6 August 1999, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
completed 33 years as Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi,
one of the seven emirates that together comprise the Federation
of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), of which he has also
been President since its creation in December 1971. Having
first served in government in 1946 as Ruler's Representative
in Abu Dhabi's Eastern Region based in the inland oasis
of Al Ain, Sheikh Zayed has now provided leadership to the
country for well over half a century.
around 1918 (the date is uncertain), Sheikh Zayed is the
youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, 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, the longest reign in the three centuries since
the Al Nahyan family emerged as leaders of the Emirate of
Dhabi, like the other emirates of the southern Arabian Gulf
known as the Trucial States, was then in treaty relations
with Britain. At the time Sheikh Zayed was born the emirate
was poor and undeveloped, with an economy based primarily
on fishing and pearl diving along the coast and offshore
and on simple agriculture in scattered oases inland.
even for a young member of the ruling family, was simple.
Education was primarily confined to the provision of instruction
in the principles of Islam from the local preacher, while
modern facilities such as roads, communications and health
care were conspicuous only by their absence. Transport was
by camel or by boat, and the harshness of the arid climate
meant that survival itself was often a major concern.
1928, following the death of Sheikh Sultan's successor,
a family conclave selected as Ruler Sheikh Shakhbut, Sultan's
eldest son, a post he was to hold until August 1966 when
he stepped down in favour of his brother Zayed.
the late 1920s and 1930s, as Sheikh Zayed grew to manhood
he displayed an early thirst for knowledge that took him
out into the desert with the bedu tribesmen to learn all
he could about the way of life of the people and the environment
in which they lived. He recalls with pleasure his experience
of desert life and his initiation into the sport of falconry,
which has been a lifelong passion.
In his book, Falconry: Our Arab Heritage, published in 1977,
Sheikh Zayed noted that the companionship of a hunting party:
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.
his desert journeys, Sheikh Zayed learned to understand
the relationship between man and his environment and in
particular, the need to ensure that sustainable use was
made of natural resources. Once an avid shot, he abandoned
the gun for falconry at the age of 25, aware that hunting
with a gun could lead rapidly to extinction of the native
travels in the remoter areas of Abu Dhabi provided Sheikh
Zayed with a deep understanding both of the country and
of its people. In the early 1930s, when the first oil company
teams arrived to carry out preliminary surface geological
surveys, he was assigned by his brother the task of guiding
them around the desert. At the same time he obtained his
first exposure to the industry that was later to have such
a great effect upon the country.
Sheikh Zayed was chosen to fill a vacancy as the Ruler's
Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, centred
on the oasis of Al Ain, approximately 160 kilometres east
of the island of Abu Dhabi itself. Inhabited continuously
for at least 5,000 years, the oasis had nine villages, six
of which belonged to Abu Dhabi, and three, including Buraimi,
by which name the oasis was also known, belonged to the
Sultanate of Oman. The job included the task of not only
administering the six villages, but the whole of the adjacent
desert region, providing Sheikh Zayed with an opportunity
to learn the techniques of government. In the late 1940s
and early 1950s when Saudi Arabia put forward territorial
claims to Buraimi he also gained experience of politics
on a broader scale.
Zayed brought to his new task a firm belief in the values
of consultation and consensus, in contrast to confrontation.
Foreign visitors, such as the British explorer Sir Wilfred
Thesiger, who first met him at this time, noted with approbation
that his judgements 'were distinguished by their astute
insights, wisdom and fairness'.
Zayed swiftly established himself not only as someone who
had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve for the
people of Al Ain, but also as someone who led by example.
task in the early years in Al Ain was that of stimulating
the local economy, which was largely based on agriculture.
To do this, he ensured that the subterranean water channels,
or falajes (aflaj), were dredged and personally financed
the construction of a new one, taking part in the strenuous
labour that was involved.
ordered a revision of local water ownership rights to ensure
a more equitable distribution, surrendering the rights of
his own family as an example to others. The consequent expansion
of the area under cultivation in turn generated more income
for the residents of Al Ain, helping to re-establish the
oasis as a predominant economic centre throughout a wide
development gradually beginning to get under way, Sheikh
Zayed commenced the laying out of a visionary city plan,
and, in a foretaste of the massive afforestation programme
of today, he also ordered the planting of ornamental trees
that now, grown to maturity, have made Al Ain one of the
greenest cities in Arabia.
Sheikh Zayed made his first visit abroad, accompanying his
brother Shakhbut to Britain and France. He recalled later
how impressed he had been by the schools and hospitals he
visited, becoming determined that his own people should
have the benefit of similar facilities:
were a lot of dreams I was dreaming about our land catching
up with the modern world, but I was not able to do anything
because I did not have the wherewithal in my hands to achieve
these dreams. I was sure, however, that one day they would
constraints through lack of government revenues, Sheikh
Zayed succeeded in bringing progress to Al Ain, establishing
the rudiments of an administrative machinery, personally
funding the first modern school in the emirate and coaxing
relatives and friends to contribute towards small-scale
the export of Abu Dhabis first cargo of crude oil
to the world market in 1962 was to provide Sheikh Zayed
with the means to fund his dreams. Although prices for crude
oil were then far lower than they are today, the rapidly
growing volume of exports revolutionised the economy of
Abu Dhabi and its people began to look forward eagerly to
some of the benefits that were already being enjoyed by
their near-neighbours in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia. The pearling industry had finally come to an end
shortly after the Second World War, and little had emerged
to take its place. Indeed, during the late 1950s and early
1960s, many of the people of Abu Dhabi left for other oil-producing
Gulf states where there were opportunities for employment.
economic hardships faced by Abu Dhabi since the 1930s had
accustomed the Ruler, Sheikh Shakhbut, to a cautious frugality.
Despite the growing aspirations of his people for progress,
he was reluctant to invest the new oil revenues in development.
Attempts by members of his family, including Sheikh Zayed,
and by the leaders of the other tribes in the emirate to
persuade him to move with the times were unsuccessful, and
eventually the Al Nahyan family decided that the time had
come for him to step down. The record of Sheikh Zayed over
the previous 20 years in Al Ain and his popularity among
the people made him the obvious choice as successor.
August 1966 Sheikh Zayed became Ruler, with a mandate from
his family to press ahead as fast as possible with the development
of Abu Dhabi.
a man in a hurry. His years in Al Ain had not only given
him experience in government, but had also provided him
with the time to develop a vision of how the emirate could
progress. With revenues growing year by year as oil production
increased, he was determined to use them in the service
of the people and a massive programme of construction of
schools, housing, hospitals and roads got rapidly under
first few weeks as Ruler, Sheikh Zayed has said:
the picture was prepared. It was not a matter of fresh thinking,
but of simply putting into effect the thoughts of years
and years. First I knew we had to concentrate on Abu Dhabi
and public welfare. In short, we had to obey the circumstances:
the needs of the people as a whole. Second, I wanted to
approach other emirates to work with us. In harmony, in
some sort of federation, we could follow the example of
other developing countries.
Dhabi embarked on development, Sheikh Zayed also turned
his attention rapidly to the building of closer relations
with the other emirates:
is the way to power, the way to strength, the way to well-being,'
he felt. 'Lesser entities have no standing in the world
today, and so has it ever been in history.'
early step was to increase contributions to the Trucial
States Development Fund established a few years earlier
by the British; Abu Dhabi soon became its largest donor.
At the beginning of 1968, when the British announced their
intention of withdrawing from the Arabian Gulf by the end
of 1971, Sheikh Zayed acted swiftly to initiate moves towards
a closer relationship with the other emirates.
with the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al
Maktoum, who was to become Vice-President and Prime Minister
of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed took the lead in calling for a
federation that would include not only the seven emirates
that together made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar
and Bahrain. When early hopes of a federation of nine states
eventually foundered, with Qatar and Bahrain opting to preserve
their separate status, Sheikh Zayed led his fellow Rulers
in agreement on the establishment of the UAE, which formally
emerged on to the international stage on 2 December 1971.
his enthusiasm for federation - clearly displayed by his
willingness to spend the oil revenues of Abu Dhabi on the
development of the other emirates - was a key factor in
the formation of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed also won support
for the way in which he sought consensus and agreement among
his brother Rulers:
not imposing unity on anyone. That is tyranny. All of us
have our opinions, and these opinions can change. Sometimes
we put all opinions together, and then extract from them
a single point of view. This is our democracy.
Zayed was elected by his fellow Rulers as the first President
of the UAE, a post to which he has been successively re-elected
at five-yearly intervals.
new state came into being at a time of political turmoil
in the region. A couple of days earlier, on the night of
30 November and early morning of 1 December, Iran had forcibly
and unlawfully seized the islands of Abu Musa, part of Sharjah,
and Greater and Lesser Tunb.
demarcation of the borders between the individual emirates
and its neighbours had not been completed, although a preliminary
agreement had already been reached between Abu Dhabi and
observers, lacking an understanding of the importance of
a common history and heritage in bringing together the people
of the UAE, predicted that the new state would survive only
with difficulty, pointing to disputes with its neighbours
and to the wide disparity in the size, population and level
of development of the seven emirates.
informed about the nature of the country, Sheikh Zayed was
naturally more optimistic. Looking back a quarter of a century
later, he noted:
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 all that they were part of one family,
and that they must gather together under one leadership.
never (previously) had an experiment in federation, but
our proximity to each other and the ties of blood relationships
between us are factors which led us to believe that we must
establish a federation that should compensate for the disunity
and fragmentation that earlier prevailed.
which has been accomplished has exceeded all our expectations,
and that, with the help of Allah and a sincere will, confirms
that there is nothing that cannot be achieved in the service
of the people if determination is firm and intentions are
predictions of the pessimists at the time of the formation
of the UAE have indeed been clearly proven to be unfounded.
Over the course of the past 28 years, the UAE has not only
survived, but has developed at a rate that is almost without
parallel. The country has been utterly transformed. Its
population has risen from around 250,000 to a 1999 estimate
of 2.94 million. Progress, in terms of the provision of
social services, health and education, as well as in sectors
such as communications and the oil and non-oil economy,
has brought a high standard of living that has spread throughout
the seven emirates, from the ultra-modern cities to the
remotest areas of the desert and mountains. The change has,
moreover, taken place against a backdrop of enviable political
and social stability, despite the insecurity and conflict
that has dogged much of the rest of the Gulf region.
same time, the country has also established itself firmly
on the international scene, both within the Gulf and Arab
region and in the broader community of nations. Its pursuit
of dialogue and consensus and its firm adherence to the
tenets of the Charter of the United Nations, in particular
those dealing with the principle of non-interference in
the affairs of other states, have been coupled with a quiet
but extensive involvement in the provision of development
assistance and humanitarian aid that, in per capita terms,
has few parallels.
is no doubt that the experiment in federation has been a
success and the undoubted key to the achievements of the
UAE has been the central role played by Sheikh Zayed.
his years in Al Ain, he was able to develop a vision of
how the country should progress, and, since becoming first
Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and then President of the UAE, he has
devoted more than three decades into making that vision
foundation of his philosophy as a leader and statesman is
that the resources of the country should be fully utilised
to the benefit of the people. The UAE is fortunate to have
been blessed with massive reserves of oil and gas and it
is through careful utilisation of these, including the decision
in 1973 that the Government should take a controlling share
of the oil reserves and assume total ownership of associated
and non-associated gas, that the financial resources necessary
to underpin the development programme have always been available.
Indeed, there has been sufficient to permit the Government
to set aside large amounts for investment on behalf of future
generations and, through the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority
created by Sheikh Zayed, the country now has reserves unofficially
estimated at around US $200 billion.
financial resources, however, have always been regarded
by Sheikh Zayed not as a means unto themselves, but as a
tool to facilitate the development of what he believes to
be the real wealth of the country - its people, and in particular
the younger generation:
is not money. Wealth lies in men. That is where true power
lies, the power that we value. They are the shield behind
which we seek protection. This is what has convinced us
to direct all our resources to building the individual,
and to using the wealth with which God has provided us in
the service of the nation, so that it may grow and prosper.
Unless wealth is used in conjunction with knowledge to plan
for its use, and unless there are enlightened intellects
to direct it, its fate is to diminish and to disappear.
The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest
it in creating generations of educated and trained people.
the graduation ceremony of the first class of students from
the Emirates University in 1982, Sheikh Zayed said:
building of mankind is difficult and hard. It represents,
however, the real wealth [of the country]. This is not found
in material wealth. It is made up of men, of children and
of future generations. It is this which constitutes the
real treasure. Within this framework, Sheikh Zayed believes
that all of the country's citizens have a role to play in
he defines it not simply as a right, but a duty. Addressing
his colleagues in the Federal Supreme Council, he noted:
most important of our duties as Rulers is to raise the standard
of living of our people. To carry out one's duty is a responsibility
given by Allah, and to follow up on work is the responsibility
of everyone, both the old and the young.
men and women, he believes, should play their part. Recognising
that in the past a lack of education and development had
prevented women taking a full role in much of the activity
of society, he has taken action to ensure that this situation
does not continue.
women's advocates might argue that there is still much to
be done, the achievements have been remarkable and the country's
women are now increasingly playing their part in political
and economic life by taking up senior positions in the public
and private sectors. In so doing, they have enjoyed full
support from the President:
have the right to work everywhere. Islam affords to women
their rightful status, and encourages them to work in all
sectors, as long as they are afforded the appropriate respect.
The basic role of women is the upbringing of children, but,
over and above that, we must offer opportunities to a woman
who chooses to perform other functions. What women have
achieved in the Emirates in only a short space of time makes
me both happy and content. We sowed our seeds yesterday,
and today the fruit has already begun to appear. We praise
Allah for the role that women play in our society. It is
clear that this role is beneficial for both present and
Zayed has made it clear that he believes that the younger
generation, those who have enjoyed the fruits of the UAE's
development programme, must now take up the burden once
carried by their parents. Within his immediate family, Sheikh
Zayed has ensured that his sons have taken up posts in government
at which they are expected to work and not simply enjoy
as sinecures. Young UAE men who have complained about the
perceived lack of employment opportunities at an unrealistic
salary level have been offered positions on farms as agricultural
labourers, so that they may learn the dignity of work:
is of great importance, and of great value in building both
individuals and societies.The size of a salary is not a
measure of the worth of an individual. What is important
is an individual's sense of dignity and self-respect. It
is my duty as the leader of the young people of this country
to encourage them to work and to exert themselves in order
to raise their own standards and to be of service to the
country. The individual who is healthy and of a sound mind
and body but who does not work commits a crime against himself
and against society.
forward to seeing in the future our sons and daughters playing
a more active role, broadening their participation in the
process of development and shouldering their share of the
responsibilities, especially in the private sector, so as
to lay the foundations for the success of this participation
and effectiveness. At the same time, we are greatly concerned
to raise the standing and dignity of the work ethic in our
society, and to increase the percentage of citizens in the
labour force. This can be achieved by following a realistic
and well-planned approach that will improve performance
and productivity, moving towards the long-term goal of secure
and comprehensive development.
sphere, as in other areas, Sheikh Zayed has long been concerned
about the possible adverse impact upon the younger generation
of the easy life they enjoy, so far removed from the resilient,
resourceful lifestyle of their parents. One key feature
of Sheikh Zayed's strategy of government, therefore, has
been the encouragement of initiatives designed to conserve
and cherish aspects of the traditional culture of the people,
in order to familiarise the younger generation with the
ways of their ancestors. In his view, it is of crucial importance
that the lessons and heritage of the past are not forgotten.
They provide, he believes, an essential foundation upon
which real progress can be achieved:
is a continuous chain of events. The present is only an
extension of the past. He who does not know his past cannot
make the best of his present and future, for it is from
the past that we learn. We gain experience and we take advantage
of the lessons and results [of the past]. Then we adopt
the best and that which suits our present needs, while avoiding
the mistakes made by our fathers and our grandfathers. The
new generation should have a proper appreciation of the
role played by their forefathers. They should adopt their
model, and the supreme ideal of patience, fortitude, hard
work and dedication to doing their duty.
believed to have been little more than an insignificant
backwater in the history of mankind in the Middle East,
the UAE has emerged in recent years as a country which has
played a crucial role in the development of civilisation
in the region for thousands of years.
first archaeological excavations in the UAE took place 40
years ago, in 1959, with the archaeologists benefiting extensively
from the interest shown in their work by Sheikh Zayed. Indeed
he himself invited them to visit the Al Ain area to examine
remains in and around the oasis that proved to be some of
the most important ever found in southeastern Arabia. In
the decades that have followed, Sheikh Zayed has continued
to support archaeological studies throughout the country,
eager to ensure that knowledge of the achievements of the
past becomes available to educate and inspire the people
one of the most important archaeological sites has been
discovered on Abu Dhabi's western island of Sir Bani Yas,
which for more than 20 years has been a private wildlife
reserve created by Sheikh Zayed to ensure the survival of
some of Arabia's most endangered species.
heritage of the people of the UAE is important to Sheikh
Zayed, so too is the conservation of its natural environment
and wildlife. After all, he believes the strength of character
of the Emirati people derives, in part, from the struggle
that they were obliged to wage in order to survive in the
harsh and arid local environment.
belief in conservation of the environment owes nothing to
modern fashion. Acknowledged by the presentation of the
prestigious Gold Panda Award from the Worldwide Fund for
Nature, it derives, instead, from his own upbringing, living
in harmony with nature. This has led him to ensure that
conservation of wildlife and the environment is a key part
of government policy, while at the same time he has stimulated
and personally supervised a massive programme of afforestation
that has now seen over 150 million trees planted.
speech on the occasion of the UAE's first Environment Day
in February 1998 Sheikh Zayed spelt out his beliefs:
our environment because it is an integral part of our country,
our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our
forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They
were able to do so only because they recognised the need
to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to
live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations. With
Allah's will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment
and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is
a duty: and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach
us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance,
and of our heritage.
most conservationists Sheikh Zayed is concerned wherever
possible to remedy the damage done by man to wildlife. His
programme on the island of Sir Bani Yas for the captive
breeding of endangered native animals such as the Arabian
oryx and the Arabian gazelle has achieved impressive success,
so much so that not only is the survival of both species
now assured, but animals are also carefully being reintroduced
to the wild.
other areas of national life, Sheikh Zayed has made it clear
that conservation is not simply the task of government.
Despite the existence of official institutions like the
Federal Environmental Agency and Abu Dhabi's Environmental
Research and Wildlife Development Agency, (empowered by
a growing catalogue of legislation), the UAE's President
has stressed that there is also a role both for the individual
and for non-governmental organisations, both of citizens
that society can only flourish and develop if all of its
members acknowledge their responsibilities. This does not
only to concerns such as environmental conservation, but
also to other areas of national life.
of the Al Nahyan family, of which Sheikh Zayed is the current
head, have been Rulers of Abu Dhabi since at least the beginning
of the eighteenth century, longer than any other ruling
dynasty in the Arabian peninsula. In Arabian bedu society,
however, the legitimacy of a Ruler, and of a ruling family,
derives essentially from consensus and from consent. Just
as Sheikh Zayed himself was chosen by members of his family
to become Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, when his elder brother
was no longer able to retain their confidence, so does the
legitimacy of the political system today derive from the
support it draws from the people of the UAE. The principle
of consultation (shura) is an essential part of that system.
informal level, that principle has long been put into practice
through the institution of the majlis (council) where a
leading member of society holds an 'open-house' discussion
forum, at which any individual may put forward views for
discussion and consideration. While the majlis system -
the UAE's form of direct democracy - still continues, it
is naturally, best suited to a relatively small community.
recognising that Abu Dhabi was embarking upon a process
of rapid change and development, Sheikh Zayed created the
Emirate's National Consultative Council, bringing together
the leaders of each of the main tribes and families which
comprised the population. A similar body was created for
the UAE as a whole, the Federal National Council, the state's
institutions represent the formalisation of the traditional
process of consultation and discussion and their members
are frequently urged by Sheikh Zayed to express their views
openly, without fear or favour.
members of both the National Consultative Council and the
Federal National Council continue to be selected by Sheikh
Zayed and the other Rulers, in consultation with leading
members of the community in each emirate. However, in the
future, Sheikh Zayed has said, a formula for direct elections
will be devised. He notes, however, that in this, as in
many other fields, it is necessary to move ahead with care
to ensure that only such institutions as are appropriate
for Emirati society are adopted.
by the New York Times on the topic of the possible introduction
of an elected parliamentary democracy, Sheikh Zayed replied:
should we abandon a system that satisfies our people in
order to introduce a system that seems to engender dissent
and confrontation? Our system of government is based upon
our religion, and is what our people want. Should they seek
alternatives, we are ready to listen to them. We have always
said that our people should voice their demands openly.
We are all in the same boat, and they are both captain and
doors here are open for any opinion to be expressed, and
this is well known by all our citizens. It is our deep conviction
that Allah the Creator has created people free, and has
prescribed that each individual must enjoy freedom of choice.
No-one should act as if he owns others. Those in a position
of leadership should deal with their subjects with compassion
and understanding, because this is the duty enjoined upon
them by God Almighty, who enjoins us to treat all living
creatures with dignity. How can there be anything less for
man, created as Allah's vice-gerent on earth? Our system
of government does not derive its authority from man, but
is enshrined in our religion, and is based on God's book,
the Holy Quran. What need have we of what others have conjured
up? Its teachings are eternal and complete, while the systems
conjured up by man are transitory and incomplete.
Zayed imbibed the principles of Islam in his childhood and
it remains the foundation of his beliefs and philosophy
today. Indeed, the ability with which he and the people
of the UAE have been able to absorb and adjust to the remarkable
changes of the past few decades can be ascribed largely
to the fact that Islam has provided an unchanging and immutable
core of their lives. Today, it provides the inspiration
for the UAE judicial system and its place as the ultimate
source of legislation is enshrined in the country's constitution.
like other divinely revealed religions, has those among
its claimed adherents who purport to interpret its message
as justifying harsh dogmas and intolerance. In Sheikh Zayed's
view, however, such an approach is not merely a perversion
of the message but is directly contrary to it. Extremism,
he believes, has no place in Islam. In contrast, he stresses
is a civilising religion that gives mankind dignity. A Muslim
is he who does not inflict evil upon others. Islam is the
religion of tolerance and forgiveness, and not of war, of
dialogue and understanding. It is Islamic social justice
which has asked every Muslim to respect the other. To treat
every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special
soul is a mark of Islam. It is just that point, embodied
in the humanitarian tenets of Islam, that makes us so proud
that context, Sheikh Zayed has set his face firmly against
those who preach intolerance and hatred:
times we see around us violent men who claim to talk on
behalf of Islam. Islam is far removed from their talk. If
such people really wish for recognition from Muslims and
the world, they should themselves first heed the words of
God and His Prophet. Regrettably, however, these people
have nothing whatsoever that connects them to Islam. They
are apostates and criminals. We see them slaughtering children
and the innocent. They kill people, spill their blood and
destroy their property, and then claim to be Muslims.
Zayed is an eager advocate of tolerance, discussion and
a better understanding between those of different faiths,
recognising that this is essential if mankind is to ever
move forward in harmony. His faith is well summed up by
a statement explaining the essential basis of his own beliefs:
religion is based neither on hope, nor on fear, I worship
my Allah because I love him.'
faith, with its belief in the brotherhood of man and in
the duty incumbent upon the strong to provide assistance
to those less fortunate than themselves, is fundamental
to Sheikh Zayed's vision of how his country and people should
develop. It is, too, a key to the foreign policy of the
UAE, which he has devised and guided since the establishment
of the state.
UAE itself has been able to progress only because of the
way in which its component parts have successfully been
able to come together in a relationship of harmony, working
together for common goals.
the Arabian Gulf region, and in the broader Arab world,
the UAE has sought to enhance cooperation and to resolve
disagreement through a calm pursuit of dialogue and consensus.
Thus one of the central features of the country's foreign
policy has been the development of closer ties with its
neighbours in the Arabian peninsula. The Arab Gulf Cooperation
Council, (AGCC) grouping the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,
Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, was founded at a summit conference
held in Abu Dhabi in 1981, and has since become, with strong
UAE support, an effective and widely-respected grouping.
to facilitate the development of closer ties between its
members and to enable them to work together to ensure their
security, the AGCC has faced two major external challenges
during its short lifetime: first, the long and costly conflict
in the 1980s between Iraq and Iran, which itself prompted
the Council's formation and second, the August 1990 invasion
by Iraq of one of its members, Kuwait.
the invasion of Kuwait, President Zayed was one of the first
Arab leaders to offer support to its people and units from
the UAE armed forces played a significant role in the alliance
that liberated the Gulf state in early 1991.
fully supporting the international condemnation of the policies
of the Iraqi regime and the sanctions imposed on Iraq by
the United Nations (UN) during and after the conflict, the
UAE has, however, expressed its serious concern about the
impact that the sanctions have had upon the country's people.
In his interview with the New York Times in mid-1998, Sheikh
states in the Arab world recognise that Saddam [Hussein]
did injustice, and received the appropriate response. He
paid the price, and sanctions have now been imposed on Iraq
for seven years.
Iraq is sick, tired, hungry and naked. How can you continue
to impose sanctions on it for ever in a situation like this?
It [Iraq] should not continue to receive punishment, and
should no longer have sanctions imposed upon it. We believe
that the time has come to say that enough is enough.
to argue forcefully for a lifting of sanctions, the UAE
has, at the same, time, provided an extensive amount of
humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, ensuring, as
far as possible, that the aid reaches those for whom it
key focus of the UAE's foreign policy in an Arab context
has been the provision of support to the Palestinian people
in their efforts to regain their legitimate rights to self-determination
and to the establishment of their own state. As early as
1968, before the formation of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed extended
generous assistance to Palestinian organisations, and has
done so throughout the last three decades, although he has
always believed that it is for the Palestinians themselves
to determine their own policies.
the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and
on parts of the occupied West Bank, the UAE has provided
substantial help for the building of a national infrastructure,
including not only houses, roads, schools and hospitals,
but also for the refurbishment of Muslim and Christian sites
in the city of Jerusalem. While much of the aid has been
bilateral, the UAE has also taken part in development programmes
funded by multilateral agencies and groupings and has long
been a major contributor to the United Nations Relief Works
amounts of aid have also been given to a number of other
countries in the Arab world, such as Lebanon, to help it
recover from the devastation caused by over a decade of
civil war, and to less-developed countries such as Yemen.
Zayed has a deeply held belief in the cherished objective
of greater political and economic unity within the Arab
world. At the same time, however, he has long adopted a
realistic approach on the issue, recognising that to be
effective any unity must grow slowly and with the support
of the people. Arab unity, he believes, is not something
that can simply be created through decrees of governments
that may be temporary, political phenomena.
approach has been tried and tested both at the level of
the UAE itself, which is the longest-lived experiment in
recent times in Arab unity, and at the level of the Arabian
Gulf Cooperation Council.
broader plane, Sheikh Zayed has sought consistently to promote
greater understanding and consensus between Arab countries
and to reinvigorate the League of Arab States. Relations
between the Arab leaders, he believes, should be based on
openness and frankness:
must make it clear to each other that each one of them needs
the other, and they should understand that only through
mutual support can they survive in times of need.
should tell his brother: you support me, and I will support
you, when you are in the right. But not when you are in
the wrong. If I am in the right, you should support and
help me, and help to remove the results of any injustice
that has been imposed on me. Wise and mature leaders should
listen to sound advice, and should take the necessary action
to correct their mistakes. As for those leaders who are
unwise or immature, they can be brought to the right path
through advice from their sincere friends.
that context, and since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait which
split the Arab world asunder, Sheikh Zayed has consistently
argued for the holding of a new Arab summit conference at
which leaders can honestly and frankly address the disputes
between them. Only thus, he believes, can the Arab world
as a whole move forward to tackle the challenges that face
it, both internally and on the broader international plane:
that an all-inclusive Arab summit must be held, but before
attending it, the Arabs must open their hearts to each other
and be frank with each other about the rifts between them
and their wounds. They should then come to the summit, to
make the necessary corrections to their policies, to address
the issues, to heal their wounds and to affirm that the
destiny of the Arabs is one, both for the weak and the strong.
At the same time, they should not concede their rights,
or ask for what is not rightfully theirs.
UAE President acknowledges, however, that unanimity, although
desirable, cannot always be achieved. He has, therefore,
been the only Arab leader to openly advocate a revision
of the Charter of the League of Arab States to permit decisions
to be taken on the basis of the will of the majority. Such
has been the experience of the society from which he comes,
and such has been one of the foundations of the success
of the federal experiment in the UAE. It is time, he believes,
that a similar approach was adopted within the broader Arab
should not, however, mean that essential rights and principles
should be set aside; these include, of course, the principle
of the inviolability of the integrity of Arab territories.
principle has been a matter of major concern to the UAE
since its formation, due to the Iranian occupation in 1971
of the UAE islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb.
That occupation was undertaken in contravention of all norms
of international law and of the Charter of the United Nations.
governments in Iran have continually consolidated their
military hold over the islands and have failed to respond
to efforts by the UAE to resolve the issue. The UAE in turn,
has never abandoned its attempts to regain its rights over
the islands. Iran, however, has rejected the UAE suggestion
that the matter be referred to the International Court of
Justice and it has also stated that while it is willing
to hold bilateral negotiations, these would only deal with
what it describes as 'misunderstandings', failing to acknowledge
that a question of sovereignty exists.
Sheikh Zayed wishes to see an improvement in relations with
Iran, not only a near-neighbour of the Emirates but also
a fellow Muslim state, he has made it clear that a concrete
and positive initiative is now required from the Iranian
side. 'It is said that [Iranian] President Khatami wants
to pursue a policy of openness towards his neighbours and
the world, but we are still waiting [for action].'
as on other foreign policy issues, Sheikh Zayed has consistently
adopted a firm but calmly worded approach, eschewing rhetoric
that could make the search for a solution to problems more
years, the conflicts ensuing from the disintegration of
the former Yugoslavia have been the cause of considerable
concern. Prior to the imposition of a peace in Bosnia by
the western industrialised powers, Sheikh Zayed's frustration
with the continued slaughter of Bosnian Muslims was scarcely
to the Emirates News Agency, WAM, at the height of the Serbian
campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' against the Muslims, he said
that the UN seemed 'enfeebled like a dead machine' in the
face of Serbian atrocities:
as if the United Nations has been turned into stone, with
no feeling or compassion for the agony of the Bosnian people.
on all people with a conscience, those who believe in justice
and who deplore aggression and unjust wars to stand up against
the horrors being perpetrated against the innocent people
world has to move forcefully to put an end to the horrifying
tragedy. Governments must move now to enable the people
of that besieged country to defend themselves. The right
of self-defence is the most basic human and elementary right.
the international community had forced the Serbs to cease
their campaign of slaughter in Bosnia, Sheikh Zayed promptly
moved to ensure that substantial assistance was sent by
the UAE to enable the Bosnian Muslims to begin the task
of rebuilding their society.
lessons of the Bosnian tragedy were not, however, lost on
Sheikh Zayed. The time had come, he recognised, for the
UAE itself to play a more proactive role in international
UAEs armed forces had already begun to establish a
record in such peacekeeping activities, first as part of
the joint Arab Deterrent Force that sought for a few years
to bring to an end the civil strife in Lebanon, and then
through participation in UNISOM TWO, the UN peacekeeping
and reconstruction force in Somalia.
1999, as a new campaign of Serbian atrocities began to get
under way against the Albanian population of Kosovo, Sheikh
Zayed was among the first world leaders to express support
for the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
(NATO) to launch its aerial campaign to force Serbia to
halt its genocidal activities.
early on in the campaign that there would be a need for
an international peacekeeping force once the NATO campaign
ended, Sheikh Zayed ordered that the UAEs armed forces
should be a part of any such force operating under the aegis
of the UN. In late 1999, with the UN's KFOR force in place
in Kosovo, the contingent from the UAE was the largest taking
part from any of the non-NATO states.
ensuring that the UAE should now increasingly come to shoulder
such international responsibilities, however, Sheikh Zayed
has also made it clear that the UAE's role is one that is
focused on relief and rehabilitation.
Balkans and in other countries, the policy adopted by the
UAE clearly reflects the desire of Sheikh Zayed to utilise
the good fortune of his country to provide assistance to
those less fortunate. Through bodies like the Zayed Foundation
and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, established by Sheikh
Zayed before the foundation of the UAE, as well as through
institutions like the Red Crescent Society, chaired by his
son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country now
plays a major role in the provision of relief and development
the philosophy of Sheikh Zayed, derived from his deeply
held Muslim faith, is that it is the duty of man to seek
to improve the lot of his fellow man. His record in over
half a century in government, first within the UAE and then
concurrently on a broader international plane, is an indication
of the dedication and seriousness with which he has sought
to carry out that belief.