Zayed - 'Father of the Nation'


Abu Dhabi, 01 Nov. 05 (WAM)--On 2nd November, the United Arab Emirates marks the first anniversary of the passing of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who became Ruler of Abu Dhabi on 6th August 1966 and then, on 2nd December 1971, the first President of the newly-formed UAE.

He has been called, rightly, the 'Father of the Nation', for, in nearly sixty years of involvement in Government, he laid the foundations for the state of today, now ably guided along the path he prepared by his son and successor, President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. No assessment of the UAE's achievements today can overlook his role..

Born around 1918 in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed was the youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. He was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909. Abu Dhabi, like the other emirates of the southern Arabian Gulf, was then in treaty relations with Britain.

The emirate was poor and undeveloped and life, even for members of the ruling family, was simple. In 1926, a family conclave selected Sheikh Shakhbut, Sheikh Sultan's eldest son, to become Ruler. He held the post until August 1966, when he stepped down in favour of his brother Zayed.

As Sheikh Zayed grew to manhood, he displayed an thirst for knowledge that took him out into the desert to learn about the way of life of the people. He recalled with pleasure his initiation into the sport of falconry, a lifelong passion.

In a book published in 1977, Sheikh Zayed noted that the companionship of a hunting party . . . permits each and every member of the expedition to speak freely and express his ideas and viewpoints without inhibition and restraint, and allows the one responsible to acquaint himself with the wishes of his people, to know their problems and perceive their views accurately, and thus to be in a position to help and improve their situation." In 1946, Sheikh Zayed was chosen as Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, centred on the oasis of Al Ain. This enabled him to learn the techniques of government as well as deepening his knowledge of the tribes. He brought to his new task a firm belief in the values of consultation and consensus and he swiftly established himself as someone who had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve.

A key task in the early years in Al Ain was that of stimulating the local economy, which was largely based on agriculture. He reformed the old system of 'aflaj irrigation (underground water channels), helping to re-establish the oasis as the predominant regional market centre. He also ordered the planting of trees that, now grown to maturity, have made Al Ain one of the greenest cities in Arabia.

In 1953, Sheikh Zayed made his first visit to Europe, later recalling how impressed he had been by the schools and hospitals he visited. He came back determined that his own people should, one day, have the benefit of similar facilities.

Oil production was to provide Sheikh Zayed with the means to fund his dreams, with the export of the first cargo of Abu Dhabi crude in 1962.

The rapidly growing volume of exports revolutionised the economy of Abu Dhabi.

On 6 August 1966, Sheikh Zayed became Ruler, with a mandate to press ahead with development. His years in Al Ain had not only given him valuable experience in government, but had also enabled him to develop his vision of how the emirate could progress..

Of his first few weeks, Sheikh Zayed once said: "All the picture was prepared. It was not a matter of fresh thinking, but of simply putting into effect the thoughts of years and years. First I knew we had to concentrate on Abu Dhabi and public welfare. In short, we had to obey the circumstances: the needs of the people as a whole.

Second, I wanted to approach other emirates to work with us. In harmony, in some sort of federation, we could follow the example of other developing countries." At the beginning of 1968, when the British announced their intention of withdrawing from the Arabian Gulf by the end of 1971, Sheikh Zayed acted rapidly to establish closer ties with the other emirates. Along with the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who was to become UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister, Sheikh Zayed took the lead in calling for a federation. The United Arab Emirates eventually emerged on the international stage on 2 December 1971 and Sheikh Zayed was elected as President.

Looking back a quarter of a century later, Sheikh Zayed noted: "Our experiment in federation, in the first instance, arose from a desire to increase the ties that bind us, as well as from the conviction of all that they were part of one family, and that they must gather together under one leadership. We had never (previously) had an experience in federation, but our proximity to each other and the ties of blood relationship between us are factors which led us to believe that we must establish a federation that should compensate for the disunity and fragmentation that earlier prevailed." The predictions of early pessimists have been overwhelmingly shown to be unfounded. Over the past 34 years, the UAE has not only survived, but has developed at a rate that is almost without parallel. The change has, moreover, occurred against a backdrop of enviable political and social stability.

The country has also established itself firmly on the international scene. Its pursuit of dialogue and consensus and its firm adherence to the tenets of the Charter of the United Nations have been coupled with an extensive involvement in the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid.

The undoubted key to the achievements of the UAE has been the central role played by Sheikh Zayed. During his years in Al Ain he developed his vision of how the country should progress, and, then, from 1966, devoted nearly forty years to making that vision a reality.

The UAE is fortunate to have been blessed with massive reserves of oil and gas and it is through careful utilisation of these that the financial resources necessary to underpin the development programme have always been available. These resources, however, were regarded by Sheikh Zayed not as a means unto themselves, but as a tool to facilitate the development of what he believed to be the real wealth of the country - its people, and, in particular, the younger generation.

Within this framework, Sheikh Zayed believed that all of the country's citizens have a role to play in its development. Both men and women, he believed, should play their part.

"Women have the right to work everywhere. Islam affords to women their rightful status, and encourages them to work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded the appropriate respect. What women have achieved in the Emirates in only a short space of time makes me both happy and content." Sheikh Zayed also made it clear that the younger generation should take up the burden once carried by their parents. He was, though, concerned about the possible adverse impact upon the younger generation of the easy life they enjoy. In his view, it was of crucial importance that the lessons and heritage of the past are not forgotten.

"History is a continuous chain of events. The present is only an extension of the past. He who does not know his past cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn. We gain experience and we take advantage of the lessons and results [of the past]. Then we adopt the best and that which suits our present needs.. The new generation should have a proper appreciation of the role played by their forefathers." He was, too, a great advocate of conservation of the environment, deriving this belief from his own upbringing, where a sustainable use of resources required man to live in harmony with nature.

In a speech given in 1998, Sheikh Zayed spelt out his beliefs: "We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations." As in other areas of national life, Sheikh Zayed made it clear that conservation is not simply the task of government. He continually stressed that there is also a role both for the individual and for non-governmental organisations, both of citizens and expatriates. He believed that society can only develop and flourish if all of its members acknowledge their responsibilities.

Sheikh Zayed imbibed the principles of Islam in his childhood and they remained the foundation of his beliefs throughout his life.

" Islam is a civilising religion that gives mankind dignity. A Muslim is he who does not inflict evil upon others. Islam is the religion of tolerance and forgiveness, and not of war, of dialogue and understanding.

It is Islamic social justice which has asked every Muslim to respect the other. To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul is a mark of Islam. It is just that point, embodied in the humanitarian tenets of Islam, that makes us so proud of it." Within that context, he set his face firmly against those who preach intolerance and hatred and firmly condemned the wave of terror attacks that have taken place around the world since the September 2001 attacks on the United States.

He was an eager advocate of tolerance, discussion and a better understanding between those of different faiths. His own faith was well summed up by a statement explaining the essential basis of his beliefs: 'my religion is based neither on hope, nor on fear. I worship my God because I love Him.' That faith, with its belief in the brotherhood of man and in the duty incumbent upon the stron CCCCQQE