Wednesday, November 23, 2011

AL Marhum Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan - the Founder of the UAE

The philosophy of Zayed

History's great men take on projects that deprive them of sleep at night and occupy their minds during the day


  • Image Credit: Illustration: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News
Two months ago, I went to one of the major bookshops in Dubai, looking for a book about Shaikh Zayed, the late ruler of the UAE. When I asked for assistance, the shop lady directed me towards a particular shelf. It contained several coffee-table books, most of which were full of beautiful pictures and poetic writings about Shaikh Zayed, depicting him as a lover of UAE’s heritage. The pictures, mostly in black and white, showed Shaikh Zayed during his hunting trips, watering palm trees or in front of an old fortress.




When I finally asked the assistant if there were any more academic books on the late Shaikh, she offered one that praised him for taking care of building the modern UAE and utilising oil revenues in a smart way by establishing the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) that was responsible for managing the Emirate’s excess oil revenues . The author of this work described at great length how Shaikh Zayed loved his people and how the people loved him back.



A few days ago, someone launched the #ThinkLikeZayed hashtag on Twitter, asking people to share Shaikh Zayed’s wise sayings, pictures and videos. Almost all the shared videos showed Shaikh Zayed talking with the people, for it is rare to find a video of him in an official occasion. He was a man unconcerned about appearances and always ready to help others, which is what brought him closer to the citizens and residents of the UAE and that’s why they will forever remain attached to him.



Always keen to learn more about Shaikh Zayed, I spoke to many elders who were close to him. They all shared with me details about his life and his positions towards issues related to his country and the Arab nation in general. However, not a single person or a book provided any information on the intellectual side of the him.


Once, I asked a friend of mine “Who is Shaikh Zayed?” He started describing the nice traits and qualities of the UAE’s founder. I paraphrased my question into, “What do you know about Shaikh Zayed?” He paused, and after awhile, asked me to clarify my question. Trying to be more specific, I asked, “Do you know why and how the Union started? What role Shaikh Zayed played in founding the Union? Why did he succeed in uniting the emirates while others in the region have failed?” He nodded, as if to say that he now knew what I meant. Nonetheless, all he gave was a speech of praise of Shaikh Zayed, which failed to provide me with any useful information on his true legacy. The reason why so many fail in answering these questions is that we love Shaikh Zayed more than we know him. The information at our hands is also the official information in the same context.




History’s great men are those who strive for the unthinkable and make it possible. Those great men take on great humanitarian projects that deprive them of sleep at night and occupy their minds during the day until they make them happen. That’s exactly what Shaikh Zayed did. As a UAE citizen, he had to make many sacrifices and compromises, and as a leader, he possessed a high level of tolerance and patience. That was the spirit of his era.

Why did he seek to unite scattered towns on an occupied land? He knew that the Union could be a financial and administrative burden upon those in charge. Still, in his view, managing one weak country would be easier than managing seven weak ones. Nonetheless, uniting the emirates was a significant risk. In addition to the difficult living conditions of the region at that time, there were no administrative experiences or universities with research centres that would help decision-makers in the process.




Given his role in their history, it is not surprising that understanding the mentality of Shaikh Zayed is very important for the people of the UAE. That mentality has become the common thread in the lives and cultures of all Emiratis who, despite their diverse backgrounds, have the same deeply ingrained sense of belonging to their country, whether they live in a small village on the east coast or in Abu Dhabi.

Thus, we owe it to all our scholars and writers to document the Shaikh Zayed era, not only in terms of the key achievements, but as a means of deepening our understanding of the motivation and philosophy behind it as well. School curricula have to adopt this material too. We need to understand how the UAE has reached this advanced stage in economy, infrastructure and human development. Even though there are countries in the region that are richer than the UAE both in finance and in history, if their standard of living were to be compared to that of the UAE, they would appear to belong to the 19th century.




We will not be able to commemorate the successful experience of the UAE or inspire other developmental experiences in the world if we don’t document it. We need to record all of the stages, from the methodology the Founding Fathers adopted, to the ideas and strategies that can apply their wisdom in future developments.

There are currently more than 16,000 books about Abraham Lincoln that explain the values upon which the United States of America was built. Much can be learned about Singapore through the works of Lee Kuan Yew. Each country bears the thoughts and spirit of its founder. Although Shaikh Zayed is greatly loved and admired in the UAE, we haven’t given enough attention to his wisdom. We haven’t searched his thoughts or written them down in a scientific manner so that future generations may benefit from them.




We need to understand the “Great Zayed Project” and study its developmental angles. We must appreciate that Shaikh Zayed didn’t build the UAE by taking care of heritage and architecture alone, but provided an unceasing surge of existential energy that everyone who lives here still feels. We need to understand how Shaikh Zayed was able to unite the seven emirates, which still have a degree of administrative independence, into one country.

When you enter the UAE Prime Minister’s Office, you will be met by a group of young men and women who come from different parts of the UAE. Despite their different dialects, they are united in their hearts. They work under a single umbrella to achieve a single strategic plan. If you look at the country’s ambassadors abroad, you will find that some of them come from remote villages in the Northern Emirates and others come from the main cities. In order to understand how a child who played barefooted in a mountainous village in the 1960s managed to become an ambassador to the UAE, we have to understand the philosophy of Shaikh Zayed.