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Accession Day Special Report: Zayed's early life and ideology

posted on 28/07/2001: 2133 views


Being a man of history, President H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has always been the main target of writers and historians who were overwhelmed by his unique personality and his ability to get his people to rally round him to help them solve their problems and for his ambition to change life in the desert.



Those writers and historians who wrote about Sheikh Zayed described him as the man who was polished by desert life so much, making him one of the desert's bravest knights, who loves so much and masters horse and camel riding, and who is obsessed with falconry as one of his major hobbies. These hobbies have moulded Sheikh Zayed into a personality with the habit of Bedouin, including boldness, simplicity and fairness. Despite being a simple man, Sheikh Zayed is an open-hearted philosopher, who has great love for the environment.



Born in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed is 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, popularly known as Sheikh Zayed the Great or Sheikh Zayed I, who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909, the longest reign in the three centuries since the Al Nahyan family emerged as leaders of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.



Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa was given the title "the Great" by his people in recognition of his great works in the history of the Emirates and for his ability to unite the various tribes and to lead to many glories the Baniyas tribe of which the Al Nahyan is a sub tribe. Since he was seven, Zayed used to speak and ask questions at his father's court, "majlis".



After the death of his father in 1927, he moved to Al ain where he spent most of his youthful years in the hills and mountings of the oasis town, which took a toll on his habit, ideology and ambition. Zayed started taking his religious education at the age of eight. Life at that time, even for a member of the ruling family was simple.



Opportunities for education were generally confined to lessons in reading and writing, along with instruction in Islam from the local preacher, while modern facilities, such as roads, communications, and health care were conspicuous only by their absence. Transport was by camel or boat and the harshness of the arid climate meant that survival itself was often a major concern. In 1946, Sheikh Zayed was chosen to fill a vacancy as Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, centred on the oasis of Al Ain, approximately 160 kilometres east of the island of Abu Dhabi itself.



Inhabited continuously for at least 5000 years, the oasis had nine villages, six of which belonged to Abu Dhabi and three, including Buraimi, by which name the oasis was also known, which belonged to the Sultanate of Oman. The job involved not only the task of administering the six villages but also the whole of the adjacent desert region, enabling Sheikh Zayed to learn the techniques of government as well as deepening his knowledge of the tribes.



In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Saudi Arabia's territorial claims to Buraimi provided him with the opportunity to gain experience of politics on a broader scale. Sheikh Zayed brought to his new task a firm belief in the values of consultation and consensus, in contrast to confrontation. Foreign visitors, such as the British explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, who first met him at this time, noted with approbation that his judgements 'were distinguished by their acute insights, wisdom and fairness'.



Sheikh Zayed swiftly established himself not only as someone who had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve for the people of Al Ain, but also as someone who led by example. A key task in the early years in Al Ain was that of stimulating the local economy, which was largely based on agriculture.



To do this, he ensured that the ancient subterranean water channels or falajes (aflaj) were cleaned out, and personally financed the construction of a new one, taking part in the strenuous labour that was involved. He also ordered a revision of local water ownership rights to ensure a more equitable distribution, surrendering the rights of his own family as an example to others.



The consequent expansion of the area under cultivation in turn generated more income for the residents of Al Ain, helping to re-establish the oasis as the predominant market centre for a wide area. With development gradually beginning to get under way, Sheikh Zayed commenced the laying out of a visionary city plan, and, in a foretaste of the massive afforestation programme of today, he also ordered the planting of ornamental trees that, now grown to maturity, have made Al Ain one of the greenest cities in Arabia.



Sheikh Zayed made his first visit abroad, accompanying his brother Shakhbut to Britain, United States, Switzerland, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, India, Iran, Pakistan and France. He recalled later how impressed he had been by the schools and hospitals he visited, becoming determined that his own people should have the benefit of similar facilities. Despite constraints through lack of government revenues, Sheikh Zayed succeeded in bringing progress to Al Ain, establishing the rudiments of an administrative machinery, personally funding the first modern school in the emirate and coaxing relatives and friends to contribute towards small-scale development programmes.



On 6 August 1966, Sheikh Zayed became Ruler, with a mandate from his family to press ahead as fast as possible with the development of Abu Dhabi. He was a man in a hurry. His years in Al Ain had not only given him valuable experience in government, but had also provided him with the time to develop a vision of how the emirate could progress. With revenues growing year by year as oil production increased, he was determined to use them in the service of the people, and a massive programme of construction of schools, housing, hospitals and roads got rapidly under way.



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 initiate moves towards establishing closer ties with the emirates.



Along with the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who was to become Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed took the lead in calling for a federation that would include not only the seven emirates that together made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar and Bahrain. When early hopes of a federation of nine states eventually foundered, Sheikh Zayed led his fellow rulers in achieving agreement on the establishment of the UAE, which formally emerged on the international stage on 2 December 1971.



While his enthusiasm for federation was a key factor in the formation of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed also won support for the way in which he sought consensus and agreement among his fellow rulers. Even before acceding the presidency of the new state, Sheikh Zayed's major ambition was to develop the country and provide comfort for the citizens of the country. He also aimed high at preparing his people to be able to shoulder effectively the responsibility of building the country.



He used to say: "Money is useless if it is not used in serving the people. "Based on this philosophy, Sheikh Zayed made the rehabilitation of UAE citizens as his major target. He made the provision of services of all kinds to all the citizens of his country as his major goal. He tackled the problem of water scarcity and worked to improve the quality of land for farming purposes.



Soon farmlands stretched everywhere in the country and his afforestation project turned the desert into green land. His deep faith in unity led him to work with leaders of other Gulf countries to form the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC, which brought together six Gulf states, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. On February 25, 1981, Abu Dhabi hosted the first GCC summit.



Sheikh Zayed's stances on Arab nationalism issues bear witness to his deep commitment to Arab and Islamic issues. He has been calling repeatedly for Arab solidarity, cooperation and unity and for burying of differences and mending of fences between Arab leaders. He has also mediated successfully on several occasions between Arab leaders. Perhaps one of his most significant achievement for his country is his ability to steer his country far away from any conflict that abounds on the Arab front and his ability to win the trust and love of all at both the Arab and international levels through his balanced stance on Arab and international issues.(The Emirates News Agency, WAM)

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