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.
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.
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
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.
In 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.
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
From 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 wildlife.
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.
In 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.
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'.
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.
A 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.
He 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.
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.
In 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:
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.
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 development programmes.
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.
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.
On 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
He 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
Of his first
few weeks as Ruler, Sheikh Zayed has said:
All 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.
As 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.'
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.
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.
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:
I 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
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
The 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
On 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.
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.
about the nature of the country, Sheikh Zayed was naturally more
optimistic. Looking back a quarter of a century later, he noted:
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.
We 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
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 sincere.
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.
At 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.
There 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.
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 a reality.
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.
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:
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:
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.
defines it not simply as a right, but a duty. Addressing his colleagues
in the Federal Supreme Council, he noted:
The 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.
Both 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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
We 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.
In 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:
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.
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.
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
If 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.
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.
In a 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.
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.
As 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 and expatriates.
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
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.
At 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
In 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,
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Islam 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.
context, Sheikh Zayed has set his face firmly against those who
preach intolerance and hatred:
In 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.
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
is based neither on hope, nor on fear, I worship my Allah because
I love him.'
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.
The 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.
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.
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 1991.
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:
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.
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.
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 Yemen.
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.
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.
On 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:
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.
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
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.
The 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
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.
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.
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].'
Here, 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 difficult.
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 concealed.
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
It is as if
the United Nations has been turned into stone, with no feeling
or compassion for the agony of the Bosnian people.
We 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.
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.
Once 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.
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 peacekeeping operations.
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.
In 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.
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.
In 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.
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.