In his heartfelt speech at the Arabian Business Awards late last year, which he gave on accepting his lifetime achievement award, Palestinian businessman Munib Masri was quick to single out Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan for special praise as he reflected on 60-plus years of business and entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Masri had first come to the then-Trucial States as a young geologist in the late 1950s and he recalled with delight a request Sheikh Zayed made to the team of young expatriate geologists. “He wanted us to create a forest. He wanted to plant trees from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain,” Munib said. “So he asked us to do that.
“We planted tens of thousands of trees, to make shade and to make the atmosphere and environment look better,” he added. “He used to visit us in the sand dunes between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. He used to sit with us, talk with us, and I used to listen to his wisdom. I learned a lot. We made some good money but more so I learned a lot from his wisdom. He was a great man,” Masri recalled. “I’ll never forget Sheikh Zayed.”
Despite being involved in a number of other memorable projects in Abu Dhabi, such as introducing hydroponic agriculture to a then barren Saadiyat Island, Masri said the most important thing for him was “knowing Sheikh Zayed”.
“Sheikh Zayed was an extraordinary leader,” he said. “I’m very proud to have known him.”
Looking back on Sheikh Zayed’s legacy, and that of the other three “giants” – the late Sheikh Saqr Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi of Ras Al Khaimah, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum of Dubai, and Sharjah Ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi – whom he got to know in that bygone era, Masri points to the culture of charity and giving they left behind. This legacy, Masri noted, has directly impacted many thousands of people in his native Palestine.
“We, the Palestinians, and the leadership of the Palestinian people, the late Yasser Arafat and our President, Mr [Mahmoud] Abbas, will never forget the support we have received from the Emirates,” he said. “In Jerusalem, in Gaza, everywhere in Palestine, you see what the Emirates and the leaders of the Emirates have done, from hospitals to schools and all kinds of philanthropy.”
“As a Palestinian, I came with my family, my children and my grandchildren, to tell people here in the Emirates: thank you very much, on behalf of my family and on behalf of the Palestinians,” he added.
For Masri, the UAE that Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Rashid, and the rest of the UAE’s founding fathers left behind is a beacon of hope in the region that shines far beyond the UAE’s borders.
“All Arabs should be proud of what these people, the Emiratis, have done to this country,” he said.
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