The prosperity and tranquillity that the people of the UAE – Emiratis and expats alike – enjoy is all due to the legacy of the founding father of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, according to Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, the Director General of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA).
In Al Marri’s eyes, the most enduring legacy of Sheikh Zayed’s 33 years as President of the UAE – and his tenure as Ruler of Abu Dhabi that began even before the UAE’s independence – is his contributions and charitable initiatives.
These efforts, Al Marri notes, not only benefitted those within the borders of the emirates, they were truly worldwide. Sheikh Zayed explicitly made aid and assistance a key pillar of his foreign policy, beginning with the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development back in 1971.
Al Marri is keen to point out that with the UAE’s present-day leaders, such as His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, carrying on this legacy, the UAE has become one of the world’s foremost donor states when it comes to humanitarian aid.
Today, the UAE posts the highest official development aid (ODA) to GDP ratio in the world, and in 2016 alone spent more than $4bn in development assistance – not counting the work of the many NGOs and charitable organisations that call the UAE home. Dozens of charitable projects bearing Sheikh Zayed’s name exist around the world, ranging from mosques in Sweden to hospitals in Pakistan and even a paediatric hospital in Washington DC.
Just as important, Al Marri says, is the way Sheikh Zayed worked to empower his own people, particularly young Emiratis. “He valued human capital and the UAE’s youth as the treasure of the nation. He would say that we expect from young Emiratis what we did not expect from others. He wanted them to provide great achievements and service to the nation; to help create a modern state and a contemporary country.”
The benefits of this drive to modernity that Sheikh Zayed began, Al Marri adds, include Emirati women now having such a vital role in the society of today’s UAE. It should never be forgotten, he says, that Emirati women continue to dominate the country’s institutions of higher learning and hold high-level positions in business and government. It was Sheikh Zayed, after all, who said that he “hopes women in my country will follow their sisters in those countries that have previously made the adjustment to the procession of progress and development.”
It is because of Sheikh Zayed’s wishes and his “support and conviction of the importance of women’s role… that Emirati women have been able to take responsibility and to raise a new generation who are able to take on their roles serving society. Currently, women have taken up the highest ranks in decision making in many fields, and all levels.”
Looking ahead, Al Marri says that the no matter how long it has been since Sheikh Zayed’s passing, and no matter the advancements that still lie ahead, his legacy will never be forgotten. “He built this country’s prosperity. He’ll always be present in the minds of those looking at human development here and elsewhere.”
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