6 August 1999, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan
Al Nahyan completed 33 years as Ruler of the Emirate
of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates that together
comprise the Federation of the United Arab Emirates
(UAE), of which he has also been President since its
creation in December 1971. Having first served in
government in 1946 as Ruler's Representative in Abu
Dhabi's Eastern Region based in the inland oasis of
Al Ain, Sheikh Zayed has now provided leadership to
the country for well over half a century.
around 1918 (the date is uncertain), Sheikh Zayed
is the youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan
bin Zayed, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. He
was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin
Khalifa, 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.
Dhabi, like the other emirates of the southern Arabian
Gulf known as the Trucial States, was then in treaty
relations with Britain. At the time Sheikh Zayed was
born the emirate was poor and undeveloped, with an
economy based primarily on fishing and pearl diving
along the coast and offshore and on simple agriculture
in scattered oases inland.
even for a young member of the ruling family, was
simple. Education was primarily confined to the provision
of instruction in the principles of 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 by boat,
and the harshness of the arid climate meant that survival
itself was often a major concern.
early 1928, following the death of Sheikh Sultan's
successor, a family conclave selected as Ruler Sheikh
Shakhbut, Sultan's eldest son, a post he was to hold
until August 1966 when he stepped down in favour of
his brother Zayed.
the late 1920s and 1930s, as Sheikh Zayed grew to
manhood he displayed an early thirst for knowledge
that took him out into the desert with the bedu tribesmen
to learn all he could about the way of life of the
people and the environment in which they lived. He
recalls with pleasure his experience of desert life
and his initiation into the sport of falconry, which
has been a lifelong passion.
In his book, Falconry: Our Arab Heritage, published
in 1977, Sheikh Zayed noted that the companionship
of a hunting party:
each and every member of the expedition to speak freely
and express his ideas and viewpoints without inhibition
and restraint, and allows the one responsible to acquaint
himself with the wishes of his people, to know their
problems and perceive their views accurately, and
thus to be in a position to help and improve their
his desert journeys, Sheikh Zayed learned to understand
the relationship between man and his environment and
in particular, the need to ensure that sustainable
use was made of natural resources. Once an avid shot,
he abandoned the gun for falconry at the age of 25,
aware that hunting with a gun could lead rapidly to
extinction of the native wildlife.
travels in the remoter areas of Abu Dhabi provided
Sheikh Zayed with a deep understanding both of the
country and of its people. In the early 1930s, when
the first oil company teams arrived to carry out preliminary
surface geological surveys, he was assigned by his
brother the task of guiding them around the desert.
At the same time he obtained his first exposure to
the industry that was later to have such a great effect
upon the country.
1946, Sheikh Zayed was chosen to fill a vacancy as
the 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 5,000 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, belonged to the Sultanate
of Oman. The job included the task of not only administering
the six villages, but the whole of the adjacent desert
region, providing Sheikh Zayed with an opportunity
to learn the techniques of government. In the late
1940s and early 1950s when Saudi Arabia put forward
territorial claims to Buraimi he also gained experience
of politics on a broader scale.
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 astute insights, wisdom
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.
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 subterranean
water channels, or falajes (aflaj), were dredged and
personally financed the construction of a new one,
taking part in the strenuous labour that was involved.
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 a predominant
economic centre throughout a wide area.
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.
1953 Sheikh Zayed made his first visit abroad, accompanying
his brother Shakhbut to Britain 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:
were a lot of dreams I was dreaming about our land
catching up with the modern world, but I was not able
to do anything because I did not have the wherewithal
in my hands to achieve these dreams. I was sure, however,
that one day they would become true.
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.
the export of Abu Dhabis first cargo of crude
oil to the world market in 1962 was to provide Sheikh
Zayed with the means to fund his dreams. Although
prices for crude oil were then far lower than they
are today, the rapidly growing volume of exports revolutionised
the economy of Abu Dhabi and its people began to look
forward eagerly to some of the benefits that were
already being enjoyed by their near-neighbours in
Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The pearling
industry had finally come to an end shortly after
the Second World War, and little had emerged to take
its place. Indeed, during the late 1950s and early
1960s, many of the people of Abu Dhabi left for other
oil-producing Gulf states where there were opportunities
economic hardships faced by Abu Dhabi since the 1930s
had accustomed the Ruler, Sheikh Shakhbut, to a cautious
frugality. Despite the growing aspirations of his
people for progress, he was reluctant to invest the
new oil revenues in development. Attempts by members
of his family, including Sheikh Zayed, and by the
leaders of the other tribes in the emirate to persuade
him to move with the times were unsuccessful, and
eventually the Al Nahyan family decided that the time
had come for him to step down. The record of Sheikh
Zayed over the previous 20 years in Al Ain and his
popularity among the people made him the obvious choice
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.
was a man in a hurry. His years in Al Ain had not
only given him 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.
his first few weeks as Ruler, Sheikh Zayed has said:
the picture was prepared. It was not a matter of fresh
thinking, but of simply putting into effect the thoughts
of years and years. First I knew we had to concentrate
on Abu Dhabi and public welfare. In short, we had
to obey the circumstances: the needs of the people
as a whole. Second, I wanted to approach other emirates
to work with us. In harmony, in some sort of federation,
we could follow the example of other developing countries.
Abu Dhabi embarked on development, Sheikh Zayed also
turned his attention rapidly to the building of closer
relations with the other emirates:
is the way to power, the way to strength, the way
to well-being,' he felt. 'Lesser entities have no
standing in the world today, and so has it ever been
early step was to increase contributions to the Trucial
States Development Fund established a few years earlier
by the British; Abu Dhabi soon became its largest
donor. 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
swiftly to initiate moves towards a closer relationship
with the other emirates.
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,
with Qatar and Bahrain opting to preserve their separate
status, Sheikh Zayed led his fellow Rulers in agreement
on the establishment of the UAE, which formally emerged
on to the international stage on 2 December 1971.
his enthusiasm for federation - clearly displayed
by his willingness to spend the oil revenues of Abu
Dhabi on the development of the other emirates - 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 brother Rulers:
am not imposing unity on anyone. That is tyranny.
All of us have our opinions, and these opinions can
change. Sometimes we put all opinions together, and
then extract from them a single point of view. This
is our democracy.
Zayed was elected by his fellow Rulers as the first
President of the UAE, a post to which he has been
successively re-elected at five-yearly intervals.
new state came into being at a time of political turmoil
in the region. A couple of days earlier, on the night
of 30 November and early morning of 1 December, Iran
had forcibly and unlawfully seized the islands of
Abu Musa, part of Sharjah, and Greater and Lesser
land, demarcation of the borders between the individual
emirates and its neighbours had not been completed,
although a preliminary agreement had already been
reached between Abu Dhabi and Oman.
observers, lacking an understanding of the importance
of a common history and heritage in bringing together
the people of the UAE, predicted that the new state
would survive only with difficulty, pointing to disputes
with its neighbours and to the wide disparity in the
size, population and level of development of the seven
informed about the nature of the country, Sheikh Zayed
was naturally more optimistic. Looking back a quarter
of a century later, he noted:
experiment in federation, in the first instance, arose
from a desire to increase the ties that bind us, as
well as from the conviction of all that they were
part of one family, and that they must gather together
under one leadership.
had never (previously) had an experiment in federation,
but our proximity to each other and the ties of blood
relationships between us are factors which led us
to believe that we must establish a federation that
should compensate for the disunity and fragmentation
that earlier prevailed.
which has been accomplished has exceeded all our expectations,
and that, with the help of Allah and a sincere will,
confirms that there is nothing that cannot be achieved
in the service of the people if determination is firm
and intentions are sincere.
predictions of the pessimists at the time of the formation
of the UAE have indeed been clearly proven to be unfounded.
Over the course of the past 28 years, the UAE has
not only survived, but has developed at a rate that
is almost without parallel. The country has been utterly
transformed. Its population has risen from around
250,000 to a 1999 estimate of 2.94 million. Progress,
in terms of the provision of social services, health
and education, as well as in sectors such as communications
and the oil and non-oil economy, has brought a high
standard of living that has spread throughout the
seven emirates, from the ultra-modern cities to the
remotest areas of the desert and mountains. The change
has, moreover, taken place against a backdrop of enviable
political and social stability, despite the insecurity
and conflict that has dogged much of the rest of the
the same time, the country has also established itself
firmly on the international scene, both within the
Gulf and Arab region and in the broader community
of nations. Its pursuit of dialogue and consensus
and its firm adherence to the tenets of the Charter
of the United Nations, in particular those dealing
with the principle of non-interference in the affairs
of other states, have been coupled with a quiet but
extensive involvement in the provision of development
assistance and humanitarian aid that, in per capita
terms, has few parallels.
is no doubt that the experiment in federation has
been a success and the undoubted key to the achievements
of the UAE has been the central role played by Sheikh
his years in Al Ain, he was able to develop a vision
of how the country should progress, and, since becoming
first Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and then President of the
UAE, he has devoted more than three decades into making
that vision a reality.
foundation of his philosophy as a leader and statesman
is that the resources of the country should be fully
utilised to the benefit of the people. The UAE is
fortunate to have been blessed with massive reserves
of oil and gas and it is through careful utilisation
of these, including the decision in 1973 that the
Government should take a controlling share of the
oil reserves and assume total ownership of associated
and non-associated gas, that the financial resources
necessary to underpin the development programme have
always been available. Indeed, there has been sufficient
to permit the Government to set aside large amounts
for investment on behalf of future generations and,
through the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority created
by Sheikh Zayed, the country now has reserves unofficially
estimated at around US $200 billion.
financial resources, however, have always been regarded
by Sheikh Zayed not as a means unto themselves, but
as a tool to facilitate the development of what he
believes to be the real wealth of the country - its
people, and in particular the younger generation:
is not money. Wealth lies in men. That is where true
power lies, the power that we value. They are the
shield behind which we seek protection. This is what
has convinced us to direct all our resources to building
the individual, and to using the wealth with which
God has provided us in the service of the nation,
so that it may grow and prosper. Unless wealth is
used in conjunction with knowledge to plan for its
use, and unless there are enlightened intellects to
direct it, its fate is to diminish and to disappear.
The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to
invest it in creating generations of educated and
the graduation ceremony of the first class of students
from the Emirates University in 1982, Sheikh Zayed
building of mankind is difficult and hard. It represents,
however, the real wealth [of the country]. This is
not found in material wealth. It is made up of men,
of children and of future generations. It is this
which constitutes the real treasure. Within this framework,
Sheikh Zayed believes that all of the country's citizens
have a role to play in its development.
he defines it not simply as a right, but a duty. Addressing
his colleagues in the Federal Supreme Council, he
most important of our duties as Rulers is to raise
the standard of living of our people. To carry out
one's duty is a responsibility given by Allah, and
to follow up on work is the responsibility of everyone,
both the old and the young.
men and women, he believes, should play their part.
Recognising that in the past a lack of education and
development had prevented women taking a full role
in much of the activity of society, he has taken action
to ensure that this situation does not continue.
women's advocates might argue that there is still
much to be done, the achievements have been remarkable
and the country's women are now increasingly playing
their part in political and economic life by taking
up senior positions in the public and private sectors.
In so doing, they have enjoyed full support from the
have the right to work everywhere. Islam affords to
women their rightful status, and encourages them to
work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded
the appropriate respect. The basic role of women is
the upbringing of children, but, over and above that,
we must offer opportunities to a woman who chooses
to perform other functions. What women have achieved
in the Emirates in only a short space of time makes
me both happy and content. We sowed our seeds yesterday,
and today the fruit has already begun to appear. We
praise Allah for the role that women play in our society.
It is clear that this role is beneficial for both
present and future generations.
Zayed has made it clear that he believes that the
younger generation, those who have enjoyed the fruits
of the UAE's development programme, must now take
up the burden once carried by their parents. Within
his immediate family, Sheikh Zayed has ensured that
his sons have taken up posts in government at which
they are expected to work and not simply enjoy as
sinecures. Young UAE men who have complained about
the perceived lack of employment opportunities at
an unrealistic salary level have been offered positions
on farms as agricultural labourers, so that they may
learn the dignity of work:
is of great importance, and of great value in building
both individuals and societies.The size of a salary
is not a measure of the worth of an individual. What
is important is an individual's sense of dignity and
self-respect. It is my duty as the leader of the young
people of this country to encourage them to work and
to exert themselves in order to raise their own standards
and to be of service to the country. The individual
who is healthy and of a sound mind and body but who
does not work commits a crime against himself and
look forward to seeing in the future our sons and
daughters playing a more active role, broadening their
participation in the process of development and shouldering
their share of the responsibilities, especially in
the private sector, so as to lay the foundations for
the success of this participation and effectiveness.
At the same time, we are greatly concerned to raise
the standing and dignity of the work ethic in our
society, and to increase the percentage of citizens
in the labour force. This can be achieved by following
a realistic and well-planned approach that will improve
performance and productivity, moving towards the long-term
goal of secure and comprehensive development.
this sphere, as in other areas, Sheikh Zayed has long
been concerned about the possible adverse impact upon
the younger generation of the easy life they enjoy,
so far removed from the resilient, resourceful lifestyle
of their parents. One key feature of Sheikh Zayed's
strategy of government, therefore, has been the encouragement
of initiatives designed to conserve and cherish aspects
of the traditional culture of the people, in order
to familiarise the younger generation with the ways
of their ancestors. In his view, it is of crucial
importance that the lessons and heritage of the past
are not forgotten. They provide, he believes, an essential
foundation upon which real progress can be achieved:
is a continuous chain of events. The present is only
an extension of the past. He who does not know his
past cannot make the best of his present and future,
for it is from the past that we learn. We gain experience
and we take advantage of the lessons and results [of
the past]. Then we adopt the best and that which suits
our present needs, while avoiding the mistakes made
by our fathers and our grandfathers. The new generation
should have a proper appreciation of the role played
by their forefathers. They should adopt their model,
and the supreme ideal of patience, fortitude, hard
work and dedication to doing their duty.
believed to have been little more than an insignificant
backwater in the history of mankind in the Middle
East, the UAE has emerged in recent years as a country
which has played a crucial role in the development
of civilisation in the region for thousands of years.
first archaeological excavations in the UAE took place
40 years ago, in 1959, with the archaeologists benefiting
extensively from the interest shown in their work
by Sheikh Zayed. Indeed he himself invited them to
visit the Al Ain area to examine remains in and around
the oasis that proved to be some of the most important
ever found in southeastern Arabia. In the decades
that have followed, Sheikh Zayed has continued to
support archaeological studies throughout the country,
eager to ensure that knowledge of the achievements
of the past becomes available to educate and inspire
the people of today.
one of the most important archaeological sites has
been discovered on Abu Dhabi's western island of Sir
Bani Yas, which for more than 20 years has been a
private wildlife reserve created by Sheikh Zayed to
ensure the survival of some of Arabia's most endangered
the heritage of the people of the UAE is important
to Sheikh Zayed, so too is the conservation of its
natural environment and wildlife. After all, he believes
the strength of character of the Emirati people derives,
in part, from the struggle that they were obliged
to wage in order to survive in the harsh and arid
belief in conservation of the environment owes nothing
to modern fashion. Acknowledged by the presentation
of the prestigious Gold Panda Award from the Worldwide
Fund for Nature, it derives, instead, from his own
upbringing, living in harmony with nature. This has
led him to ensure that conservation of wildlife and
the environment is a key part of government policy,
while at the same time he has stimulated and personally
supervised a massive programme of afforestation that
has now seen over 150 million trees planted.
a speech on the occasion of the UAE's first Environment
Day in February 1998 Sheikh Zayed spelt out his beliefs:
cherish our environment because it is an integral
part of our country, our history and our heritage.
On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and
survived in this environment. They were able to do
so only because they recognised the need to conserve
it, to take from it only what they needed to live,
and to preserve it for succeeding generations. With
Allah's will, we shall continue to work to protect
our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers
before us. It is a duty: and, if we fail, our children,
rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential
part of their inheritance, and of our heritage.
most conservationists Sheikh Zayed is concerned wherever
possible to remedy the damage done by man to wildlife.
His programme on the island of Sir Bani Yas for the
captive breeding of endangered native animals such
as the Arabian oryx and the Arabian gazelle has achieved
impressive success, so much so that not only is the
survival of both species now assured, but animals
are also carefully being reintroduced to the wild.
in other areas of national life, Sheikh Zayed has
made it clear that conservation is not simply the
task of government. Despite the existence of official
institutions like the Federal Environmental Agency
and Abu Dhabi's Environmental Research and Wildlife
Development Agency, (empowered by a growing catalogue
of legislation), the UAE's President has stressed
that there is also a role both for the individual
and for non-governmental organisations, both of citizens
believes that society can only flourish and develop
if all of its members acknowledge their responsibilities.
This does not only to concerns such as environmental
conservation, but also to other areas of national
of the Al Nahyan family, of which Sheikh Zayed is
the current head, have been Rulers of Abu Dhabi since
at least the beginning of the eighteenth century,
longer than any other ruling dynasty in the Arabian
peninsula. In Arabian bedu society, however, the legitimacy
of a Ruler, and of a ruling family, derives essentially
from consensus and from consent. Just as Sheikh Zayed
himself was chosen by members of his family to become
Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, when his elder brother
was no longer able to retain their confidence, so
does the legitimacy of the political system today
derive from the support it draws from the people of
the UAE. The principle of consultation (shura) is
an essential part of that system.
an informal level, that principle has long been put
into practice through the institution of the majlis
(council) where a leading member of society holds
an 'open-house' discussion forum, at which any individual
may put forward views for discussion and consideration.
While the majlis system - the UAE's form of direct
democracy - still continues, it is naturally, best
suited to a relatively small community.
1970, recognising that Abu Dhabi was embarking upon
a process of rapid change and development, Sheikh
Zayed created the Emirate's National Consultative
Council, bringing together the leaders of each of
the main tribes and families which comprised the population.
A similar body was created for the UAE as a whole,
the Federal National Council, the state's parliament,
institutions represent the formalisation of the traditional
process of consultation and discussion and their members
are frequently urged by Sheikh Zayed to express their
views openly, without fear or favour.
present, members of both the National Consultative
Council and the Federal National Council continue
to be selected by Sheikh Zayed and the other Rulers,
in consultation with leading members of the community
in each emirate. However, in the future, Sheikh Zayed
has said, a formula for direct elections will be devised.
He notes, however, that in this, as in many other
fields, it is necessary to move ahead with care to
ensure that only such institutions as are appropriate
for Emirati society are adopted.
by the New York Times on the topic of the possible
introduction of an elected parliamentary democracy,
Sheikh Zayed replied:
should we abandon a system that satisfies our people
in order to introduce a system that seems to engender
dissent and confrontation? Our system of government
is based upon our religion, and is what our people
want. Should they seek alternatives, we are ready
to listen to them. We have always said that our people
should voice their demands openly. We are all in the
same boat, and they are both captain and crew.
doors here are open for any opinion to be expressed,
and this is well known by all our citizens. It is
our deep conviction that Allah the Creator has created
people free, and has prescribed that each individual
must enjoy freedom of choice. No-one should act as
if he owns others. Those in a position of leadership
should deal with their subjects with compassion and
understanding, because this is the duty enjoined upon
them by God Almighty, who enjoins us to treat all
living creatures with dignity. How can there be anything
less for man, created as Allah's vice-gerent on earth?
Our system of government does not derive its authority
from man, but is enshrined in our religion, and is
based on God's book, the Holy Quran. What need have
we of what others have conjured up? Its teachings
are eternal and complete, while the systems conjured
up by man are transitory and incomplete.
Zayed imbibed the principles of Islam in his childhood
and it remains the foundation of his beliefs and philosophy
today. Indeed, the ability with which he and the people
of the UAE have been able to absorb and adjust to
the remarkable changes of the past few decades can
be ascribed largely to the fact that Islam has provided
an unchanging and immutable core of their lives. Today,
it provides the inspiration for the UAE judicial system
and its place as the ultimate source of legislation
is enshrined in the country's constitution.
like other divinely revealed religions, has those
among its claimed adherents who purport to interpret
its message as justifying harsh dogmas and intolerance.
In Sheikh Zayed's view, however, such an approach
is not merely a perversion of the message but is directly
contrary to it. Extremism, he believes, has no place
in Islam. In contrast, he stresses that:
is a civilising religion that gives mankind dignity.
A Muslim is he who does not inflict evil upon others.
Islam is the religion of tolerance and forgiveness,
and not of war, of dialogue and understanding. It
is Islamic social justice which has asked every Muslim
to respect the other. To treat every person, no matter
what his creed or race, as a special soul is a mark
of Islam. It is just that point, embodied in the humanitarian
tenets of Islam, that makes us so proud of it.
that context, Sheikh Zayed has set his face firmly
against those who preach intolerance and hatred:
these times we see around us violent men who claim
to talk on behalf of Islam. Islam is far removed from
their talk. If such people really wish for recognition
from Muslims and the world, they should themselves
first heed the words of God and His Prophet. Regrettably,
however, these people have nothing whatsoever that
connects them to Islam. They are apostates and criminals.
We see them slaughtering children and the innocent.
They kill people, spill their blood and destroy their
property, and then claim to be Muslims.
Zayed is an eager advocate of tolerance, discussion
and a better understanding between those of different
faiths, recognising that this is essential if mankind
is to ever move forward in harmony. His faith is well
summed up by a statement explaining the essential
basis of his own beliefs:
religion is based neither on hope, nor on fear, I
worship my Allah because I love him.'
faith, with its belief in the brotherhood of man and
in the duty incumbent upon the strong to provide assistance
to those less fortunate than themselves, is fundamental
to Sheikh Zayed's vision of how his country and people
should develop. It is, too, a key to the foreign policy
of the UAE, which he has devised and guided since
the establishment of the state.
UAE itself has been able to progress only because
of the way in which its component parts have successfully
been able to come together in a relationship of harmony,
working together for common goals.
the Arabian Gulf region, and in the broader Arab world,
the UAE has sought to enhance cooperation and to resolve
disagreement through a calm pursuit of dialogue and
consensus. Thus one of the central features of the
country's foreign policy has been the development
of closer ties with its neighbours in the Arabian
peninsula. The Arab Gulf Cooperation Council, (AGCC)
grouping the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar
and Oman, was founded at a summit conference held
in Abu Dhabi in 1981, and has since become, with strong
UAE support, an effective and widely-respected grouping.
to facilitate the development of closer ties between
its members and to enable them to work together to
ensure their security, the AGCC has faced two major
external challenges during its short lifetime: first,
the long and costly conflict in the 1980s between
Iraq and Iran, which itself prompted the Council's
formation and second, the August 1990 invasion by
Iraq of one of its members, Kuwait.
the invasion of Kuwait, President Zayed was one of
the first Arab leaders to offer support to its people
and units from the UAE armed forces played a significant
role in the alliance that liberated the Gulf state
in early 1991.
fully supporting the international condemnation of
the policies of the Iraqi regime and the sanctions
imposed on Iraq by the United Nations (UN) during
and after the conflict, the UAE has, however, expressed
its serious concern about the impact that the sanctions
have had upon the country's people. In his interview
with the New York Times in mid-1998, Sheikh Zayed
states in the Arab world recognise that Saddam [Hussein]
did injustice, and received the appropriate response.
He paid the price, and sanctions have now been imposed
on Iraq for seven years.
Iraq is sick, tired, hungry and naked. How can you
continue to impose sanctions on it for ever in a situation
like this? It [Iraq] should not continue to receive
punishment, and should no longer have sanctions imposed
upon it. We believe that the time has come to say
that enough is enough.
to argue forcefully for a lifting of sanctions, the
UAE has, at the same, time, provided an extensive
amount of humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people,
ensuring, as far as possible, that the aid reaches
those for whom it is intended.
key focus of the UAE's foreign policy in an Arab context
has been the provision of support to the Palestinian
people in their efforts to regain their legitimate
rights to self-determination and to the establishment
of their own state. As early as 1968, before the formation
of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed extended generous assistance
to Palestinian organisations, and has done so throughout
the last three decades, although he has always believed
that it is for the Palestinians themselves to determine
their own policies.
the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in
Gaza and on parts of the occupied West Bank, the UAE
has provided substantial help for the building of
a national infrastructure, including not only houses,
roads, schools and hospitals, but also for the refurbishment
of Muslim and Christian sites in the city of Jerusalem.
While much of the aid has been bilateral, the UAE
has also taken part in development programmes funded
by multilateral agencies and groupings and has long
been a major contributor to the United Nations Relief
Works Agency (UNRWA).
amounts of aid have also been given to a number of
other countries in the Arab world, such as Lebanon,
to help it recover from the devastation caused by
over a decade of civil war, and to less-developed
countries such as Yemen.
Zayed has a deeply held belief in the cherished objective
of greater political and economic unity within the
Arab world. At the same time, however, he has long
adopted a realistic approach on the issue, recognising
that to be effective any unity must grow slowly and
with the support of the people. Arab unity, he believes,
is not something that can simply be created through
decrees of governments that may be temporary, political
approach has been tried and tested both at the level
of the UAE itself, which is the longest-lived experiment
in recent times in Arab unity, and at the level of
the Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council.
a broader plane, Sheikh Zayed has sought consistently
to promote greater understanding and consensus between
Arab countries and to reinvigorate the League of Arab
States. Relations between the Arab leaders, he believes,
should be based on openness and frankness:
must make it clear to each other that each one of
them needs the other, and they should understand that
only through mutual support can they survive in times
brother should tell his brother: you support me, and
I will support you, when you are in the right. But
not when you are in the wrong. If I am in the right,
you should support and help me, and help to remove
the results of any injustice that has been imposed
on me. Wise and mature leaders should listen to sound
advice, and should take the necessary action to correct
their mistakes. As for those leaders who are unwise
or immature, they can be brought to the right path
through advice from their sincere friends.
that context, and since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
which split the Arab world asunder, Sheikh Zayed has
consistently argued for the holding of a new Arab
summit conference at which leaders can honestly and
frankly address the disputes between them. Only thus,
he believes, can the Arab world as a whole move forward
to tackle the challenges that face it, both internally
and on the broader international plane:
believe that an all-inclusive Arab summit must be
held, but before attending it, the Arabs must open
their hearts to each other and be frank with each
other about the rifts between them and their wounds.
They should then come to the summit, to make the necessary
corrections to their policies, to address the issues,
to heal their wounds and to affirm that the destiny
of the Arabs is one, both for the weak and the strong.
At the same time, they should not concede their rights,
or ask for what is not rightfully theirs.
UAE President acknowledges, however, that unanimity,
although desirable, cannot always be achieved. He
has, therefore, been the only Arab leader to openly
advocate a revision of the Charter of the League of
Arab States to permit decisions to be taken on the
basis of the will of the majority. Such has been the
experience of the society from which he comes, and
such has been one of the foundations of the success
of the federal experiment in the UAE. It is time,
he believes, that a similar approach was adopted within
the broader Arab world.
should not, however, mean that essential rights and
principles should be set aside; these include, of
course, the principle of the inviolability of the
integrity of Arab territories.
principle has been a matter of major concern to the
UAE since its formation, due to the Iranian occupation
in 1971 of the UAE islands of Abu Musa and Greater
and Lesser Tunb. That occupation was undertaken in
contravention of all norms of international law and
of the Charter of the United Nations.
governments in Iran have continually consolidated
their military hold over the islands and have failed
to respond to efforts by the UAE to resolve the issue.
The UAE in turn, has never abandoned its attempts
to regain its rights over the islands. Iran, however,
has rejected the UAE suggestion that the matter be
referred to the International Court of Justice and
it has also stated that while it is willing to hold
bilateral negotiations, these would only deal with
what it describes as 'misunderstandings', failing
to acknowledge that a question of sovereignty exists.
Sheikh Zayed wishes to see an improvement in relations
with Iran, not only a near-neighbour of the Emirates
but also a fellow Muslim state, he has made it clear
that a concrete and positive initiative is now required
from the Iranian side. 'It is said that [Iranian]
President Khatami wants to pursue a policy of openness
towards his neighbours and the world, but we are still
waiting [for action].'
as on other foreign policy issues, Sheikh Zayed has
consistently adopted a firm but calmly worded approach,
eschewing rhetoric that could make the search for
a solution to problems more difficult.
recent years, the conflicts ensuing from the disintegration
of the former Yugoslavia have been the cause of considerable
concern. Prior to the imposition of a peace in Bosnia
by the western industrialised powers, Sheikh Zayed's
frustration with the continued slaughter of Bosnian
Muslims was scarcely concealed.
to the Emirates News Agency, WAM, at the height of
the Serbian campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' against
the Muslims, he said that the UN seemed 'enfeebled
like a dead machine' in the face of Serbian atrocities:
is as if the United Nations has been turned into stone,
with no feeling or compassion for the agony of the
call on all people with a conscience, those who believe
in justice and who deplore aggression and unjust wars
to stand up against the horrors being perpetrated
against the innocent people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
world has to move forcefully to put an end to the
horrifying tragedy. Governments must move now to enable
the people of that besieged country to defend themselves.
The right of self-defence is the most basic human
and elementary right.
the international community had forced the Serbs to
cease their campaign of slaughter in Bosnia, Sheikh
Zayed promptly moved to ensure that substantial assistance
was sent by the UAE to enable the Bosnian Muslims
to begin the task of rebuilding their society.
lessons of the Bosnian tragedy were not, however,
lost on Sheikh Zayed. The time had come, he recognised,
for the UAE itself to play a more proactive role in
international peacekeeping operations.
UAEs armed forces had already begun to establish
a record in such peacekeeping activities, first as
part of the joint Arab Deterrent Force that sought
for a few years to bring to an end the civil strife
in Lebanon, and then through participation in UNISOM
TWO, the UN peacekeeping and reconstruction force
early 1999, as a new campaign of Serbian atrocities
began to get under way against the Albanian population
of Kosovo, Sheikh Zayed was among the first world
leaders to express support for the decision by the
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to launch
its aerial campaign to force Serbia to halt its genocidal
early on in the campaign that there would be a need
for an international peacekeeping force once the NATO
campaign ended, Sheikh Zayed ordered that the UAEs
armed forces should be a part of any such force operating
under the aegis of the UN. In late 1999, with the
UN's KFOR force in place in Kosovo, the contingent
from the UAE was the largest taking part from any
of the non-NATO states.
ensuring that the UAE should now increasingly come
to shoulder such international responsibilities, however,
Sheikh Zayed has also made it clear that the UAE's
role is one that is focused on relief and rehabilitation.
the Balkans and in other countries, the policy adopted
by the UAE clearly reflects the desire of Sheikh Zayed
to utilise the good fortune of his country to provide
assistance to those less fortunate. Through bodies
like the Zayed Foundation and the Abu Dhabi Fund for
Development, established by Sheikh Zayed before the
foundation of the UAE, as well as through institutions
like the Red Crescent Society, chaired by his son,
Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country now
plays a major role in the provision of relief and
development assistance worldwide.
essence, the philosophy of Sheikh Zayed, derived from
his deeply held Muslim faith, is that it is the duty
of man to seek to improve the lot of his fellow man.
His record in over half a century in government, first
within the UAE and then concurrently on a broader
international plane, is an indication of the dedication
and seriousness with which he has sought to carry
out that belief.