Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918–2004) Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: Thanks to its founding fathers, the UAE is today widely recognised as a successful modern state that, starting from scratch just four decades ago, has managed to establish the foundations of a prosperous and advanced society.

The spectacular achievements of the founding fathers have allowed the country to assume a position of pre-eminence regionally and internationally, to play effective and responsible political and economic roles and to contribute to the stability and security of the region. It took visionary leaders, their determination and hard work, and the way in which they devoted their life to the service of their people, to build a nation that plans to become a world leader by the time it marks the 50th anniversary of its founding.


Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918–2004)

In the early 1930s, when oil company teams arrived to undertake preliminary geological surveys, Shaikh Zayed obtained his first exposure to the industry that would shape the development of the UAE today.

On August 6, 1966, Shaikh Zayed succeeded his elder brother as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, with a mandate to develop the emirate as quickly as possible. He promptly increased contributions to the Trucial States Development Fund and with revenues growing as oil production increased, Shaikh Zayed undertook a massive infrastructure overhaul, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads.

In 1968, with the British announcement of the country’s withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf, Shaikh Zayed stepped to action to quickly establish closer ties with the emirates. Together, with the Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Shaikh Zayed called for a federation that would include not only the seven emirates that made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar and Bahrain.

Eventually, seven states followed Shaikh Zayed in establishing the UAE, which formally emerged on the international stage on December 2, 1971.

The new country emerged at a time of political turmoil in the region. A couple of days prior, Iran had seized the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb, part of Ras Al Khaimah, and had landed troops on the island of Abu Mousa, part of Sharjah. Foreign observers predicted that the UAE would survive only with difficulty, pointing to disputes with its neighbours and to the wide disparity between the seven emirates. Shaikh Zayed was more optimistic and the predictions of those early pessimists were shown to be unfounded. There is little doubt that the prosperity, harmony and modern development that today characterises the UAE is due to the long-term vision and formative role played by the UAE’s founding fathers.

One foundation of Shaikh Zayed’s philosophy as a leader and statesman was that the resources of the country should be fully used to the benefit of the people. This extended to the women of the UAE, who flourished under his vision of education, employment and equality for all Emiratis.

In 1970, recognising that Abu Dhabi was embarking on a process of rapid development, Shaikh Zayed formalised the consultation process and established the National Consultative Council, bringing together the leaders of each of the main tribes. A similar body was created in 1971 for the entire UAE: the Federal National Council, the state’s parliament.

As the country grew, the conservation of natural environment and wildlife was critical to Shaikh Zayed. He believed that the character of the Emirati people derives, in part, from the struggle to survive in the harsh and arid local environment. In this vein, Shaikh Zayed worked throughout his life on ensuring the preservation of such species as the Arabian Oryx and the sand gazelle. The World Wildlife Fund recognised his great contribution with the prestigious Gold Panda award.

Shaikh Zayed died in 2004, in his late eighties, leaving behind a legacy as the Father of the Nation.


Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (1912-1990)

Shaikh Rashid was Ruler of Dubai from 1958 till his death on October 7, 1990. He was also the prime minister of the UAE and vice-president from 1971 until his demise.

Among Shaikh Rashid’s legendary characteristics was his strong intuitive economic sense. Those who were close to him say that he could see what the others could not. He foresaw a bright economic future for Dubai and that explains his strong interest in projects and his follow-up of such projects almost on a daily basis.

With such an attitude, Shaikh Rashid succeeded in transforming Dubai into the most important commercial centre in the Middle East and placing it on the world’s financial and business map.

In the early 1970s, Shaikh Rashid envisaged a town, seaport and airport focused on developing an industrial region in the emirate.

Projects viewed as impossible by many members of society, including foreigners, were seen as challenges by Shaikh Rashid.

Shining examples of these projects are Al Maktoum Hospital, the first modern hospital in what was then the Trucial States; Al Maktoum Bridge, which spanned the Creek, joining Dubai with Deira and eliminating the long trip around the head of the Creek; and Dubai airport, which bore immediate reward as demand for seats grew much faster than anticipated.

These projects showed clearly that Dubai’s infrastructure planning was hardly ever just a response to the immediate needs of the community: it was clearly linked to the ambitious ideas about the future development of Dubai.

In 1985, Shaikh Rashid opened Jebel Ali Free Zone as the UAE’s and the region’s first free zone and, over the years, this would become the template which competitor free zones would follow, establishing the backbone of UAE’s lucrative logistics sector.

On October 7, 1990, Shaikh Rashid died but left behind a legacy visible in the town planning of Dubai.

Shaikh Zayed said in mourning for Shaikh Rashid: “He was one of this country’s benevolent men... one of its brave knights and one of the pioneers of its unity and builders of its civilisation. His demise does not mean that he has left our memory or our lives. He will always stay in our hearts and remain in the forefront of those who made history in this country.”


Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (1943–2006)

History is always carved by individuals of calibre. It is such individuals who play a role in shaping and defining actions that leave an imprint. One such individual is Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum who will be remembered not only as a man of kindness and generosity, but also as a witness to crucial junctures in the history of the UAE in general and Dubai in particular

It is impossible to pay tribute to Shaikh Maktoum without mentioning that his years as a ruler were intertwined with the history of the formation of the UAE. In fact, throughout his life, Shaikh Maktoum was a witness and a key player in the development of Dubai and the UAE federation.

The first exposure to one of the elements to leadership was in 1958 when he delivered a public speech at the ceremony marking the accession of his father, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Shaikh Maktoum was only 15 years old then and the occasion must have been a memorable event for him as it marked the beginning of forging the future of the emirate under the rule of Shaikh Rashid.

In the 1960s, Shaikh Maktoum was involved in the meetings that were taking place between the Trucial States, a term used to define the emirates before the formation of the UAE in 1971. He was also present in February 1968 at the historical signing of the agreement between the Rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Shaikh Zayed and Shaikh Rashid. This was indeed a historic moment to be witness to as it was an initiation towards forming the federation.

At the age of 29, Shaikh Maktoum became the UAE’s first prime minister from 1972 until 1979. Later, in 1983, he became deputy prime minister. In 1990, following the death of his father, Shaikh Maktoum became Ruler of Dubai and Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.

During his rule, Shaikh Maktoum built on the foundation laid down by his father. He followed in his footsteps by advocating the same principles of development. It is true that Dubai today would not have been able to achieve what it has done so far without the guiding ideas of Shaikh Rashid, but it is also a fact that it would not have been possible for Dubai to progress as it has without these ideas being carried forward by Shaikh Maktoum.

Yet, Shaikh Maktoum’s role was not limited to ensuring Dubai’s progress. In fact, his role as vice-president and prime minister came as a boon for the UAE. This was seen during two main periods in the history of the UAE. As ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Maktoum played a pivotal role first during the presidency of Shaikh Zayed and then when His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan became president. The significance of Shaikh Maktoum’s role was not limited to the two presidency periods. Instead, the importance of his role was felt especially during the transitional periods.


Shaikha Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was elected as President of the UAE on November 3, 2004, to succeed his father, Shaikh Zayed, from whom, he has said, he learned “the need for patience and prudence in all things”.

Shaikh Khalifa has stated that his key objectives as president will be to continue on the path laid down by his father, whose legacy, he says, “will continue to be the beacon guiding us into the future, a prosperous future where security and stability will reign”.

Shaikh Khalifa has presided over a major restructuring of both the federal government and the Abu Dhabi Government.

Shaikh Khalifa has also undertaken extensive tours throughout the UAE to study the needs of the Northern Emirates, during which he has given instructions for the building of a number of projects related to housing, education and the social services.

Shaikh Khalifa has overseen dramatic changes too in Abu Dhabi, where particular attention has been paid to two aspects — improvements in terms of efficiency and cost for services provided to the public and the opening up of much of the economy so that greater scope has been provided for direct private investment and for public-private partnerships.

On February 1, 1969, Shaikh Khalifa was nominated as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, this being followed on February 2, 1969, by his appointment as the Head of the Abu Dhabi Department of Defence, in which post he oversaw the building up of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force (ADDF), which later became the nucleus of the UAE Armed Forces.

On July 1, 1971, as part of the restructuring of the government of the emirate, Shaikh Khalifa was appointed Prime Minister of Abu Dhabi and Minister of Defence and Finance.

On December 23, 1973, Shaikh Khalifa assumed the post of Deputy Prime Minister in the second Federal Cabinet.

Shortly afterwards, when the Cabinet of Abu Dhabi emirate was dissolved, as part of the process of strengthening the institutions of the UAE Federation, Shaikh Khalifa was appointed, on January 20, 1974, as the first Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, which replaced the emirate’s Cabinet.

In keeping with the instructions of Shaikh Khalifa, the Executive Council oversaw the realisation of a wide-ranging development programme in Abu Dhabi, including the construction of housing, water supplies and other essential services, roads and general infrastructure that led to the emergence of the city of Abu Dhabi as the modern city that it is today.

Of particular importance in terms of ensuring that citizens were able to benefit from the country’s increasing wealth was the establishment by Shaikh Khalifa in 1981 of the Abu Dhabi Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings, charged with the provision of loans to citizens for construction.

The establishment of the department, popularly known as the Khalifa Committee, followed another decision taken by Shaikh Khalifa in 1979 to alleviate the burden on citizens of the repayment of loans from the commercial banks.

A further step to ensure that citizens were able to build the properties that they needed, both for residential and for investment purposes, came with the creation by Shaikh Khalifa of the Private Loans Authority, early in 1991.

Shaikh Khalifa has also been involved extensively in other areas of the country’s development. In May 1976, following the unification of the armed forces of the Emirates, Shaikh Khalifa was nominated as Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

In this capacity, he devoted much attention to the building up of the country’s defensive capability, through the establishment of many military training institutions and through the procurement of the latest military equipment and training.


Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

A leader of true international stature, a poet and a philanthropist, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has been working tirelessly towards the goal of a glowing future for the country.

Shaikh Mohammad has presided over remarkable accomplishments in all areas that have made the nation proud.

President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has thanked Shaikh Mohammad for the administrative, governmental, and developmental insights he provided in the nation’s march to progress.

Shaikh Khalifa, in a statement on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Shaikh Mohammad’s Accession Day as Ruler of Dubai, this year, said: “My brother His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has completed ten years of ruling and leading a rational and sophisticated government, one of the most advanced and efficient governments in delivering its services, with the testimony of prestigious international organisations.

"During ten years, he also established transparent systems of government administration in performance and quality standards, smart services, and establishing programmes to prepare future generations of human cadres. In ten years of governance, my brother Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid managed to raise the standard of the government’s competitiveness internationally by establishing institutions and work teams that focus on satisfying citizens and making them happy.”

Shaikh Khalifa added, “We watched with appreciation over the ten years Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid’s government, which is characterised by its ability to establish coordination between federal government and local governments, form national teams and formulate strategic plans to achieve the vision of the leadership and continue developing the blueprint laid down by the founders alongside his fellow Supreme Council Members and Rulers of the Emirates.”

The President said, “My brother Shaikh Mohammad completes ten years in leading a successful, balanced and sustainable national economy and an efficient financial government policy using his teams of ministers and officials. During these ten years is also when my brother Shaikh Mohammad stood out with his unique government philosophy in which the function of government officials is to bring happiness to citizens, and where government agencies are managed like the private sector, and rivals it with the services it provides.

"We observed him over ten years inspiring thousands of young people and contributing with his brothers Their Highnesses Rulers of the Emirates in consolidating unity and cohesion among the people of the UAE and its leadership, and promoting a united, coherent and strong Emirati society, standing strong against the stormy changes experienced by our region.”

Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince, said the 10th anniversary of Shaikh Mohammad’s government and vision is a chance to reflect on the remarkable achievements of a unique leader who expanded the economy and the gross domestic product several times in per capita terms since coming into government.

“Shaikh Mohammad, the philanthropist, has changed the lives of 50 million people, spread the knowledge so that people started to read 100 million books every year… Shaikh Mohammad disseminated wisdom, dazzled and inspired leaders around the world and changed the ideas and perceptions about the role of governments and rulers,” Shaikh Hamdan said.

Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, said Shaikh Mohammad has laid down the pillars of strategic planning in the government and transformed it into a smart one, raising performance in all ministries and launching a strategy to make the UAE one of the world’s most innovative nations by 2021.

Shaikh Mohammad’s opening of a waterway connecting Dubai Creek with the Arabian Gulf on November 9, was the realisation of long-time dream of Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.


Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

With terrorist attacks rampant around the world and aggressors all around, the UAE tops the world’s most peaceful nations. It has not suffered from internal conflicts or terrorism and even at war, the nation has remained a safe haven free of the attacks that have unsettled its neighbours.

This is courtesy of the prime mover on security — His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE.

Born in 1961 in the oasis town of Al Ain, Shaikh Mohammad is a lifelong soldier, who had a comprehensive doctrine of prevention, rather than just reaction.

He graduated from the UK’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and served in the UAE’s special forces and as a helicopter pilot, before becoming chief of staff and then deputy supreme commander of its armed forces in 2005.

Shaikh Mohammad has engaged the UAE in military action in Yemen alongside Saudi Arabia, part of a wider effort to roll back Iranian influence. He has also joined the offensive against Daesh in Syria and struck at jihadists in Libya.

Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told the majlis of Shaikh Mohammad in Ramadan the decision to intervene militarily in Yemen by the GCC countries and allies came after all diplomatic and political options had been exhausted.

The Houthi rebels continued to breach the sovereignty of Yemen, taking control of Sana’a and then Aden before usurped the legitimacy of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government.

“The UAE leadership was facing two choices, do intervene in a complex scene in Yemen or let it develop into yet more complex situation facing the entire region.

“The dimensions of the Yemen coup should be viewed in the context of Iranian expansion in the region,” he said. “This is not something that I say, it’s what Iranian officials have arrogantly stated repeatedly following the coup.”

He said Iran clearly had plans to create another Hezbollah in Yemen by supporting the Houthis, adding that Iran worked patiently on building Houthi military capability near Saudi Arabia’s border.

Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed was able to build a strong army, a sword to protect the nation. But the task Shaikh Mohammad has set himself goes beyond building an army: He’s trying to bond a nation created in 1971, patiently weaving the national fabric following the footsteps of Shaikh Zayed and President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Shaikh Mohammad’s plans to end a longer-term oil dependence draw inspiration from models such as Norway, oil-rich but with a diverse economy.

“Fifty years from now, after we have loaded the last barrel, are we going to feel sad?” he asked at a rare public speech in Dubai in February last year. “If our investment today is right, I think we will celebrate that moment,” Shaikh Mohammad said in his keynote speech at the 2015 Government Summit.