June 20, 2019

Zayed: The Bountiful Essence of Leadership

By: Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al-Qasimi. Former Minister in the Government of United Arab Emirates, Former President of Zayed University, UAE.

Leaders are known and remembered for years and possibly generations as they make a profound impact on their organizations, societies, or countries. Each has a different environment and history, but they all share in their longer term visions, and in their ability to see what the future can hold.

They believe in a more optimistic future and get others to follow them, as they know leaders will bring them the happier, brighter future they aspire for. This longer term vision comes from knowing their organizations and societies well, and the potential they hold. Once selected, they also stay connected and engaged as they believe that no barriers should come between them and their constituencies, as they follow the implementation of their vision at each stage.

For the U.A.E., no leader is remembered more fondly that the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, May his soul rest in peace. For his vision encompassed not only the whole society and all the Emirates of the UAE, but all of humankind. He was a remarkable leader who demonstrated the value of his vision and was thus acclaimed as an exceptional world-wide figure. The UAE today is blessed to compete among the top 10 most competitive nations worldwide due to the sound foundations laid at the establishment of the nation under Shaikh Zayed’s leadership.

Shaikh Zayed was blessed with worldly wisdom that he used in his messages. “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.” Is but one of his famous sayings. And yes indeed, the UAE has learned from its past and is thriving today for the wisdom it embraces in our everyday life.

Shaikh Zayed was born in 1918. He experienced poverty and the harsh environment that everyone lived in a century ago, an era when fishing boats roamed the Arabian Gulf, a time when pearl divers whispered a fond adieu to friends and family as they set sail to the unknown, back when daily staples were made mainly of dates and whateveravailable produce from simple farmsin scattered oases inland.

As Sheikh Zayed grewup from children’s games into adulthood, he gazed at his surroundings and traveled across the rough terrains. As he met many people from all walks of life, he gained a deeper perception of the land and people. In the1930’s and later after WW2 in the late 50’s and 60’s a new history was in the making, as even though the economy went in decline initially due to the advent of cultured pearls, which ended the main trade in natural pearls from the Arabian Gulf, it was evident that Abu Dhabi held commercial quantities of black gold that can be produced, luring global corporations closer to undertake geological surveys and start the exploration process. Sheikh Zayed praised the almighty for the gift of oil; he was handed a key to growth and progress and realized it was time to convert the dry desert into a green heaven.

He knew the opportunity for progress has come for Abu Dhabiwith the advent of oil, making it a regional power, but this wasn’t good enough. He took a bigger opportunity, and drew a bigger picture with the potential of a united federation with neighboring Emirates.

December 2, 1971 was a day to be remembered, the unity of the seven emirates was declared, Sheikh Zayed stood proudly beside his brothers, rulers of the Emirates with eyes gazing up higher as the red, green, black and white flag wasraisedfor the first time to greet the passing clouds and cross the seven skies. And ever since then, not only Abu Dhabi but the whole of the UAE has developed swiftly. As we look around today, we can easily see Sheikh Zayed’s legacy across the country. He emphasized that “Past years have emphasized the importance of unity as a vital necessity to provide a better life for the people, to ensure stability in the country, and to realize the hopes and aspirations of our people.”

Sheikh Zayed also emphasized the importance of building human capital, frequently stating that: “Wealth is not in money [by itself]. Wealth lies in [the capabilities of] the men [and women]. This is where true power lies, the power we value”. Therefore, he focused on education as a top priority for the UAE, raising new generations of educated Emiratis to serve their country.

Zayed wisely managed the resources of the country and fully utilized it to the benefit of national growth. He had a vision for the entire society, young and old, men and women, who were provided equal opportunity in his vision. “Islam affords women their rightful status, and encourages them to work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded appropriate respect,” he said.

Women were given responsibilities in key positions in government institutions and had integral roles in decision making. I was honored to be the first female Minister in the Federal Cabinet in 2004, and now the UAE has nine female cabinet ministers, and the speaker of the Federal National Council is the first woman in this capacity in the Arab world ever.

Inspired by his vision, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, “Mother of the Nation”, urged Emirati women to pursue education and contribute alongside their brothers to turn the wheels of national development. “Women’s activities began in the early seventies with only four ladies,” Sheikha Fatima recalled, and this small group created the first women’s gathering under the name of the Abu Dhabi Women Development Association in 1973,” she said.

She has also ensured equal opportunity for women of the UAE and paved the way for countless valuable contributions from Emirati women across all sectors of society. “The establishment of the women’s union with the unlimited support of Sheikh Zayed constituted one of the pillars of the federation, as well as a major turning point in the march of progress for women,” Her Highness added.

Not only has Sheikh Zayed opened his heart to his citizens, but also to the larger worldwide community. The UAE became a symbol of respect and tolerance, home to over 200 nationalities of various backgrounds and faiths, where they live, thrive,and pursue happiness and prosperity within the national progress. Zayed said, “The land is God’s land, and the wealth is from Allah Almighty, so all are welcome to share [within the laws of the country]”. He also said:“To treat every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul, is a mark of Islam.”

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan applied his tolerance, love for peace,and mediation ideals regionally within the Arabian Gulf region, and in the wider Arab world, where the UAE has traditionally sought to enhance cooperation and resolve disagreements through a calm pursuit of dialogue and understanding. He was instrumental in establishing the Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional group that protects the interests of the six GCC nations, with its establishment declaration signed in 1980 in Abu Dhabi. He also made sure the UAE would increasingly shoulder its share of the international aid and development, and established in 1971 the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. The UAE today has over forty funds and humanitarian organizations, and hosts a number of international aid and relief programs. It is also the number one country in relief and development aid worldwide by ratio to its gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2004, on the 19th of Ramadan, a beautiful soul which left its mark on our mourning hearts returned to our Creator. Sheikh Zayed died and left behind a legacy as the Father of the Nation. He was succeeded as the UAE’s President and as Ruler of Abu Dhabi by his eldest son, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2004. The principles and philosophy that he brought to government, however, remain at the core of the state, and in its policies today.

His name is by now known to mankind for over a half-century, he is an everlasting inspiration to his people to reach higher heights, dream bigger dreams, and achieve greater pursuits. Perhaps the most important lesson we could learn is that a great leader never leaves a legacy of just followers, but rather more leaders.

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, a name that shall remain in our hearts today, tomorrow and for eternity. May His Soul Rest in Peace

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