I lived in Ras Al Khaimah in the late 1970s and early 1980s and remember the excitement that would accompany Sheikh Zayed’s visits to the emirate – they were always associated with the arrival of good news. At the time, Sheikh Zayed was building the nation and touring the country to ensure people’s needs were met and that there was no shortage in basics services such as health facilities, schools and housing.
To us, he was the Father of the Nation in the most literal meaning of those words. Whenever people faced challenges, they remained secure in the knowledge that he was there to help, providing residents with a great deal of peace of mind. This spirit of appreciation continues to live on today and is carried on by our leaders and our private sector. People who serve this country are always appreciated and rewarded, no matter where they came from.
During the 33 or so years of his leadership, Sheikh Zayed never compromised on these principles, which were rooted in staying true to our culture and respecting the cultures of others. He worked tirelessly to achieve our current standing, with his only request from his people being that they work just as hard as he did. He rewarded achievers – a practice he always adhered to.
Economically, of course he used our oil wealth to build this nation. However, in my opinion, the true enabler for where we stand today was his focus on education. During his time as leader of the UAE, no efforts or resources were spared in educating people. Furthermore, in the early years of the union, people were motivated to continue their education with not only offers of free tuition, but also government funding for meals, clothing and other practicalities. All of this was done to ensure that the country’s youth didn’t face the need to work to support their families and instead would take the route of gaining an education.
Sheikh Zayed was driven by a duty to ensure the prosperity of every UAE national. He harnessed the wealth and potential of this country, but he also never forgot his responsibilities toward helping neighbours and humans across the world.
To this date, the UAE has been – and always is – among the first nations to react to crises around the world. It is this attitude that helped bring the Emirates and Emiratis together, under the worthy cause of securing a brighter future for themselves. Perhaps his greatest achievement was leveraging the wealth and resources of the country to educate and equip its citizens with the tools needs to continue his envisioned path for the UAE.
There were always a number of stories of him stopping by the side of the road to fix something with his own hands such as a fallen tree and his concern over these occurrences. He was very passionate about farming and farmers, and knew how important agriculture was for this desert. These maybe small details but together they build a compelling narrative about the type of man he was and his journey in creating this oasis by supporting farmers and agriculture.
I was lucky enough to meet him once. I attended his speech to the first batch of army volunteer graduates during the Gulf crisis in the early 1990s. It was a heartfelt and touching speech, during which Sheikh Zayed expressed a great deal of emotion. Looking back, this might have been because he felt he had reaped the fruit of his labour; seeing his people coming together and vowing to defend their young country from any aggression.
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