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 Abu Dhabi.
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.
early 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
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.
1946, 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.
key 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.
also 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 area.
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.
1953 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 become true.
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
6 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.
was 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 way.
his 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.
Abu 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:
am 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.
land, 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 Oman.
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.
had 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
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.
the 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
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 its development.
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
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 future generations.
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.
look 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.
this 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
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 of today.
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.
the 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.
a speech on the occasion of the UAE's first Environment
Day in February 1998 Sheikh Zayed spelt out his beliefs:
cherish 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.
in 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
believes 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.
an 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.
1970, 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 parliament,
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.
present, 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 crew.
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 that:
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 of it.
that context, Sheikh Zayed has set his face firmly against
those who preach intolerance and hatred:
these 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
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
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,
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
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 Zayed noted:
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 is intended.
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 Agency (UNRWA).
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
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.
a 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.
brother 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
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
believe 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
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 world.
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
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
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
recent 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:
is as if the United Nations has been turned into stone,
with no feeling or compassion for the agony of the Bosnian
call 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 of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
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
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.
early 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.
the 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 assistance worldwide.
essence, 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.