing with, I was more … confused thinking about this issue … I think there is confusion on the left … some think that Islamist extremism and violence is caused by the west, [especially in] Iraq … forgetting of course that 9/11 actually happened before Iraq. … On the right, you [have] got confusion too as some … always [make it] sound like this is a clash of civilizations between the Christian West and the Muslim East. I think that’s completely wrong as well. What actually happens here is that there is a war going on within Islam where the overwhelming majority of people want to pursue this religion peacefully … but then a small minority wants to try and politicize it and turn it into a view that says we have to live in [an Islamic] caliphate and anyone who goes against it must be killed.”
Cameron concluded by highlighting the importance of technology and youth in raising awareness about the importance of globalization.
“We need to promote a better system of values around the world … to build a new leadership approach ... [and create] a system that we can promote around the world.”
The topic of leadership was particularly emphasized by Nicolas Sarkozy, who spoke on Saturday, March 3. Sarkozy was President of the French Republic between 2007 and 2012, and he was invited to speak in the fourth Moonshot on The Modern Silk Road: A New Era Of Globalization moderated by Julian Gewirtz, Fellow in History and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
“The central question is, can we construct a big nation without leadership? Is it the nation that makes leadership or is it leadership that makes a nation? … I think that it is leadership that makes a country. Look at Abu Dhabi. In 50 years they constructed an extraordinary country, because there is leadership.”
Sarkozy believes that what precipitated China’s recent development was the role of leadership in the country, a value that is destroyed in democracies. Sarkozy also disapproved of Brexit, stating that he believes the EU needs reforms to adapt to the demands of its people.
“The European Project is old. … We must [put] on the table a new European treaty that leans Europe not towards the past sixty years, but towards the next sixty.”
Sarkozy seemed to be a close friend of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, as he referred to him as MBZ while describing France’s journey alongside the development of the UAE.
Sarkozy also touched on the topic of immigration and how growing demographics make it a more pressing issue facing Europe.
“For me, the first world problem, not the second, the first, that no one talks about, [is] the evolution of the world[‘s] demographics. The numbers are clear. We are 7 billion people. In 30 years … 9 billion. Never in the history of humanity have we [seen] such a demographic shock.”
During his talk, Nicolas Sarkozy effectively entertained his audience, maintaining a positive tone.
Hind Ait Mout is News Editor. Email her at
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