Seven years have gone by since he passed away, but Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the nation, remains etched in the memories of his people and those who knew him.His memory and legacy continue not only in the institutions and places named after him, but also in the very existence of the UAE as it is: a federation of seven emirates bound together by one vision.Shaikh Zayed was a nation-builder and remains a role model for his people and the Arab world.When he was born in 1918, the lives of the people who lived by the sea revolved around fishing and pearl diving. Agriculture was the means of livelihood for those who lived away from the sea and near oases.As a young man, Shaikh Zayed lived the life of a Bedouin, or nomad. Like his people, he knew what it meant to be poor and lead a harsh life. This taught him the value of simplicity, which he embraced all his life.When the British announced they were withdrawing from the Gulf in 1968, after having occupied the region since 1820, Shaikh Zayed called for the formation of a union of the various emirates, including Bahrain and Qatar.The union was formed on December 2, 1971, but without Bahrain and Qatar.
Among Shaikh Zayed's skills was the art of consultation, or shura, and mediation, over intra-tribal clashes. Wilfred Thesiger, the English travel writer who crossed the Rubh Al Khali desert and who knew Shaikh Zayed well, said these skills allowed him to circulate where few could, because he earned everyone's trust.
"Shaikh Zayed was a powerfully built man of about 30 with a brown beard," wrote Thesiger in his Arabian Sands. He, "had a strong, intelligent face, with steady, observant eyes and his manner was quiet but masterful... [Shaikh Zayed] had a great reputation among the Bedu," wrote Thesiger.Shaikh Zayed was elected president of the UAE in 1971 for a five-year term, a role that he kept for six consecutive elections, the last being in 2001. He is said to have been keen on protecting the UAE's national interests, conceding when necessary but never compromising on the country's territorial integrity or the stability of its institutions.
Shaikh Zayed was motivated by an absolute sense of justice as he understood that internal reconciliation required sharing wealth with those less fortunate.He was the Arab world's longest-serving ruler and played a leading role as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi for half a century since 1966 and as president of the UAE for more than three decades. He put the UAE on the world map. His astute statesmanship and negotiation skills won him popularity among Arab and world leaders.For three decades, the ruler invested in the UAE, which witnessed the creation of major institutions ranging from ministries of finance, planning, defence, communications, internal and foreign affairs, as well as health, education and the judiciary.
He financed the large-scale construction of public housing facilities, schools and hospitals, of which there were few in Abu Dhabi and throughout the federation. The capital city's airport, which was little more than a dirt strip, was upgraded into an international facility, along with a modern seaport, highways, roads and bridges linking the island to the mainland.
A central issue in Shaikh Zayed's foreign policy was the question of Palestine. As an Arab nationalist, he was seriously troubled by the incalculable sufferings under Israeli occupation. He often pleaded with fellow Arab and world powers to assist in a fair and equitable solution.
From / Gulf News