Sheikh Zayed was a man of vision, but above all he was a kind man who wanted the best for his people. He was innovative and understood that to take the UAE forward he had to take opportunities to change the course of the nation.
I recently started an archiving project, interviewing Emiratis and foreigners living in the UAE at the time of the unification and asking them to share with me their experiences with Sheikh Zayed. They all said he was a solid man who could always tell if someone was there because they just wanted something, or if they were genuine in their request.
They told me he was kind-hearted but not naïve. He knew how to be a good leader who would push others to be the best they could be, rather than a figurehead who was thrust into glory through the exploitation of his people.
I heard stories of how he spoke to people’s hearts and, as such, convinced the other emirates to join the union in 1971 when they could have made their own decisions.
He once said: “The real asset of any advanced nation is its people; especially the educated ones, and the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education.”
This is something we should always remember. As the UAE grows, its social progress must always come first. Education is indeed the way forward, and my hope is that we Emiratis continue to develop ourselves while directing our own narrative.
I remember being a child at the UAE embassy in Belgium. My father, HE Salem Al Agroobi, was one of the first ambassadors to the nation and, as the longest-serving ambassador to the region, the dean (doyen) of Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg). It was his duty, and by extension mine, to represent our new nation and share it with the world. The ambassador opened his home to any Emirati citizen, which served as a haven where people would meet, exchange ideas and prosper. I was lucky enough to be one of those prospering minds.
After a full and higher education as a scientist, I am now a filmmaker. I am lucky to be a pioneer in this industry. As with movements before us, we cannot grow unless we grow together.
The year of Zayed is a celebration of a good man who did right by his people. He was bold and modest and managed to see the good in everyone he met.
I hope that the love for his people continues to show and that, as Emiratis, we always remember to help each other, rear each other, push each other, challenge each other and carry each other to success – and never forget that our greatest asset is our people. And like Zayed, we must be innovative, we must welcome change and realise the true value of wealth – that wealth, is us.
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