Name: Khaled Omran Alameri
Title: United Arab Emirates Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary (since March 2016)
DoB: Oct. 1, 1976
Hometown: Al Ain, UAE
Years in Japan: 9
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Khaled Omran Alameri readily admits that growing up in the UAE city of Al Ain, often described as the “Garden City of the Gulf,” was pretty much idyllic. Sprawling date palms, vivid greenery, building height restrictions and a relative calm have long made the city ideal. Looking at the role Japan has played in his academic and professional life, however, it is apparent that he was looking for more. Participating in a pioneering overseas scholarship program awarded to the top 25 performing high school students of his year level was key in stoking Alameri’s wanderlust.
“I wanted to be an engineer,” began the ambassador. Study options included the U.K., U.S., Russia, China, South Korea and, of course, Japan. Explaining that in the UAE study abroad programs have been de rigueur since the country’s inception in 1971, “I not only wanted to study engineering, but at the same time (be challenged and) learn something new,” Alameri said. “I conducted basic research on all the available countries — culture, people, systems. Japan was the place that attracted me the most.”
Convincing his parents that he should move to Japan, however, was another matter. “I remember when I told them I was going to Japan to study; they just looked at each other,” Alameri said with a laugh. Concerned about their son’s decision, they suggested he spend a week pondering what he wanted before raising the topic again. The ambassador-to-be complied with the request but was resolute — he had made up his mind and was going to Japan.
After 18 months of in-country language classes, Alameri began an engineering course at Tokai University in Kanagawa, subjecting his final choice of campus to the same kind of evaluation processes he had earlier made in determining the country where he wanted to study. “Location, facilities, what the universities offered (were all factors in choosing Tokai),” he said. Kanagawa Prefecture continues to be a popular choice with students from the UAE, as roughly 50 percent of the 96 current students in Japan call the area home. “The students are involved in … the Japanese community,” he noted. “Rice planting, participating in the local Tanabata festival, working with municipal offices and guiding (foreigners) around are just some of the ways of demonstrating we are part of this society, want to get to know you and say thank you,” said Alameri.
“Our community in Japan is small. There are a few companies such as Emirates, Etihad and representatives from a national oil company,” the ambassador said. Keen to promote his home country but also dispel myths stemming from ignorance about regional conflict, divisiveness and sectarianism, the ambassador’s duties are in line with efforts made by the UAE government to bolster acceptance and inclusiveness.
“Yes, we’re part of the Middle East, but approximately 200 nationalities reside in the UAE. … You will see mosques, churches, people practicing their faiths and this beautiful mix of cultures where everyone is interested in knowing each other.” Alameri is sanguine about perceptions changing once visitors see the country’s economic stability and experience its safety for themselves.
“The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the region when it comes to education, health care, real estate, megaprojects, architecture, energy and so on,” he said. Asked about his top business achievements, Alameri sees his duties performed to support a strategic framework between Japan and the UAE known as the comprehensive strategic partnership initiative (CSPI), built upon “political, diplomatic, economic, educational, cultural, security and defense pillars (among others)” of significant importance in efforts to raise awareness of the UAE.
“(I spent) almost two years working on this project. 2018 saw the official announcement during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Abu Dhabi,” Alameri said. Excited about the initiative’s possibilities and prospects between the two countries, he mentioned how the framework is designed to help Japan and the UAE become proactive in seeking new opportunities and sharing business practices.
“The first thing is awareness,” he said. “Secondly, having clear frameworks, the right platforms where you can get people together such as the CSPI so companies can start thinking about their competitive strategies, get joint projects running and develop their own road maps.”
“I think there is huge potential (for bilateral cooperation) in robotics and artificial intelligence,” he said. “In 2017 the UAE government appointed a state minister for artificial intelligence to ensure we are as ready as we can be for the enormous societal changes that AI will bring and what’s coming.
“Another sector is petrochemicals,” he continued, explaining that the UAE was not only focusing on upstream operations such as gas and crude oil exploration and production, but also on renewable energies and mid- and downstream operations. “Health care, biosciences, including regenerative medicine, and anything related to water and food security (are also areas of importance).”
“I spent almost nine years here as a student. I cannot think of a better thing to do now than being a diplomat, to try and be that bridge for both countries. I made a conscious decision to enter this field in 2013. It has not always been easy as I’m a trained engineer. I then worked in investment, setting up joint ventures, sitting on company boards and managing programs. Entering the foreign service — it’s a totally different area.”
The ambassador feels, however, that his engineering mindset holds him in good stead. “I think being an engineer, taking steps and then making sure there is a very clear structure that will hopefully result in the desired outcomes is helping me in my work,” he said with a smile.
Studies in Japan lead to ambassadorial role
Ambassador Khaled Omran Alameri first came to Japan in 2002, where he attended Tokai University and earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. Postgraduate studies in engineering at the Shonan Institute of Technology in the city of Fujisawa followed. After leaving Japan, he spent a year in the UAE Navy in 2005, before being employed as programs manager of Emirates Advanced Investments (EAI), a company dealing with private investments. A spate of high-level managerial roles followed: acting-CEO of Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments; general manager of Emirates Motorsport Technologies; and chief technical officer of an EAI subsidiary, Progressive Technologies. The ambassador returned to the national forces as the head of research and development, within the Capability Development Department of the UAE Land Forces, before his appointment as the ambassador at the UAE Embassy in Tokyo. In his spare time, the ambassador enjoys reading, cycling, car racing and mountain climbing.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.