One of the world’s longest serving presidents, Shaikh Zayed dared to dream of the impossible.

The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter

Who Was Zayed?

Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born in Abu Dhabi in 1918, the fourth son of Shaikh Sultan Bin Zayed Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. He was the grandson of Shaikh Zayed Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1855-1909, in one of the longest reigns in the emirate’s history. His father was the Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926.


In 1946, Shaikh Zayed was appointed the Ruler's Representative in Al Ain. On August 6, 1966, he became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and set about building institutions such as labour, health, electricity, water and public works. In 1968, Great Britain announced that it would withdraw from the Gulf and in 1971, the United Arab Emirates was formed with Shaikh Zayed elected as the country's President.


Over the course of 33 years as President of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed provided a leadership with vision and foresight that has ensured the prosperity and wellbeing of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. It was under the leadership of Shaikh Zayed that a massive development plan was drawn up and implemented across the country.


 1975 President Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in discussion with project engineers for the construction of Maqta bridge.


Shaikh Zayed took immense interest in establishing relations beyond the UAE's borders. Unity, cooperation and peaceful bilateral relations were the principles that governed Shaikh Zayed's dealings abroad.


One of the world’s longest serving presidents, Shaikh Zayed dared to dream of the impossible. What it took to get from dream to reality were time-tested qualities of self-belief, patience, perseverance, flexibility and a sense of mission. He displayed these qualities in full measure and will remain a role model for his people and the entire Arab world. And his legacy will remain for generations to come.


Shaikh Zayed passed away on November 2, 2004.


For 33 splendid years of his presidency, the country witnessed tremendous changes from the pre-oil days to the new riches that laid the foundation of a modern country based along the lines of some of the most advanced countries of the world.


1978 Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan


Shaikh Zayed not only spearheaded the march of the country into the 21st century but also put the UAE on the world map. His astute statesmanship and negotiating skills made him popular among both Arab and world leaders. His unflinching contribution to domestic and international political affairs is a brilliant example that future generations of leaders can emulate.


Shaikh Zayed not only brought international recognition to the UAE, but also made sure the country played a positive role in world affairs. Thanks to Shaikh Zayed’s efforts, the UAE has today grown into a country that is able to play an active role in world affairs.



THE Zayed I knew

The UAE is safe. The UAE is peaceful. The UAE is clean. The UAE is prosperous. The UAE is educated. The UAE is home to thriving cities.


The United Arab Emirates exists the way that it does today, because of one man: Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, an international insignia of dignity and tolerance.2018 marks 100 years since Shaikh Zayed was born. Abu Dhabi was his birthplace, Al Ain was his home and a United Arab Emirates was his goal. The founding father was persistent and kind. He was imaginative and generous. Citizens of the UAE, saw Shaikh Zayed as more than their country’s leader. They saw him as a father. He was a father and the UAE citizens were all his children. Together, they lived under one unified roof. He was a father who celebrated his people's weddings, he would mourn at funerals and he would visit the ill in their homes to comfort them. His goals were not only to build a thriving metropolis, but to nurture a sense of self-belief among his citizens. To empower women, to educate children and to create a clean and green environment for all of us to live in.


He ruled the UAE for 33 years, provided a leadership with vision and foresight. He followed his instincts and ruled with fairness and with heart. We ventured to Al Ain. A place Zayed called home. Throughout his life, Shaikh Zayed knew many people from all over the world, but those closest to him resided in Al Ain, a peaceful region in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. We sat down with a few of the men, who were close to the late UAE president.


We spoke with his former personal photographer Falah Al Kubaisi, who revealed untold stories that emphasized Zayed’s kind heart, compassion and generosity to those in need. He told us about how Shaikh Zayed stopped by the side of the road, as he noticed three young men struggling to pick dates from a high palm tree. While other people drove by and continued on their journeys, his concern for the well-being of these three labourers caused him to stop, help them and finally order the Minister of Agriculture  to start planting short, date yielding palms, so that no one could get hurt if they were hungry and seeking sustenance.


Al Kubaisi also showed us around his majlis pointing out rare and unpublished photographs of the late Shaikh Zayed and other UAE rulers. His favourite photo was one of him looking much younger, chatting with Shaikh Zayed as they walked down a hallway with red carpets. He opened up an old suitcase and showed us hundreds of old press badges that he collected throughout the years, as he followed Zayed all over the world to photograph his official appearances. "They always like the way I photographed him, so I was invited to accompany them on press trips". Falah retired five years after Shaikh Zayed passed away.


To get a more insightful view on the history of the UAE, we sat down with famed Emirati historian and writer Hamdan Al Darei, who explained that if the discovery of oil had ended up in the wrong hands, the UAE may not have been anything like it is today.  He explained that Zayed’s strong personality, powerful instincts and the courage to do the right thing, were the reasons, he was able to adapt to the subsequent changes taking place in society, and mould the nation into what it is today.


We met Mohammad Al Shamsi, by one of the local Mosques in Al Ain. He was a close friend of the ruling family and even travelled with Zayed to India in the 1950s. He elaborated on the late Shaikh Zayed’s goodness, compassion and humanitarianism with his people here and around the world.



The Father of the Nation

When the British announced their withdrawal plans from the Gulf in 1968, Shaikh Zayed called for the formation of a union between the different emirates. Resolutely he continued pursuing this call with determination because he firmly believed only such unity would protect the emirates’ existence following the withdrawal.


Some were apprehensive about the survival of the federation, if ever established, beyond its first year.


1981 The founding summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council was held in Abu Dhabi on May 7, 1981, hosted by Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.


Yet to the surprise of sceptics, the UAE federation went on to become one of the prime examples of unity and brotherhood that has stood the test of time. Among the UAE’s remarkable achievements is the respect it commands in regional and world affairs because of Shaikh Zayed’s ability to make his fellow Arabs see the bigger picture.


Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Shaikh Rashid with rulers of Emirates at the hoisting of UAE flag on December 1971.

Shaikh Zayed’s philosophy of brotherhood extended to the Arab world. He believed Arab unity could only be achieved if differences were put aside and divisions were overcome. His ardent belief in these two factors saw him play the mediator’s role on a number of occasions.

To Shaikh Zayed’s eternal credit, the UAE became a respected voice on the world stage even though it was still a very young nation. History will count Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan among the great nation-builders of all time.




Zayed The Educator

Shaikh Zayed saw education as a lantern that lights up a person’s way in a dark alley. It is not surprising then, that education was one of the top priorities on his agenda. Though there were very few schools in the 1950s that offered basic education, it was not until the 1970s that formal education was institutionalised. Up until the 1950s, children would attend the Kuttab where they learned to read and memorise the Holy Quran, acquired basic knowledge of arithmetic and learned to read and write Arabic.


The establishment of the federation had brought about a period characterised as one that followed a systematic approach to education. In 1972, a federal law made education free and compulsory up to the primary level.Free education was offered to everyone, including the children of Arab expatriates.


Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan receives greeting from kids during visit ot Liwa.


With this new policy of eradicating illiteracy and the availability of free education in the newly formed country, a number of schools sprang up throughout the UAE. There were 148 schools with 44,272 students during the academic year 1974-75. By the late 1990s, the number of schools exceeded 600 with more than 300,000 registered students.


Later, in order to encourage students to take up jobs, the UAE government began offering free higher education. UAE University was the first institution offering higher education to nationals planning to play an active role in the development of the country. The first academic year of 1977-78 saw 502 students enrolled and 52 faculty members were employed.


Soon, other higher education institutions, including the Higher Colleges of Technology and Zayed University, followed suit.


Under Shaikh Zayed’s instructions and out of his strong belief in the importance of having a literate population, adult education was offered to every citizen who had missed out on such an opportunity in life.


As a result of this systematic strategy, the overall illiteracy rate dropped tremendously over the years.

“Shaikh Zayed's UAE is a miracle” declared actor and playwright at the the Dibba Society for Culture Arts and Theatre, Abdullah Ahmad Masoud Al Sereidi. The 42-year-old Fujairah resident was speaking to Gulf News on the impact the Founding Father has had on the UAE and its people.


“On the day of Shaikh Zayed’s death, everything stopped in the country, as if he was the ‘pulse’ of it. The public was in denial and shock, because he was a unique leader.... His decision regarding the union of the seven emirates led to the UAE’s enormous prosperity.


“As for us ... he never neglected the smaller emirates like Fujairah, and he gave it particular importance because of its rich history.”


Khamis Bin Abdullah Al Antali has been living in Dibba since birth. The 70-year-old said: “People’s lives comprised farming and seamanship, before Shaikh Zayed transformed the UAE. Before his leadership, UAE residents would sail to other Gulf countries to find jobs. One of the most significant changes during his reign were the employment opportunities generated within the country. We did not have to leave our country anymore. Instead, foreigners started coming to the UAE to find work.”


A member of the Dibba Society for Culture Arts and Theatre, he said that the community witnessed an increase in the variety of professions available. “The population no longer depended solely on pearl diving and farming. People chose to be electricians, teachers and medical staff,” he added.


Shaikh Zayed “elevated the country’s educational sector” to great heights, Ahmad Mohammad Rashid Khamis Al Kadeem Al Antali, working at the Ministry of Community Development, told Gulf News.


Shaikh Zayed initiated the country’s first ever university - UAE University - and “encouraged students from every emirate to join”, said the 52-year-old Fujairah resident.


“He provided transportation from each emirate to the institute and gave financial grants to the students.”


This enabled Al Antali to get his bachelor’s degree from the UAE University in Al Ain, despite hailing from Dibba, Fujairah.


“I specifically witnessed monumental progress regarding educational facilities, in the city of Dibba. Shaikh Zayed built schools in inaccessible mountainous areas, for both girls and boys.


“He encouraged everyone to get an education and this helped women achieve greater equality,” he added.


Recalling a personal encounter with Shaikh Zayed at his university’s graduation ceremony, Al Antali said: “He shook each student’s hand and encouraged them to pursue further education.”

Thanks to Shaikh Zayed’s untiring efforts, a considerable part of the desert has been made productive. Many in the world consider the UAE to be an arid country but the truth here is different. Traditional agriculture, involving the cultivation and export of dates has been practised for years. Thankfully, underground water has always been a major source of sustenance for this activity. Later, with the discovery of oil, the country adapted an aggressive plan for the greening of the land.


There are certain areas in the UAE specialising in agricultural products. These are Al Ain, Al Dhaid and Ras Al Khaimah. More than 600,000 tons of fresh vegetables including lettuce, cabbage, cucumber and tomatoes are produced each season.


The government has followed a policy of supporting farmers as an incentive for implementing its plan of a green land. A number of farmers have been allotted land, seeds, equipment and machinery, as well as advice on pest control.


More than 18 million palm trees were planted under a beautification campaign all over the UAE. This was in addition to the more than 10 million trees lining various streets and highways of the emirates. Earlier, in 1977, the cultivated land had accounted for only 15,050 hectares but by the mid-90s, the number reached 54,500 hectares.


Meanwhile, long patches of green were created in the desert. Al Jurf, located 100km northeast of Abu Dhabi, stands witness to such efforts. More than a million-and-a-half palm trees, covering an area of 8,000 hectares, were also planted.


“Many years ago, scientists told us that it was not possible to develop agriculture in this land of ours. We told them that we would try and that if Almighty Allah so willed, with determination, we would succeed. We have proved the scientists wrong and the results are now visible all around us,” Shaikh Zayed once said.


Agricultural research too formed a part of the green drive. Such research has been able to successfully create plants that can survive the country’s harsh weather and the saline groundwater as part of the Shaikh Zayed International Project for Agricultural and Environmental research. Experimental farms were also set up in Kalba, Dhaid and Al Ain.


Besides dates, greenhouse products like citrus fruits, potatoes, celery, mangoes, melons and papayas are also grown. In the early 1990s, agricultural output was estimated at a value of Dh2.5 billion. Fresh products are sold mainly in the local market, while the surplus is exported to Western countries.


Zayed's Religion Of Love

Shaikh Zayed was a strong supporter of charitable causes right from his early days. Even before the discovery of oil when resources were extremely limited, he made it a point to assist those in need regardless of his limited source of income. He believed in the Islamic principle of helping fellow humans in need, a virtue, which he practised throughout his life.

 In order to streamline the functioning of his vast charitable projects in the UAE and abroad, Shaikh Zayed ordered the establishment of the Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, which carries out philanthropic activities in a number of areas all over the world. The Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation was established in 1992 with a billion-dollar capital.


The foundation donates large sums of money to build mosques and supports Islamic centres for the memorisation of the Holy Quran. It also grants money to build hospitals besides providing medical facilities and equipment. The foundation finances a number of academic, educational and cultural institutions. By the end of 1996, six million dirhams were allocated for the purchase of medical equipment for different hospitals within the UAE.

Compiled by:

Dona Cherian, Writer - Guides

Meher Murshed, Online Editor

Anupa Kurian-Murshed Social Media Editor

Videos and reporting by:

Yousra Zaki, Deputy Editor - Guides

Sanya Nayeem, Deputy Social Media Editor

Rabab Khan, Community Interactivity Editor

Huda Tabrez, Community Web Editor

Manuel Almario, Community Editor

Evangeline Elsa, Community Solutions Editor

Shreya Bhatia, Community Interactivity Journalist

Falah Gulzar, Social Media Trainee


Web design and motion graphics:

Jacob Hernandez, Senior Digital Designer



Copyright  © 2018 Gulf News / Al NIsr Publishing L.L.C.. All rights reserved.

Copyright  © 2018 Gulf News / Al NIsr Publishing L.L.C.. All rights reserved


The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter

The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter

The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter

The Balfour Declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter