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Ambassador revamps Switzerland's image in UAE

Paradise in the desert: hotels in the UAE are attracting young Swiss as employees

(Keystone)

Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates have long had close commercial ties, and the task of managing relations falls to the Swiss ambassador, Francois Barras. His aim is to change the way Switzerland is viewed in the Gulf state.

Barras, who has been in the UAE for over a year, is seeking to update the image of Switzerland among many UAE visitors, who tend to view the country as little more than a place to buy luxury goods and to escape the Gulf heat for summer holidays.

He is also keen to point out the similarities between Switzerland and the UAE - both of them small, federal states.

He supported recent moves to translate the Swiss constitution into Arabic, and he is soon to present a number of lectures at the university in the UAE's largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, in which he will compare the two countries' political systems.

Commercial ties are also clearly to the fore. "I would like people here to think of Switzerland as a country to invest in," he said. "We have a lot of interesting new companies in Switzerland and I would like the locals to see Switzerland as a country where high technology products are being developed."

With more than 70 Swiss companies active in the UAE, commercial links between the two countries are strong. But as far as the ambassador is concerned, it is not just business links that keep the UAE and Switzerland so close.

"UAE citizens have had the habit of visiting Switzerland in the summer for some time now," explained Barras. "Every other person here tells you how Switzerland is their second home. For us, living in the UAE is a very different environment culturally, but we still feel at home as people here know and trust Switzerland."

Barras watches over a Swiss community of some 500 people, which he says is growing rapidly as more young Swiss come to work in the hotel trade in the UAE's second largest, and more tourist-oriented emirate, Dubai.

More than two-thirds of the Swiss in the UAE are located in Dubai with less than a third working in the more oil-dominated economy of the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi.

by Tom O'Brien

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