He has been called, rightly, the ‘Father of the Nation’, for, in nearly sixty years of involvement in Government, he laid the foundations for the state of today, now ably guided along the path he prepared by his son and successor, President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. No assessment of the UAE’s achievements today can overlook his role.
Born around 1918 in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed was the youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. He was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909. Abu Dhabi, like the other emirates of the southern Arabian Gulf, was then in treaty relations with Britain.
The emirate was poor and undeveloped and life, even for members of the ruling family, was simple. In 1926, a family conclave selected Sheikh Shakhbut, Sheikh Sultan’s eldest son, to become Ruler. He held the post until August 1966, when he stepped down in favour of his brother Zayed.
As Sheikh Zayed grew to manhood, he displayed a thirst for knowledge that took him out into the desert to learn about the way of life of the people. He recalled with pleasure his initiation into the sport of falconry, a lifelong passion.
In a book published in 1977, Sheikh Zayed noted that the companionship of a hunting party . . . permits each and every member of the expedition to speak freely and express his ideas and viewpoints without inhibition and restraint, and allows the one responsible to acquaint himself with the wishes of his people, to know their problems and perceive their views accurately, and thus to be in a position to help and improve their situation.”
In 1946, Sheikh Zayed was chosen as Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, centred on the oasis of Al Ain. This enabled him to learn the techniques of government as well as deepening his knowledge of the tribes. He brought to his new task a firm belief in the values of consultation and consensus and he swiftly established himself as someone who had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve.