The first world fair to be held in the Middle East, Expo 2020 Dubai, opened on Thursday with a lavish ceremony of fireworks, music and messaging about the power of global collaboration for a more sustainable future.

Dubai, the region’s tourism, trade and business hub, is hoping to boost its economy by attracting 25 million business and tourist visits to the world fair which has been built from scratch on 4.3 sq km (1.7 sq mile) of desert. The full expo site will open its doors to exhibitors from almost 200 countries on Friday after being delayed for a year by the pandemic. The public will be allowed into the site from today, for six months.

With the golden ring of connectivity – the inspiration for the Expo 2020 Dubai logo, raised to the trellis of the Al Wasl Plaza, the beating heart of the Expo site and the setting for the captivating ceremony, the event began. More than 3,000 lighting fixtures, 1,000 speakers, 1,300 costumes and buckets of passion and emotion from every one of the 1,000-plus participating performers and volunteers also contributed to a one-of-a-kind spectacle of masterful artistic collaboration. The flags of the 192 participating nations, revealed via a domino effect as flags were opened one by one, was a proud and visually stunning moment that also signified a reawakening of the world.

Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, commissioner general of Expo 2020 Dubai, welcomed the world to Expo 2020 Dubai – and to the UAE – in his speech. He said: “Expo 2020 Dubai will provide a significant platform for all people to connect, discuss and work together. Together, we will convey, from the UAE to the world, on our 50th anniversary, a message of tolerance, coexistence and peace; a message of progress, prosperity and growth; a message of brotherhood, happiness and an unwavering will to create a brighter future for everyone.”

It was celebrated tenor Andrea Bocelli who brought the house down, rounding off the night’s electrifying proceedings with one of his all-time classics, the Prayer, its lyrics of human connection crescendoing into the grand finale.

Bocelli said: “We have all gone through a year that no one could ever have imagined. For a year, we have lost the essentials, our freedom in and, in a sense, and even our dignity. Now we finally see the light and I hope that this event will also help to instil in everyone a sense of optimism, a desire to achieve and to put what has been behind us.”

Before that, chart-topping British vocalist Ellie Goulding belted out a resounding, uplifting version of Anything Can Happen; Andra Day enraptured the audience with Rise Up; and Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang wowed with his wizardry.

Four-time Grammy winning singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, together with renowned Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu, also sang John Legend’s powerful If You’re Out There?, with its potent lyrics imploring the world to join together.

The stage is now set for Expo 2020 Dubai to host the biggest cultural gathering in the world, presenting a visually striking and emotionally inspiring 182 days, as more than 200 participants – including nations, multilateral organisations, businesses, and educational institutions, as well as millions of visitors – create the largest and most diverse expo ever.

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