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Remembering Sheikh Zayed: The man who built the UAE

Exactly 100 years ago, the person who was destined to transform a backwater hamlet into a vibrant country was born in Abu Dhabi's Qasr Al Hosn.


Celebrated as 'the man who turned the desert green', the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan went on to become the Founding Father of the UAE and one of the world's most approachable leaders.


Named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan ('Zayed the Great') -  who was the symbol of justice, generosity and courage - Sheikh Zayed grew up in a family of leaders and became a visionary who dedicated his life for the improvement of the country in particular and humanity in general.

At the time of Sheikh Zayed's birth, the emirate was undeveloped, with an economy based primarily on fishing, pearl diving and simple agriculture. As a young adult, he travelled throughout Abu Dhabi, gaining a deep understanding of the land and its people. It was Sheikh Zayed's vision that has made the UAE what it is today - a happy land full of opportunities.

His biggest achievement is the unification of the seven emirates into a single federation and transforming it into a modern country. A voice of modernism, the late Sheikh Zayed relentlessly worked to develop cooperation between the seven Trucial States (as the UAE was called before the unification) and it was through his vision that modernisation of the UAE was achieved without the destruction of society, traditions and culture.

The 1968-71 period was probably one of the most difficult of his career, as he cajoled, persuaded, forgave and promoted the creation of a federation that became the UAE on December 2, 1971. While he promoted equestrianism, camel racing and hunting on one side, on the other, he also encouraged citizens to develop themselves through education. He wanted the youth to educate themselves highly, seek employment and benefit the society.    
Lesser known facts about the man who built the UAE

> Sheikh Zayed was named after his grandfather, Zayed the Great or Zayed the First, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1855 to 1909.

> The first words chanted in his ears as soon as he was born were those from Surah Al Fatiha from the Holy Quran.

> In Al Ain, he worked with the tribesmen to construct and restore the falaj, the traditional water supply.

> He privately paid for construction and annual running costs of hundreds of schools, orphanages and hospitals, in dozens of developing and third world nations. He personally had adopted more than 1,000 orphans since the early 1970s.

> He managed a reclamation project which turned 25 square kilometres of barren desert into farmland in just 12 months. On his orders, some 12 million trees were planted on 60,000 hectares of land in Abu Dhabi alone.

> He distributed over $1 billion to worthy causes in just five years between 1973 and 1977.

> He passed away at the age of 86 and his burial place is found in the courtyard of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Zayed speak

On nation building

"We look forward to see our sons and daughters play a more active role in the future. They should participate in development process by sharing responsibilities, especially in private sector, so as to lay foundations for the success."

On the system of governance

"Our system of government is based on our religion, and it is what our people want. Should they seek alternatives, we are ready to listen to them. We are all in the same boat, and they (people) are both captain and crew."

On nurturing the desert

"They used to say that agriculture has no future [in the UAE ]. But with God's blessing and our determination, we have succeeded in transforming this desert into a greenland."

On non-oil economy

"We must not rely on oil alone as the main source of our national income. We have to diversify the sources of our revenue and construct economic projects that will ensure a free, stable and dignified life for the people."

On expatriates in the UAE

"The livelihood is from God, the money is God's, the land is God's, the grace is God's, we are all God's creation, and he who has trusted God will never be failed, and those who come to us are welcome."

On religion and world peace

"Islam desists violence practised by terrorists who kill their brethren and commit all despicable actions under the shelter of religion.  Islam dissociates itself strictly from these people and their actions."

On the formation of union

"Our experiment in federation, in the first instance, arose from a desire to increase the ties that bind us, as well as from the conviction of everyone that they were part of one family, ?and that they must gather under one leadership."

On wealth and Education

"Every individual has to perform his duty. Man is mortal, but his work is not. Therefore, work is greater than wealth. The real asset of any advanced nation is its people. The prosperity of the people is measured by the standard of their education."

On human capabilities

"The real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit. The able man with his intellect and capabilities can protect these foundations and who can progress and develop with them.

On the new generation

"The new generation should be aware of the suffering of their ancestors. This awareness will provide them with drive, firmness and solidity in order to complete the epic of construction and development initiated by our fathers and ancestors."

On investing

in citizens"I have a strong belief that the UAE citizen is the (main) resource of the country and the pillar of civilisation. Our achievements will be of no value without an educated generation. Hence, manpower should precede development in all other sectors."

On the need for change

"We must move with the times. We have already missed a lot but now we can't afford to let go any opportunity that comes our way. We may make mistakes but that shouldn't stop us from taking up the challenges and carrying on with our march to success." 

Source: khaleejtimes

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