The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (may God have mercy upon him), the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, was born in 1918 in Al Ain City, the largest conurbation in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi at that time. He was the youngest son of his father, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled the Emirate from 1922-1926, and was named after his grandfather Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled the Emirate from 1855 to 1909.
As a child, the late Sheikh Zayed received his education from the local traditional teacher (the Mutawwaa), which included memorizing the Quran and learning the fundamentals of Islam. Growing up in Al Ain City with its harsh desert surroundings had a clear impact on his character. He became renowned for his patience, forward-looking vision and wisdom, later earning him the moniker “the wise man of the Arabs”.
The late Sheikh Zayed was appointed as the representative of the Emirate’s Ruler in the Eastern Region in 1946. Immediately after his appointment, he immersed himself in government affairs in Al Ain City, the region’s administrative seat. Within two years he was considered a powerful figure in the region, characterized by his strong will and determination to reform. In addition, he became well-known for his skills as a listener and effective dispute mediator, which earned him the greatest respect of those around him. These were the traits which he later became internationally recognized for.
In August 1966, Sheikh Zayed acceded to the position of Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, a position which reflected the trust and respect he had gained following his success at initiating the development of Al Ain City during the 1950s despite meager resources. He then set the Emirate on its path of sustainable growth and development that has today become the gold standard for the entire region.
Sheikh Zayed is credited with pushing rising oil revenues into a substantial development drive to benefit all those living under his rule, as well as, establishing a new governmental structure that laid the foundations for the Emirate and the country today.
In 1971, the late Sheikh Zayed, working alongside the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai, pioneered the efforts that led to the UAE’s establishment in December 1971, which politically consolidated the nascent nation in difficult circumstances. As an acknowledgement of his leadership, sagacity and his efforts, the late Sheikh Zayed was unanimously elected by his fellow Rulers of the Emirates to become the first President of the UAE, a title which earned him the local and enduring moniker of ‘Father of the Nation’.
Sheikh Zayed was a man who understood that in order to build harmony, cohesion and solidarity among his people, he first needed to build their trust via constructive and personal interaction. He enjoyed getting out and meeting the local community, and was considered as a man of the people. He tasked his government with building capabilities in health, education and social welfare, seeing all UAE citizens as instrumental to the nation’s collective success. This philosophy remains evident across the country today.
Economically, the late Sheikh Zayed successfully invested oil revenues in building a strong and cohesive economy, ranking the UAE among the region’s most economically developed countries. Thanks to his vision, the UAE is now the GCC’s second biggest economy, the third largest in the Middle East and, according to many prestigious international reports, the most important financial and economic centre in the region. This is reflected in the standards of living of its citizens.
Internationally, the late Sheikh Zayed laid the foundations of a foreign policy, which is characterized by wisdom, moderation, balance, support for truth and justice, and maintaining a language of dialogue and understanding. This balanced foreign policy has become a hallmark of the UAE, both regionally and internationally. Sheikh Zayed was held in high regard by all Arab leaders, enabling him to act as a mediator on more than one occasion. He has also earned a reputation as an international humanitarian and philanthropist, supporting a number of causes across the world and again setting an enduring legacy.
Sheikh Zayed passed away on November 2, 2004. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the then Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed, succeeded him to the Presidency of the UAE and Rulership of Abu Dhabi, while His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, another of Sheikh Zayed’s sons, was appointed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Under their leadership and direction, both guided by their father’s values, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has continued to prosper.