His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

November 2, 2004

As forty days of public mourning begin, it is time to commemorate a lifetime of achievement, where one man transformed an entire nation earning the love and loyalty of his people and the deep respect of foreign governments.

Sheikh Zayed was born in 1918 and named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1855 to 1909. He grew up in the oasis city of Al Ain, and for the first fifty years of his life lived in what was essentially a quiet, desert country of farmers, fishers and camel traders.

All this changed rapidly with the discovery of oil in Abu Dhabi in 1958. Sheikh Zayed became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. In January 1968, the British decision to withdraw from the Trucial States provided perhaps the greatest challenge of Sheikh Zayed’s life.

Using skilful negotiation, he brought together seven separate emirates, formally founding the United Arab Emirates on 2 December 1972. This is universally acknowledged as Sheikh Zayed’s most significant achievement.

In the 1970s the great oil boom years brought huge prosperity to the UAE and Sheikh Zayed invested the money in the infrastructure of the nation with a further construction boom following on from the first boom in the late 1960s.

Sheikh Zayed got off to a characteristically generous start. He literally handed out the oil revenues to his people. Word soon passed around and there was a long queue outside his palace. Nobody went away empty handed, and this was a sign of things to come.

Sheikh Zayed also began to rapidly transform the country: assembling a government from the ground up, creating departments for water and electricity, finance, municipal planning, police, defense, communications, internal affairs, external affairs, health, education and the judiciary.

Sheikh Zayed built housing facilities, schools, and hospitals for his people. He constructed an airport, a sea port, roads, and a bridge to link Abu Dhabi to the mainland. He transformed Abu Dhabi into a green emirate with irrigation and the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees.

It was an exceptional achievement for a man who had no formal education and had lived the nomadic life of a Bedouin for much of his life. But Sheikh Zayed was an excellent judge of men and always open to expatriate advice and assistance in developing Abu Dhabi. Today, this advanced and elegant city is a fitting monument to Sheikh Zayed’s legacy.

Even the downturn in the oil price in the 1980s and 1990s affected the UAE far less than in many countries because of the policy of economic diversification from early times. The development of Dubai, in particular, as the commercial hub of the UAE and increasingly the lower Gulf region played an important part in this process.

At the turn of the Millennium visitors from all over the world marvelled at the UAE as the Switzerland of the Middle East – an affluent and safe country with a unique multicultural society.

This is the true legacy of Sheikh Zayed for future generations.

إعداد سحابة العين

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