The United Arab Emirates, which was fortunate to be have been founded by a visionary leader, continues today to enjoy a wise and far-sighted leadership in the person of its new President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whose public service spans the two historic stages of his nation's development. He was personally very close to the leadership of his late father, took inspiration from his example during his life-time, and acted as the main executive leader for his Government in the first stage of the foundation of the state. Today, he continues his leadership role in a new stage of development for the UAE that will witness the empowerment of his nation and its emergence on the global scene as a major world player.
To understand the leadership qualities that characterise the man, it is important to acknowledge the defining and formative influences of his early years. HH Sheikh Khalifa, the eldest son of the late Sheikh Zayed was born in Al Muwaiji Fort, Al Ain, in 1948. Though Al Muwaiji village was then a small place compared to the other villages in the cluster of oases dominated by Al Ain and Buraimi, it was, nevertheless, a centre of influence for the Al bu Falah subsection of the Bani Yas tribal confederation and the Al Nahyan ruling family in the numerous oasis of the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi as well as in the interior of eastern Arabia. Sheikh Khalifa spent his early childhood years in this fort which still stands opposite the Court (diwan) of the Ruler's Representative at the outskirts of Al Ain, and in which his late father had settled in his youth in 1946 after being assigned by his brother, the then Ruler of the Emirate, to take the leadership of the Eastern Region on his behalf.
The oases of Al Ain and Al Buraimi, where Sheikh Khalifa spent his early years, was a place of strategic and vital economic significance for Abu Dhabi Emirate as a main agricultural producer and as a major strategic centre for the security of the region, positioned at the crossroads that linked the coast to the interior of eastern Arabia. The very difficult task of Sheikh Zayed at that time was to take leadership of the discordant tribes there and in the surrounding region, to ensure internal stability and security, to consolidate state authority, and to bring prosperity to the tribes despite the paucity of resources.
Sheikh Khalifa received his early education in the sole school that had been built in Al Ain by his father at that time. What is now the city of Al Ain was then a collection of six scattered villages lacking basic infrastructure services such as roads, electricity or modern means of education. But as his father always maintained, the best kind of education is the one received in public majalis (the daily congregations that take place in the presence of a ruler or senior tribal leader.) Sheikh Khalifa was fortunate to have the benefit of two such public councils of the time, which were the finest schools for teaching the skills of political leadership and kept him close to the tribes, learning their ethos and characteristics, and acquiring management and communication skills.
The first council that developed his talents was the majlis of his father, Sheikh Zayed, who was recognised by all observers at the time as the most charismatic personality in the region with evident strong leadership capabilities. Sheikh Zayed, in fact, was keen to take his eldest son on most of his daily movements and visits in the area, and so instilled in him from childhood the values of responsibility and trust, bringing him close to the tribes who loved him and whom he loved with equal devotion. Sheikh Khalifa saw during those formative years his father's dedication to bringing prosperity and well-being to the tribes, to maintain security and unity, and to care for the environment and preserve the heritage of his people. He learnt that a real leader is one who is wholly concerned with the welfare of his people. In the company of his father, he was able to learn at close hand the qualities and political and communication skills that made a great leader, and it gave him the opportunity to come closer to the tribes, learning their values and their aspirations.
The second majlis which honed and complimented his leadership skills was that of his grandfather from his mother's side, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, the senior figure of the Al Nahyan at the time, who was known for his wisdom, knowledge and insight and who was respected and admired by all until his death in 1979. Along with his mother's attention, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa also enjoyed special care and attention from his grandmother Sheikha Salama, who occupied a high position among her people in her own right as she was known for her sophistication, wisdom and perception Ð gained despite the relative isolation of the emirate from the outside world at that time.
When his father moved to Abu Dhabi City to become the Ruler of the emirate in August 1966, he appointed his son, who was 18 at that time, as his representative in the Eastern Province and the President of its legal system. Given the strategic importance of Al Ain, which was very close to Sheikh Zayed's heart, this delegation of authority was seen as a mark of the high confidence Sheikh Zayed had in his son. In effect, Sheikh Khalifa followed in the footsteps of his father and continued the implementation of major development projects in the Eastern Province, especially those designed to improve agriculture through the digging of new wells and the reparation of the old aflaj (underground canal) system. His notable success in Al Ain was the stepping stone to a long career in public service that saw Sheikh Khalifa assume his leadership role with ease and skill, marking every point of new departure with major accomplishments and achievements.
During the following years, Sheikh Khalifa held a number of major posts contributing to helping his father realise a seemingly impossible dream. He became the main executive leader of his late father's Government, overseeing, both on the local and federal levels, the implementation of all his major projects in the early historic stages of the founding the state. Throughout this early phase of leadership, Sheikh Khalifa exhibited the same unique characteristics inspired by his father, based on a modest and open management style. Fully dedicated to bringing prosperity and progress to his people, Sheikh Khalifa always dealt with those who worked with him with dignity and respect, giving them flexibility to take the initiative, skilfully maintaining their trust and motivating them to constant effort.
His responsibilities covered all fields on the local and federal levels in the domains of politics, the economy, oil, defence and external affairs. He was appointed as Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in 1969, and moved to Abu Dhabi City where he assumed the command of the newly-created army, which was later to become the nucleus for the federal army. He was then appointed as the first Prime Minister of the Abu Dhabi government, prior to the establishment of the UAE federation, in which he also assumed the portfolios for Defence and Finance and oversaw the launching of the first development projects in the emirate, then lacking in every conceivable infrastructure or service. Sheikh Khalifa assumed the office of Deputy Prime Minister in the first federal cabinet, and in 1974, he presided over the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi Emirate which replaced the local cabinet, and which became in effect the executive branch of local government overseeing the social and economic transformation of the emirate. In 1976, he was appointed as the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, where he continued his interest in developing the defence capabilities of the UAE.
His Highness Sheikh Khalifa has also paid special attention to the oil sector as he assumed the management of the emirate's oil resources. He played a distinctive role in redressing the balance in his emirate's partnership with the international cartel of oil companies operating in the country. He approved major investments in new oil and gas fields while introducing the latest technology for improving recovery rates in the old fields. He also oversaw the diversification of the country's economic base and directed major investments in building a vast industrial complex in the Western Region to develop petrochemical and oil-related industries.
His Highness Sheikh Khalifa was also in charge of a number of corporations and authorities formed to supervise the development process. Those included the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which has today become the world's most successful investment fund, set to guarantee the prosperity and welfare of the coming generations. Motivated by his keen interest in promoting the welfare of his citizens, he set up the Khalifa Housing Fund in 1979 to finance the construction of residential and commercial buildings for nationals at low administrative fees, allocating several billion dirhams to the fund, which became the main driver for the construction boom in Abu Dhabi. He also launched a number of prizes to support the development programmes inside the emirate, including the Khalifa Education Prize, Khalifa Excellence Prize, and the Khalifa Fund to support small and medium enterprises.
His Highness has personally, as well as through Abu Dhabis Development Fund, launched an extensive programme of foreign aid and social development in developing countries. He established and continues to fund overseas schools, charity establishments, hospitals and orphanages. As well as his social work, His Highness has played an active role in strengthening the UAE's external relations with its Gulf, Arab, Islamic and international partners, through the exchange of official visits and through meetings with Arab and foreign officials and leaders and participating in international conferences.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed was undoubtedly a full partner in the leadership of his country in its foundation stages, in that he actively shared in the execution of his late father's plans and in the fulfilment of his vision under his direct supervision and direction. He was instrumental during this process in developing the machinery of administration and government so as to transform the state from its early tribal origins to grow to be the fully modern and institutionalised country it has become today, so as to ensure its safe transition and survival in the twenty-first century.
And so when the late President passed peacefully away in 2004, it was natural that his son and Crown Prince became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, while Sheikh Khalifas brother, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, became the new Crown Prince for the new era. At the same time, HH Sheikh Khalifa was unanimously elected as the UAE's new President by the Supreme Council of the federation. His confirmation as the new leader signalled to the people of the UAE and to the world that, as an historic epoch of the foundation of the state came to its close, during which an ambitious vision was achieved, turning a dream into reality, a new era had arrived. This will evidently be an era of empowerment for the UAE as it continues to strive for excellence and distinction on a regional and global stage.
HH Sheikh Khalifa's broad vision for this new era has been set out in a number of official papers. Perhaps the most important were two strategic documents. The first is the policy agenda of Abu Dhabi Government issued by Abu Dhabi Executive Council for 2007/2008. The second was in an official speech made before the Federal National Council in February 2007.
Abu Dhabi's policy agenda sets out a vision for the overall development of the country. Its stated objective is to ensure the welfare of its citizens. In order to achieve this, it sets out programmes to develop an open economy, based on sustainable knowledge, that can compete internationally and with distinction, providing the best services in education, health and developed infrastructure within a legislative environment distinguished by efficiency and transparency. The emirate's strategy documents give equal importance to developing a transparent and efficient government apparatus to ensure the implementation of plans with a high-level of effectiveness and coordination, and to make use of all the country's potential and resources, including the participation of the private sector, both locally and internationally. The country's security, its international relations, safeguarding its environment, and promoting its heritage and culture remain cornerstones of the UAE's vision.
HH Sheikh Khalifa's speech to the Federal National Council spelt out the federal Government's commitment to consolidate a political system based on consultation, justice and security, which enables the citizens (men and women) to actively and positively participate in running their country. The speech stressed the Governments vision in launching new programmes and legislation to support culture, family development, education and health as an integral development project. It declared its commitment to train and motivate a new generation of young leaders. It also stressed the Governments commitment to strengthen the private sector, encourage investment projects, and expand in industry, tourism, construction while protecting the environment.