There are leaders and then there are legendary leaders who mark their path in history. Sheikh Zayed was among the latter. It is not easy to write about someone whose impact is still lived and experienced by all.
I was fortunate enough to meet Sheikh Zayed twice – the first time was when I graduated from the United Arab Emirates University in 1984. He used to attend the graduation ceremonies and shake hands with every graduate. I recall that he used to ask students about their families and, astonishingly, seemed know almost all of them.
He was the president, a founding father and a leader, and yet he was so down-to-earth that he made you feel comfortable when meeting him. He was not just a leader but a father of a family.
The second time I met him was when, as a part of the Federal National Council’s delegation, we went to visit him during Ramadan. Ramadan nights are known to be long.
When we arrived, the majlis was packed with well-wishers, all of whom must have shaken hands with him.
Our delegation was more than 40 people, and Sheikh Zayed was by then an old man, yet he had the energy, enthusiasm and humility to shake hands with every member of the delegation, asking them about their health, welfare and general condition of the country.
The love and admiration for Sheikh Zayed drives us all Emiratis to endeavour to continue his path and make his dreams come true. We feel it is a duty that we all want to achieve.
When one looks today to what the UAE has achieved, particularly compared to where it started in the 1970s, one can understand the effort put into bringing the country to where it is today. Just imagine starting with no infrastructure, no foundations, no human capital and almost no financial resources. Where would one even start?
Sheikh Zayed had only a vision and belief in his people and in his country. What was needed was not only to build the material foundation – the leaders needed also to build the human capital: education and healthcare systems. They needed to build the “state” in all that this word carries, and they needed to start from scratch.
When we see today what Sheikh Zayed and his fellow leaders have achieved, and in just less than 50 years, one can appreciate the magnitude of this accomplishment. We have today a country that is a role model for the region. A stable and safe country. A country that has not only managed to achieve the basic needs of its citizens but is leading the way for others.
The UAE is today the second largest economy in the region. It has introduced the concept of e-government, has one of the world’s busiest airports and one of the most successful airlines; it is building a nuclear power plant and planning a mission to Mars. More than anything, it has diversified its economy away from a reliance on hydrocarbons. The UAE is today a country that its people can be proud of.
Sheikh Zayed’s legend lives on, not only in the UAE and with Emiratis, but also throughout the whole Arab world and beyond. Wherever one travels, you can see the admiration that people have for Sheikh Zayed. He considered himself to be not just a leader of the UAE, but felt that his duty went beyond to the whole Arab world.
In reality, he was that leader.
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