About Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan
His Birth and Upbringing
Sheikh Zayed was born in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1918 to Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922-1926. He was the youngest of Sheikh Sultan's four sons and was named after his famous grandfather, known as ‘Zayed the Great’, the Ruler of the Emirate from 1885-1909.
Sheikh Zayed had a strong passion for anything with which a trueborn Arab is identified such as falconry, riding Arabian thoroughbred camels and horses and mastering archery. His character was shaped in his early youth, while living in the city of Al Ain. Its calm and vast expanses were instrumental in developing his leadership qualities.
Ruler of Abu Dhabi
The discovery of oil in the late 1950s transformed the economic landscape of the Abu Dhabi as it ushered the beginning of its development. In 1962, as the Emirate began exporting oil, it was immediately apparent that an innovative vision of governance was needed to address the new challenges and to optimize the utilization of oil revenues. The Al-Nahyan family unanimously elected Sheikh Zayed as the new Ruler of the Emirate on August 6, 1966. Thus a new phase of the history of Abu Dhabi started.
Sheikh Zayed carried out major reforms, such as modern education, healthcare, public housing, and general urban development. He drew up a plan for a major development and encouraged his people to participate wholeheartedly in the process, bringing in foreign expertise as appropriate. A few days after assuming office, the establishment of a modern formal government with its ministries and departments was announced and the new government was entrusted with the task of conducting the affairs of the state.
Sheikh Zayed’s priorities included building new roads, construction of a bridge to link Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland and the establishment of schools, houses, medical services, a seaport and an airport. Thus, Abu Dhabi was transformed beyond recognition, as it became a huge construction site with the noise of machines and equipment everywhere. Thousands of local people moved from barasti (palm frond) houses into modern homes. Modern roads were built over the desert sand and fresh water supply and electricity were connected to every house. Education shifted from the religious system of ‘Mutawiah' to a modern educational system and literacy classes were held for those who had not previously benefitted from education. The desert Bedouins began to receive medical services from clinics for the first time. His development venture succeeded in eradicating ages of backwardness.
Zayed: UAE President
In 1968, when Britain announced its intention to withdraw its bases from East of Suez, it became imperative for the Emirates to take some steps to change the course of history in the region; especially that the Arabian Gulf region was vulnerable to occupation by expansionist powers. Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai at that time, undertook an initiative that had a great impact on subsequent events. On February 18, 1968, they signed Al Samih agreement, which resulted in major changes that set the stage for the discussions of the Union of the Nine that took place among the seven Emirates and their sister states Bahrain and Qatar later on. Finally, this led to the unification of the Emirates under the name the “United Arab Emirates” after both Bahrain and Qatar announced their independence.
The UAE was founded on December 2, 1971, and Sheikh Zayed was unanimously elected by the rulers of the Emirates as the first president of the new state for five years. The Supreme Council of the Union expressed their confidence in Sheikh Zayed by re-electing him several times. Sheikh Zayed was the president, the builder and the caring father of the nation. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum was elected vice-president.
Sheikh Zayed followed up the affairs of his newly born developing state and spent the oil revenues on various sectors in the UAE, especially those in need of development. He looked after the economy, education, heritage and culture. Thanks to Sheikh Zayed’s acumen and broad-mindedness, the UAE acquired good reputation among Arab and foreign countries. The security and stability of the UAE strengthened such a reputation further.
The Rulers of the Emirates who are the members of the Federal Supreme Council, agreed on drawing up a provisional federal constitution for an effective governance that defines the authorities of the federal institutions in a state adopting modern management methods and seeking at the same time to maintain the traditional form of direct democracy.
The GCC: a Greater ambition
Having a deep inner conviction in the benefits of closer cooperation not only among the seven emirates of the UAE, but also among all Gulf States, Sheikh Zayed was a leading force in the foundation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). His vision was translated into action by bringing together the Gulf countries, which shared not only similar economies, but also a history based on common tribal social structures.
On the basis of such common grounds, Sheikh Zayed aimed at, and succeeded in establishing a formal regional and political entity. The GCC charter was signed by the heads of its member states consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in their first summit that was held in Abu Dhabi on May 25, 1981.
Developing Industrial Sectors and Infrastructure
From the start, Sheikh Zayed's vision involved the development of the industrial sector of the newly formed UAE, recognizing that oil was a non-renewable resource. His primary focus was on developing the manufacturing sector of his country, as a result of which the UAE enjoyed a boom, especially in the Seventies of the last century.
The development of the country's infrastructure was another pressing issue for Sheikh Zayed. From the very start of his rule, road construction, telephone lines and the establishment of national media were recognized as vital to link up the seven Emirates with each another. The new roads, international airports and seaports quickly enabled the UAE to play a prominent role in the modern industrial world and to take its well-deserved place among the world's most highly developed industrial nations.
The 19th of Ramadan 1425 A.H., correspondent to November 2nd, 2004 A.D. is sadly an unforgettable date as the United Arab Emirates lost its Leader, the Founder of its Federation after a long march of giving that lasted for four decades. The old and the young mourned his death, which shocked all UAE people.
Arab and foreign countries mourned the death of Sheik Zayed, and people all over the world expressed their sadness for his loss. World leaders issued sad obituaries filled with expressions of sorrow for a loss of a man who is respected and appreciated by the whole world, and whose accomplishments are numerous.
The UAE people found solace in Zayed’s sons who grew up by his side, absorbing his knowledge as he is the greatest tutor in leadership and fair governance. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed was the worthy successor to the best predecessor as he assumed power with the consent and blessings of all UAE Sheikhs and people.