Why the legacy of the UAE’s founding father should live on

The example of Sheikh Zayed is one that deserves to be celebrated and followed in the Arab region and beyond.
Thursday 01/03/2018
Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the founder of the United Arab Emirates. (Al Ittihad)
Inspirational leader. Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the founder of the United Arab Emirates. (Al Ittihad)

Good leaders walk alongside their people to make things right; great leaders go an extra mile to do what is right. Great leaders are visionary, far-sighted and ambitious. They take fragmented societies and lay strong foundations for the future of their nations. Great leaders never die. They live in our collective memory and, more importantly, feed people’s aspirations to become better citizens who are eager to go above and beyond and serve their countries.

The Arab world has had many great leaders who are scarcely acknowledged in the West. One of the greatest was Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the founder of the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh Zayed, on December 2, 1971, created a flourishing federation that became the United Arab Emirates. While some experts doubted that the rising country could survive more than a few months, the federation, through the leadership of Sheikh Zayed and his visionary policies, not just survived but achieved unprecedented levels of strength and stability.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the founding father’s birth, Emiratis remember the achievement of Sheikh Zayed and hope to instil the honourable values he embodied in the hearts and minds of all. The Year of Zayed (2018) is expected to be marked by new initiatives, key events and exciting competitions across the Emirates, all dedicated to promoting values of tolerance, progress, environmentalism, leadership and charity.

A permanent tribute to Sheikh Zayed — the Founder’s Memorial — was unveiled February 28 during a grand ceremony in Abu Dhabi. At the centre of the memorial is an incredible portrait of Sheikh Zayed, made up of hundreds of points of light.

Called “The Constellation,” the art installation is the work of American sculptor and public artist Ralph Helmick. It includes 1,300 geometric shapes and 1,000 cables, creating a 3D portrait of the late leader. The shapes are designed to shine like stars at night, evoking the timelessness of Sheikh Zayed’s vision as a guiding light for the people of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Founder’s Memorial will continue to testify to the achievements of the founding leader and the sacrifices he made,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, UAE vice-president and ruler of Dubai.

“His legacy is filled with stories of loyalty to the homeland and it places a responsibility on us and on future generations to safeguard the gains and build on the success stories so that our homeland remains a symbol of dignity and development.”

The admiration that the Emirati people have for Sheikh Zayed is attributed to his significant achievements and wise vision. Emiratis regard Sheikh Zayed as an inspirational leader who believed in the people’s will to build a strong nation, destined to shine as a beacon of progress and development and serve as a model for peaceful co-existence and tolerance.

However, Sheikh Zayed is not only admired by Emiratis and Arabs but by leaders around the world who highly regard his wisdom, generosity and support for development programmes in countries in need.

Beyond establishing fundamental policies for the development of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed helped develop sound and constructive relations with countries across the globe. His vision and achievements are internationally recognised.

In March 1997, Sheikh Zayed received the World Wide Fund for Nature’s prestigious Gold Panda Award for his contribution to environmental protection and related issues.

In 2000, he was honoured as the Environment Personality of the Year for his respectable positions and commitment to assisting countries in need.

In May 2001, he was awarded the Medal for World Food Day by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in recognition of his global contribution to the field.

In September 2009, the New York-based magazine Newsweek listed Sheikh Zayed as one of ten influential world leaders to have radically transformed their countries in a relatively short period of time in the post-second world war era. The magazine said Sheikh Zayed had excelled in the establishment of the United Arab Emirates, transforming the country into “a modern regional economic powerhouse” where religious tolerance is practised and liberal policies, including the respect of women’s rights, are observed.

While Emiratis mark 100 years since the birth of Sheikh Zayed, all Arab people should join in ensuring that his legacy lives on. Beyond being the founder of the United Arab Emirates and the mastermind of its modernisation drive, Sheikh Zayed is a symbol and a role model who should be celebrated in all countries of the Arab world, especially at this critical juncture, when conflicts and political instability are rife.

Sheikh Zayed serves as an example of a leader who did not yield to rudimentary and regressive currents but ruled with wisdom and maintained political stability.

Sheikh Zayed, determined as he was, took risks and promoted his ground-breaking vision in defiance of all regressive forces. He created a strong nation where political, economic and social stability became the rule. The example of Sheikh Zayed is one that deserves to be celebrated and followed in the Arab region and beyond.