By Ahmad Itani
How the humanitarian leadership of HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan made expats feel welcome
I am not a local nor a UAE citizen, but neither have I ever considered myself an expat or a foreigner in this country. I am not alone in this feeling; in fact, I have met people from all walks of life and all corners of the earth who also proudly call the UAE their home.
This special sense of belonging, which is unique to the UAE and has made our nation a beloved home to over 200 nationalities, stems directly from Sheikh Zayed.
He united all people on this land; not only because he decisively brought the seven Emirates together, but also because he believed in humans above all. He did not see a person’s creed or race; he saw their human spirit.
Sheikh Zayed made it his life’s work to nurture this human spirit by humbly living among his people, opening his Majlis to the public, and systematically breaking down the barriers between “leader”, “citizen” and “resident”. He radiated kindness, hospitality, respect and compassion.
We all felt like he was talking to us personally when he shared his wise and sustainable vision for the nation. He was determined to be close to his people, indeed to all people, and he is a rare example of a leader who was first and foremost a humanitarian. He used his power benevolently across the globe and he welcomed the world into both his country and his heart. This set the tone for my contented and peaceful childhood in the UAE.
As I grew up, I realised that Sheikh Zayed was not just sharing his vision, but rather entrusting us, the people, with seeing it through. He described us as the “captain and crew” of the UAE. This is a hugely empowering way to lead a country because it inspires action, ambition and confidence.
Like any loving father, he had high aspirations for his sons and daughters but, more importantly, believed that we could achieve them through hard work and a dedication to human development. Sheikh Zayed instilled in me, a 20-something-year-old entering the professional world for the first time, a great sense of duty and motivation that has stayed with me for the rest of my life. He told us we could, so we did. He enabled us to carry out his vision and even 14 years after his death, we still are.
This is why the Year of Zayed is so important. It provides us with an opportunity not only to celebrate his life, but also to remember the exciting big picture he shared with us, and to renew our commitment to the task he placed in our hands. Our current leaders provide us with constant reminders of his legacy because they have continued it by involving us all in making the UAE the happiest and smartest nation in the world. Sheikh Zayed planted the seed for this vision.
I am now a father and my children call the UAE home. So will my grandchildren, because Sheikh Zayed established an unshakeable foundation for our nation and created a home for us here. Today, we live in an era of unprecedented technological and human progress, and we can often feel that we are living in a rapidly shifting landscape, but Sheikh Zayed’s legacy is a constant that will hold fast even as everything else changes around us.
We will continue to live under his values and share them with our children, true to his own words: “History is a continuous chain of events. The present is only an extension of the past.”