Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is remembered for his visionary leadership that transformed the nation into a prosperous and modern country. As the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 2004 and the first president of the UAE from 1971 until he died in 2004, Sheikh Zayed’s remarkable achievements have left a lasting legacy in the region and beyond.
Under Sheikh Zayed’s guidance, the UAE experienced a dramatic development in infrastructure, healthcare, education, and economic growth. He prioritized the need for a robust and modern living environment for his people, constructing housing facilities, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, airports and seaports.
Through his strategic vision and unwavering dedication, the UAE’s per capita GDP soared, ranking it 4th globally and surpassing some of the wealthiest European nations.
In addition to the remarkable economic and infrastructure development, Sheikh Zayed was a great advocate for culture, unity, and peace. His endeavours continue to inspire and significantly contribute to the UAE’s diverse and multicultural society.
The impressive achievements of the late Sheikh Zayed are a testament to his unwavering commitment to the people and a bright future for the United Arab Emirates.
Achievements of Sheikh Zayed
Let’s explore one by one.
1. Early Life and Ascension
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, born around 1918 into the influential Nahyan family in Abu Dhabi, ascended to power as the Emir of Abu Dhabi in 1966 after the passing of his brother.
Birth in the Nahyan Family
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born around 1918 in Abu Dhabi, a member of the prominent Nahyan family. He was the youngest of four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1922 until he died. Growing up in this influential family, Sheikh Zayed developed a deep understanding of his native land, its people, and leadership responsibilities
Starting as the Ruler’s Representative
Before becoming the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed gained valuable experience by serving as the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
In this role, he demonstrated his commitment to the people and showed a keen ability to work towards improving his region. He focused on developing infrastructure, encouraging education, and improving living conditions for the local population.
Becoming the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi
In 1966, following the death of his brother, Sheikh Zayed assumed the Emir of Abu Dhabi role with the support of other members of the Nahyan family.
As the leader of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan embarked on a project of extraordinary development, transforming the Emirate into a modern, prosperous region.
Under visionary leadership, Sheikh Zayed introduced a structured government system with departments that handle specific tasks.
He invested in housing facilities, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, an airport, and a seaport, laying the foundation for the prosperous, modern Abu Dhabi we see today.
Beyond the physical advancements, Sheikh Zayed focused on social, cultural, and environmental initiatives to ensure a balanced and holistic development for the Emirate, ultimately shaping the United Arab Emirates and leaving a lasting impact on the nation.
2. The Union and Presidency
In 1971, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan played a pivotal role in uniting the seven emirates to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and subsequently became its first President, setting the nation on a path of progress and development.
Formation of United Arab Emirates
In 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed as a federation of seven Emirates, initiated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi at the time. His dedication to unification significantly brought the Emirates together under a robust and cohesive leadership.
Sheikh Zayed realized that the union of these diverse territories would provide their people with socio-economic development and stability. Uniting the Emirates was difficult, but Sheikh Zayed’s diplomatic skills, patience, and determination laid the foundation for the country’s growth and success.
Elected as the President
As a result of his considerable efforts and contributions to the formation of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed was chosen as the first President of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.
Under his leadership, the UAE embarked on a journey towards progress and modernization, focusing on infrastructure development, education, healthcare, and economic diversification. Sheikh Zayed ruled the country for 33 years and continued to serve as the Emir of Abu Dhabi until his passing in 2004.
Throughout his presidency, Sheikh Zayed dedicated himself to ensuring the welfare of his people and promoting a prosperous and tolerant society.
Under his vision, the UAE emerged as an influential player on the global stage, fostering strong diplomatic ties with countries worldwide. Zayed’s legacy as the first President of the UAE endures today as the government continues to thrive and reach new heights of success.
3. Leading with Vision
Leading with extraordinary vision, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan laid the foundation for a united UAE and fostered a society that harmoniously integrated traditional values with modern advancements, propelling the nation to global prominence.
Sheikh Zayed was a transformational leader who played a significant role in the political affairs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As the President of the UAE from 1971 to 2004 and emir of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 2004, he displayed remarkable vision and commitment to the unity of the seven emirates. This unity has made the UAE one of the world’s top 10 most competitive nations.
In administering the nation, Sheikh Zayed introduced a formal government structure with departments developed to handle specific tasks.
He was responsible for constructing housing facilities, schools, health services, an airport, a seaport, roads, and bridges, essential infrastructure for the progress and development of the UAE.
Under his leadership, the UAE became an exemplary fusion of Islam with modern technology. It integrated Western technological advancements within its traditional cultural framework, successfully creating a unique lifestyle that attracted global attention.
Sheikh Zayed’s vision went beyond political and administrative affairs, as he was committed to ensuring social progress within the UAE. His dedication to education and social development was evident through the institutions he established and the resources he allocated towards these sectors.
His visionary leadership has often been compared to other notable figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, given its transformative impact on the UAE’s progress. Throughout his tenure, Sheikh Zayed remained focused on leadership, vision, service, administration, and improvement to improve the UAE’s landscape.
4. Investments in Education and Healthcare
Recognizing the pivotal role of education and healthcare, Sheikh Zayed prioritized substantial investments in these sectors, propelling the UAE towards a future of knowledge and well-being for its citizens.
Schools and Universities
Sheikh Zayed recognized the importance of education for the development of the UAE, and as the country’s ruler, he prioritized the construction of schools and universities.
With a focus on providing quality education, his vision led to the establishment of numerous educational institutions that cater to the diverse needs of the nation’s population.
The UAE’s spending on education accounts for a significant portion of the federal budget, reflecting Sheikh Zayed’s belief in the value of education for sustainable development.
Over the years, Sheikh Zayed facilitated partnerships with international universities to provide world-class education to Emirati students.
Cooperation between the UAE and Egypt in higher education and scientific research is one example of his efforts to strengthen the UAE’s position in the global education sector.
Hospitals and Health Services
Sheikh Zayed also understood the importance of healthcare for the well-being of his people. As part of his commitment to improving the quality of life in the UAE, he invested heavily in developing hospitals and health services.
The nation’s spending on healthcare mirrored that of the education sector, with a significant proportion of the federal budget allocated to this critical area. This significant investment in healthcare has provided state-of-the-art facilities and comprehensive health services catering to the population’s diverse needs.
Under Sheikh Zayed’s leadership, the UAE became a leading player in international healthcare, garnering recognition for its high-quality medical facilities and services. This dedication to healthcare improvement showcases his commitment to his country’s citizens and sets an example for other nations striving to improve the health and well-being of their people.
5. Promoting Tolerance and Equality
Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s visionary leader, championed tolerance and equality, fostering a society where diverse faiths and cultures coexist harmoniously while advocating for women’s empowerment and active participation in various domains.
UAE’s Faith Diversity
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has always been an advocate for tolerance and equality. During his 33-year leadership, he built a society wherein different faiths and cultures could coexist harmoniously.
The UAE is home to a sizeable expatriate population, including Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other faiths. This diversity in faith and culture has flourished due in part to Sheikh Zayed’s strong support for equitable treatment and respect for all, regardless of background and religion. Sheikh Zayed’s vision for tolerance has become a vital tenet of the nation’s identity.
Role of Emirati Women
In addition to fostering religious tolerance, Sheikh Zayed advocated for Emirati women’s empowerment and equality. Under his guidance, the UAE made significant strides in women’s rights and participation in various sectors.
- Education: Sheikh Zayed emphasized the importance of education for both men and women, leading the UAE to achieve a high female literacy rate.
- Workforce participation: Emirati women have gained increased opportunities in the workforce, including leadership positions in government and private sectors.
- Political representation: Women in the UAE hold positions in the Federal National Council and other high-level government bodies, ensuring their active involvement in decision-making processes.
With his deep-rooted beliefs in tolerance and equality, Sheikh Zayed transformed the UAE into a modern, progressive nation built on respect and peace. His legacy remains a critical driving force for the country’s development and a model for other nations.
6. Economic Developments
Sheikh Zayed strategically utilized oil revenues to diversify and bolster the UAE’s economy, investing in sectors like tourism, finance, and renewable energy, transforming the nation into a global economic powerhouse with robust infrastructure and sustainable growth.
Oil Revenues and Economy
The discovery of oil in the 1950s was a turning point for the Emirates’ transformation under Sheikh Zayed’s leadership. He strategically used the oil revenues to diversify and strengthen the economy. By reinvesting in various sectors such as tourism, finance, and renewable energy, he ensured more sustainable economic growth for the region. As a result, the UAE became a global economic powerhouse, attracting investments and businesses worldwide.
Sheikh Zayed prioritized the development of the nation’s infrastructure to foster economic growth. He was instrumental in constructing housing facilities, schools, and health services to improve the living standards of the citizens. He also oversaw the development of vital transportation networks, including the expansion of the airport, seaport, roads, and bridges, which facilitated trade and enhanced connectivity between the emirates.
Under his vision, the UAE transformed from a collection of Trucial States to a modern and thriving nation. The infrastructure developments during his time as ruler laid the foundation for the UAE’s continued growth and success in the years to come.
7. Cultural and Heritage Preservation
Sheikh Zayed championed the preservation of cultural and natural heritage, establishing conservation initiatives, fostering the traditional Majlis gatherings, and promoting investments in essential public services, ensuring the UAE’s rich cultural legacy endures for future generations.
Sheikh Zayed was an advocate for preserving cultural and natural heritage. He established numerous environmental and cultural conservation initiatives throughout the United Arab Emirates. One such initiative was the founding of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, the federal agency responsible for building and maintaining mosques in the UAE. Approximately 4,818 mosques have been constructed, including the historic Al Bidya Mosque in Fujairah and the awe-inspiring Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
Falconry, an ancient practice deeply rooted in the Emirati culture, saw a renaissance under Sheikh Zayed’s leadership. He brought to the front the importance of this age-old tradition, ensuring its longevity by championing conservation efforts to protect birds of prey and their natural habitats.
In addition to preserving and promoting the regional culture, Sheikh Zayed emphasized the importance of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of the country’s citizens and residents. This was evident in the design and purpose of the UAE’s National Pavilion, which welcomed visitors worldwide during Expo 2020 Dubai and showcased the diverse cultural tapestry that Sheikh Zayed worked tirelessly to protect.
Promotion of Culture
Under Sheikh Zayed’s far-sighted vision, cultural heritage played a vital role in shaping the national identity of the UAE. An integral part of Emirati culture, the Majlis, or the traditional social gathering, flourished during his reign. Majlis gatherings provided a platform for discussing various topics, encouraging exchanging ideas on cultural and social importance, and fostering a sense of unity and community cohesion.
Sheikh Zayed also made significant investments in infrastructure development for education, healthcare, and other essential public services, allowing the UAE’s cultural and heritage legacies to remain accessible and imparted to future generations.
8. Philanthropic and Humanitarian Works
Sheikh Zayed’s philanthropic legacy extends globally, as he instilled a culture of generosity and established charitable organizations, exemplifying the UAE’s commitment to humanitarian aid and providing substantial support to those in need both within and internationally.
Charity and Generosity
Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, was widely recognized for his philanthropic and humanitarian efforts. He established a strong sense of generosity and compassion in UAE’s culture, leading the nation to become a global force in charitable giving.
Sheikh Zayed’s charitable work transcended religious, national, and geographical boundaries, making him an icon of international humanitarian work.
Under his leadership, several UAE governmental and semi-governmental development, humanitarian, and charity organizations were created, along with private sector and individual contributions to provide aid domestically and internationally. His dedication to assisting those in need was rooted in his belief in justice and fairness for all, regardless of nationality or background.
As a result of Sheikh Zayed’s directives, the UAE’s international humanitarian aid reached a remarkable level. By the end of 2000, the UAE had provided over Dh98 billion in humanitarian assistance globally, significantly impacting needy nations. Furthermore, UAE’s service has continued after Sheikh Zayed’s passing, in line with his solid humanitarian legacy.
The UAE has offered aid in various sectors, including healthcare, education, infrastructure, and emergency response to artificial and natural disasters. Countries impacted by conflicts and natural disasters have received support through monetary aid, food, clothing, and essentials to alleviate their suffering.
In conclusion, Sheikh Zayed’s commitment to philanthropy and humanitarian work has left a lasting impact on the UAE and touched the lives of countless individuals worldwide. His legacy continues to be an inspiration for future generations of leaders.
9. Legacy and Honours
Sheikh Zayed’s enduring legacy encompasses a commitment to justice, tolerance, and development, leaving an indelible mark on the UAE’s growth, honoured through the “Year of Zayed” initiative, celebrating his values and contributions that continue to shape the nation’s identity and inspire future generations.
Sheikh Zayed’s Values
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was a visionary leader whose values and accomplishments left an indelible mark on the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He championed justice, fairness, and tolerance, creating a solid foundation for the country’s development.
His significant achievements include establishing a formal government structure and constructing housing facilities, schools, health services, airports, seaports, roads, and bridges. Sheikh Zayed’s dedication to the welfare of his people also led to significant improvements in the UAE’s per capita GDP, ranking 4th globally and surpassing countries like Switzerland.
Under Sheikh Zayed’s leadership, Abu Dhabi flourished, and he strategically planned short-, medium-, and long-term goals for the Emirate’s development. His focus on creating an equitable society and investing in infrastructure significantly contributed to the UAE’s modernization.
Today, Sheikh Zayed’s justice, fairness, and tolerance values continue to shape the UAE’s national identity.
Year of Zayed
In honour of Sheikh Zayed Ibn Sultan Al Nahyan’s remarkable legacy, the UAE’s government announced 2018 as the “Year of Zayed”. This initiative commemorated the 100th anniversary of Sheikh Zayed’s birth and aimed to highlight his values, achievements, and humanitarian contributions within and around the UAE.
The Year of Zayed he consisted of a series of events, initiatives, and programmes showcasing his vision and underscoring his values’ importance for future generations.
During the Year of Zayed, various sectors in the UAE launched campaigns, awards, and collaborations to celebrate his humanitarian legacy, including the Sheikh Zayed Sustainability Award, the Zayed Humanitarian Library, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center’s “Cultural Iftar” program.
These endeavours not only promoted Sheikh Zayed’s wisdom and benevolence but also aimed to inspire citizens and residents of the UAE to carry forward his vision for unity, progress, and prosperity.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), leaves a profound and enduring legacy as a visionary leader and statesman whose remarkable achievements have indelibly shaped the UAE into a prosperous, modern nation.
Guided by his unwavering commitment to the welfare and progress of his people, Sheikh Zayed orchestrated a monumental transformation, spearheading unprecedented development in infrastructure, healthcare, education, and economic growth. His foresight elevated the UAE to the global stage, ranking 4th in per capita GDP, a testament to his strategic vision.
Beyond economic triumphs, Sheikh Zayed championed unity, peace, and cultural harmony, embracing diversity and fostering a society where various faiths and cultures coexist harmoniously. He fervently advocated women’s empowerment, education, and social progress, recognizing their pivotal role in nation-building.
Sheikh Zayed’s impact extended globally through his humanitarian endeavours, embodying the values of generosity, compassion, and international solidarity. His legacy lives on through the “Year of Zayed” initiative and a nation that continues to draw inspiration from his principles of justice, fairness, and tolerance.
In honouring Sheikh Zayed’s values and contributions, the UAE pays homage to a leader whose legacy transcends borders, offering hope and a roadmap to progress for future generations.