UAE at 40 reflects on key founding father, Zayed
Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was admired by many in the Arab world.
The UAE possessed in its first President a leader whose appeal extended far beyond his own emirate in the Federation.
The loyalty of the people towards Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was neither motivated by narrow interests nor was it backed by military might, as in many other newly independent nations. Loyalty to him was sincere and based on a widespread appreciation of his unique qualities. People believed in his integrity, and trusted his commitment to use the enormous resources of Abu Dhabi for the benefit of all other emirates.
The UAE's creation revealed the prospect of a greater degree of prosperity than ever before. From this point onward, Abu Dhabi's oil revenues would be channelled into the federal structure and benefit the whole community, especially those living in the northern emirates and in the desert regions. In this way, every UAE citizen began to acquire an individual stake and personal interest in the continuance and development of the new political system.
There was popular conviction that, under Shaikh Zayed's guidance, what was already being achieved in Abu Dhabi could be replicated in every other emirate.
A key strength of the new government thus lay in its genuine and broad-based support. Neither the external threat of political subversion nor an internal kernel of separatism could promise any kind of equivalent benefit. Shaikh Zayed was convinced that the people would stand by him. He believed that his role was to safeguard the future of the new nation and to fulfil the aspirations of its people.
Without Shaikh Zayed's — the ‘Father of the Nation' — energy and determination, the newly-unified nation would not have come into existence. The scale of his task was immense, as this was an area characterised by resistance to suzerain authority, with each emirate being fiercely protective of its own identity and individual character. For this reason, the initial act of federation had itself been extremely difficult to accomplish.
Next to the creation of the Federation, however, Shaikh Zayed's real challenge lay in making it work in practice. In attempting to foster a spirit of political unity, the weight of history was against him. There were no comparable precedents to serve as a reliable guide of action. But his visionary leadership made it possible.
How does a union with little chance of success develop into a model polity regionally and internationally?
Before 1971, there existed no unified state, no common institutions, and almost no political structure. The new UAE was initially hampered by a lack of state systems and structures. Paradoxically, however, this later proved to be an unexpected source of strength.
State institutions were created to meet the special needs of the new, independent UAE, rather than adapting the legacy of British administration.
For this purpose-built nation, the new system was fashioned according to one masterplan envisaged by Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who did not fear the tumultuous power of change because he believed it could be turned into a positive force for public good.