Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Former Ruler of Abu Dhabi and Founding President of the UAE
Known as the Father of the Nation for his role in forming the United Arab Emirates, the late H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the first President of the UAE. He served this position since the formation of the UAE on 2 December 1971 until he passed away in 2004. He also served as the Ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 2004.
Born in the city of Al Ain, Sheikh Zayed was the youngest of the four sons of H. H. Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926.
Sheikh Zayed was a good listener and an unbiased dispute mediator. He was also renowned for his patience, vision and wisdom; qualities that earned him the title of ‘the wise man of the Arabs’.
He ensured that all UAE citizens are instrumental to the nation's collective success. His vision led the UAE to be the GCC’s second biggest economy after KSA, the third largest in the Middle East and according to many prestigious international reports, the most important financial and economic centre in the region.
Sheikh Zayed’s social and political endeavours
Sheikh Zayed understood that in order to build harmony, cohesion and solidarity amongst his people, he first needed to build their trust through constructive and personal interaction. He enjoyed getting out and meeting the local community, and was considered as a man of the people. Through the late 1920s and 1930s, Sheikh Zayed spent considerable time in the desert, living alongside Bedouin tribesmen and learning about their way of life.
In 1946, he was appointed as the Ruler’s representative of the Eastern Region. Immediately after his appointment, he was involved in government affairs in Al Ain city, the region’s administrative seat.
Following his success at initiating the development of Al Ain city during the 1950s, Sheikh Zayed succeeded his elder brother as Ruler of Abu Dhabi on 6 August 1966.
As a political leader, Sheikh Zayed believed that the resources of the country should be fully used to the benefit of all the people of UAE. He promptly increased contributions to the Trucial States Development Fund and with revenues growing as oil production increased, Sheikh Zayed undertook a massive construction programme building schools, houses, hospitals and roads.
Sheikh Zayed’s role in establishing the UAE
The process of establishing the Federation started with the late Sheikh Zayed paving the way towards a unity to ensure the Trucial States’ survival and at later stages to enforce the federal authorities when faced with serious threats.
On 16 January 1968 after the announcement of British withdrawal from east of Suez and the Gulf, Sheikh Zayed established closer ties with the other emirates. He went immediately to Dubai to discuss the next steps with the then Ruler of Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
On 18 February 1968, both Sheikhs concluded an agreement on a federation between them, and called for a Federation that would include not only the seven emirates that made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar and Bahrain.
Three and a half years later, with the close of British withdrawal, Sheikh Zayed again engaged Sheikh Rashid and the other Rulers in the Trucial States in the decisive discussions, which determined the essential nature of the UAE.
While Sheikh Zayed’s enthusiasm was a key factor in the formation of the UAE, he also won support for the way in which he sought consensus and agreement among his fellow Rulers.
Eventually, six emirates (except Ras Al Khaimah) followed Sheikh Zayed in establishing the UAE, which formally emerged on the international stage on 2 December 1971. The Rulers of the other emirates unanimously elected Sheikh Zayed as the President of the UAE. Ras Al Khaimah acceded to the new federation on 10 February 1972.
Sheikh Zayed’s contributions at the GCC level
The late Sheikh Zayed was a leading force in the foundation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). His vision was to bring together the Gulf countries that shared similar economies and common tribal social structures.
Ultimately, he succeeded in establishing a formal regional and political entity. The Charter of the Council was signed on 24 May 1981 in Abu Dhabi by the heads of its member states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Sheikh Zayed in the Arab world
Sheikh Zayed believed in solidarity and cooperation amongst all Arab countries. He felt it was his duty to use his personal and political authority in both the Arab and the international arenas to achieve peace and progress in the Middle East.
He supported Egypt and Syria in their 1973 war for the liberation of the Arab Occupied Territories in Palestine by imposing an oil boycott, making his famous declaration: “Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood.”
All Arab leaders held Sheikh Zayed in high regard, enabling him to act as a mediator on more than one occasion.
Sheikh Zayed’s international contributions
Sheikh Zayed laid the foundations of a foreign policy, which is characterised 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.
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 in 2004, in his late eighties, leaving behind a legacy as the Father of the Nation. The principles and philosophy that he brought to government, however, remain at the core of the UAE and its policies today.