building bridges

The UAE teams up with the ADL to launch the Manara Center in Abu Dhabi

The coexistence project seeks to foster people-to-people connections and education about tolerance

ADL/Manara Center

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Manara Center Chairman Dr. Ali Al Nuaimi at the signing ceremony at Manara’s new offices in Abu Dhabi.

A new initiative launched this morning in Abu Dhabi seeks to promote region-wide coexistence and opportunities for cross-cultural collaboration and education. The Manara Center, created by the United Arab Emirates in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, will serve as a mechanism “to interrupt intolerance before it might take root,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told Jewish Insider from Abu Dhabi ahead of the center’s opening on Tuesday morning.

The idea was conceived, Greenblatt said, in conversations with UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba several years ago, as the Gulf nation prepared for its Year of Tolerance, a year-long national project that in 2019 brought global religious leaders to the country, modernized aspects of the government and saw the announcement of the construction of the Abrahamic Family House, a complex that includes a mosque, church and synagogue.

“What I found in Ambassador Al Otaiba is a shared commitment to fighting extremism and hate,” Greenblatt explained. “And what he recognized that really struck me was how, if you try to peel back the layers, why we have extremism, it often comes from a place of ignorance. So if we could promote people-to-people engagement, and encourage understanding, we thought that could be a pathway forward.”

The center will focus its efforts in part on outreach to university students across the Arab world. “​​We do know from our own research,” Greenblatt said, “that anti-bias education, Holocaust education, these kinds of interventions can literally reduce instances of prejudice. So we’re going to start with student-to-student activity.” 

When its programming begins this summer, the center plans to engage students from across the Middle East and Southeast Asia for a variety of conferences and exchanges. The effort, Al Otaiba said, reflects the shared values of the UAE and U.S. in committing “to advancing peace and coexistence, and creating opportunities for the region’s youth.”

Rev. Johnnie Moore, who previously sat on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and who serves on the ADL’s task force for minorities in the Middle East, told JI that the Manara Center’s opening was “yet another example of history being made.”

“Ignorance is the enemy of peace,” Moore added in an interview from Abu Dhabi. “And it’s not enough to just do grand gestures. We have to prepare the next generation to live in the world that we’re creating. And I think that’s the power of this Manara Center.”

The center’s name is derived from the Arabic word meaning “source of light.”

Greenblatt will sit on the board of the Manara Center, whose chairman is Dr. Ali Al Nuaimi, a leading member of the UAE’s Federal National Council and a global expert on extremism who heads Hedayah, Abu Dhabi’s top institution fighting extremism. The initiative, Al Nuaimi explained, “will be based in our region and for the benefit of our region.”

The region-wide focus, Greenblatt said, was intentional. “It’s not for the UAE or even just for the Gulf. It’s how do we think on a broader scale?… It’s how can we help equip and support an indigenous effort from the region to combat extremism and hate? I think if we get it right, we all win.”

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