By Colm McLoughlin
A long-time Dubai business leader shares his views on why the UAE has become a beacon for success and tolerance
I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for the rulers of the UAE, and I like the fact that HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan is being remembered and honoured in The Year of Zayed initiative.
When I arrived in Dubai in July 1983, I have to admit that I knew little about the people of the UAE – but that was quickly to change. I was part of a team from Aer Rianta (the Irish Airport Authority) whose job it was to set up Dubai Duty Free at Dubai International Airport. After some initial meetings with senior airport and government officials, it became clear that their “can do” attitude was going to transform the country.
The Emiratis had a desire to grow the UAE to be a major commercial, leisure and cultural capital, and this was being driven by the vision and leadership of the UAE rulers – and in particular by HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the then Dubai Ruler HH Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
In addition to being struck by the positive attitude that I encountered in those early days, I was impressed by how open the rulers were to meeting and greeting their subjects on a daily basis. I liked very much the idea of the Majlis, whereby residents can meet with the ruler directly and either give their good wishes or make a request. I know that Sheikh Zayed was particularly fond of meeting with residents, both local and expatriate, to find out more about their lives. He was often seen driving around Abu Dhabi, waving to passers-by and even stopping to investigate something that caught his eye.
I was impressed, and in fact continue to be impressed, by the benevolent and tolerant nature of the UAE’s rulers, something which continues to this day. The fact that education was so important to the rulers, especially Sheikh Zayed, ensured UAE nationals had access to third level education, making them eminently qualified to carry out the ambitious expansion plans for the country. Third level education was made equally available to female Emiratis and this commitment to equality is, I’m pleased to say, ongoing.
The benevolent nature of Sheikh Zayed and, in my own experience, Sheikh Rashid, was evident among expatriate groups as well. They wanted us to be happy and have a good standard of life while working here in the UAE. Schools and places of worship were built for expatriate children and worshippers of all faiths, and local societies, such as the Dubai Irish Society, were encouraged and supported and they thrive to this day.
The role that the UAE has played in supporting and endorsing so many charitable causes derives directly from the generosity of the rulers and in particular from Sheikh Zayed. His desire to help those less fortunate resulted in the setting up of the Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation back in 1992 with a donation of $1m. Since that time the foundation has contributed AED1bn ($272m) in aid to causes both inside and outside of the UAE. The support for worthy causes has seen the establishment of many additional foundations and the UAE is recognised internationally as one of the world’s most generous donor countries.
As we celebrate the centenary of Sheikh Zayed, we can look back on the remarkable role that he has played in ensuring the growth of the UAE into a leading light on the global stage. The fact that the ruling families continue with this legacy of generosity, tolerance, leadership and humanitarianism means that the future is bright for the people of the UAE.