1918, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan was born into the Al
Nahyan family, who had ruled the emirate of Abu Dhabi for hundreds
of years. He was the youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan
bin Zayed, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1922 – 1926. When Sheikh Sultan’s
successor died in 1928, Sheikh Zayed’s eldest brother, Sheikh Shakhbut,
was elected by the family to be ruler.
that time, Abu Dhabi was practically anonymous internationally.
It was a part of the Trucial States, in treaty relations with Britain
and its economy was based around fishing and pearl diving on the
coast and basic agriculture at its intermittent oases inland.
Sheikh Zayed was a child, education was scarce. He received instruction
in the principles of Islam and memorised much of the Holy Qur’an,
however, and always demonstrated a voracious appetite for knowledge.
This led him to accompany the Bedouin tribesmen into the desert,
wanting to absorb the life and heritage of the people.
was at this time that he first experienced falconry, which was to
become a lifelong passion. He particularly enjoyed the camaraderie
of hunting expeditions, “away from the clamour of the city and
the monotony of daily life.”* Apart from hunting, he
learned how to shoot, how to ride a camel, how to track and how
to find sweet water under the desert sands. In short, he fully experienced
Bedouin life. He began to develop a love and understanding of the
natural environment and the need to ensure sustainable use of its
resources. Perhaps most crucially though, it was here that he began
to gain the trust and respect of the Bedouin tribesmen, which later
enabled him to garner their support on issues that were essential
to the establishment of unity.
When the first
oil company surveyors came to Sheikh Shakhbut in the early 1930’s,
requesting a guide, the comprehensive knowledge of the country and
its inhabitants that Sheikh Zayed had gained from his travels made
him the obvious choice. Here, Sheikh Zayed had his first contact
with the industry which would so dramatically affect the lives of
himself and of his people.
In 1946, a new
representative of the ruler of Abu Dhabi was needed in Al Ain. Despite
his relative youth, the respect which Sheikh Zayed commanded locally
made him Sheikh Shakhbut’s first choice for the position. Under
his leadership, the nine villages comprising Al Ain began to develop
and to integrate into a township.
The most famous
of his achievements in Al Ain was the revision of local water ownership,
to ensure a more equitable distribution and so to irrigate more
land. As an example to others, Sheikh Zayed surrendered the rights
of his own family. Agricultural production began to flourish, as
did the local economy.
time, Sheikh Zayed evolved his leadership skills, preferring to
base his decisions on consultation, not confrontation. As Al Ain
developed, so too did his vision. He ordered the planting of ornamental
trees, now matured and marking Al Ain as one of the greenest Arabian
cities; a forerunner of the huge forestation programme of later
He also dealt
with territorial disputes, not only amongst the local tribes, but
also with Saudi Arabia, who laid claim to the 3 Al Ain villages
under Omani rule, thus developing diplomatic skills which would
prove to be of great benefit.
In 1962, Abu
Dhabi exported its first cargo of crude oil, starting an economic
revolution. The people began to look forward to the benefits already
being enjoyed in other parts of the Gulf and Sheikh Zayed was determined
that they would receive them and that the facilities he had enviously
eyed on his 1953 visit to Britain and France, such as schools and
hospitals, would be established in Abu Dhabi.
however, accustomed to the previous decades of economic hardship,
was slow to approve spending on public development, much to the
frustration of his family. Eventually, they persuaded him to step
down and allow them to name his successor. On August 6th,
1966, Sheikh Zayed became Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
a massive development programme was underway. Schools, hospitals,
roads and housing were constructed and some of the dreams of the
people began to be realized. Zayed’s vision, though, had always
extended beyond the borders of Abu Dhabi. As he had united the villages
of Al Ain, so now he turned his attention to uniting the emirates.
proof of his dedication to unity, some of Abu Dhabi’s oil revenue
was spent on the development of other emirates. This altruism continues
to be a feature of his rule, illustrated by the UAE’s provision
of funds for other countries, such as Bosnia, Lebanon and Yemen.
In 1968, Britain
announced that it would withdraw from the area before the end of
1971. Sheikh Zayed and the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin
Saeed Al Maktoum took the lead in calling for a federation of the
emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. When the latter two opted out, the
rulers of the emirates moved quickly and on the 2nd December,
1971, the United Arab Emirates formally emerged onto the international
Zayed himself always attempts to share credit for the remarkable
ensuing developments with his fellow members of the Supreme Council
of Rulers (comprising the ruler of each of the seven emirates) no-one
doubts that, without his wisdom and guidance, they would never have
happened. The Supreme Council itself has recognised this by re-electing Sheikh Zayed to successive five-year
terms as President.
Since its establishment,
the UAE has confounded international expectations by developing
successfully in all areas of life; social services, health and education,
communications and technology, trade and finance, at a rate almost
unmatched anywhere or at any time. More importantly, these material
achievements have occurred against a backdrop of political and social
stability. Despite the turmoil witnessed by other countries in the
region, the UAE has thrived on change, whilst retaining its culture
and heritage, thanks to the direct support and involvement of the
Emirati people, which is greatly due to their respect and affection
for Sheikh Zayed.
political or otherwise, are based on his strongly held faith in
Islam. From this springs his desire to treat all people equally
and to support those in need.
few leaders can have experienced the amount of radical changes that
Sheikh Zayed has witnessed. Fewer still could reflect on them in
the knowledge that they chose and acted in accordance with their
beliefs and for the betterment of humanity, regardless of personal
cost, financial or otherwise. Sheikh Zayed has the love and admiration
of his people and international recognition and respect, all of
which he has earned many times over.
- From Sheikh Zayed’s book, “Falconry – Our Arab Heritage”. 1977.
Copyright© 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part
of this web site may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
recording, or otherwise, without prior permission.
Web Site of The Emirates Centre
for Strategic Studies and Research
Dhabi – Garden City of the Gulf. Peter Hellyer & Ian Fairservice. Motivate Publishing. 1999.
Best viewed using version 4+ of Internet Explorer
at a resolution of 800 * 600 or better