President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Image Credit: Gulf News

When the UAE federation was born on December 2 1971, few if any expected that the new union would last long. The doubters, armed with past failed experiences in the Arab world, thought the new state would disintegrate just like other unions did in this part of the world.

Today, the UAE is ranked among the top 10 countries in the world on almost every development index, with a phenomenal level of quality of life that has made it the top destination for foreign investment and talented workers.

On that day, 50 years ago, there was no way anyone would have imagined, for example, that this newly formed desert nation would become a top global destination for tourists. Or it would be a world-class hub for business and trade. But today the UAE is all of that and more.

The nation’s founding fathers, and the leaders who followed on their footsteps, gave the world the first UAE lesson in how to ensure development, prosperity and social happiness.

In a region rife with conflicts, all types of conflicts in fact, political, military, sectarian, the UAE has been an oasis of stability and growth. The UAE has already drawn development plans for the next five decades.

In the past few days, the UAE offered the world another lesson. It is about the political consistency; the smooth transition of leadership.

In nearly all countries, a change in the highest office of government usually leads to a change in policy and direction. Sometimes the change is rather substantial. Also, in that period of transition, no matter how long it is, state affairs and functions are halted amid the usual confusion and for the lack of clarity, or the expected change in administrative teams.

Foundation of unity

Not in the UAE. Its unique structure, based on solid foundation of unity among the people and their leaders and constitutional principles set by the founding-fathers, means that succession of power is a smooth process. The constitutional responsibility is transferred smoothly from one leader to another.

The UAE, represented by members of the union’s Supreme Council, on Saturday elected its third president, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed in the same orderly manner it had elected the late Sheikh Khalifa 18 years ago, following the death of Sheikh Zayed, the great founder of this nation and its first president.

One has to just look chronologically at the UAE’s last 50 years to see that the country’s direction is actually one solid uninterrupted march towards prosperity, designed by the pioneering leaders and carried forward by the present leadership. This is the legacy of Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum and their brothers, the founders of the UAE.

During his presidency, Sheikh Khalifa embodied Sheikh Zayed’s unwavering faith in the union and love for the people. With his father’s legacy as a guiding principle, he led the country’s ‘phase of empowerment’, which he announced on the nation’s 34th anniversary in 2005 that paved the way for first direct election of the members of the Federal National Council (FNC) in October 2006 to widen the participation of citizens in the development march.

Following on the founder father’s vision, Sheikh Khalifa, with both His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed on his side, embarked on landmark changes in the government structure to scrap red tape and boost its efficiency.

New portfolios for science and technology, climate change, happiness and tolerance were created to take the country to another level of progress, sustainable growth and competitiveness. His rule witnessed historic milestones like the successful operation of the Arab region’s first multi-unit nuclear plant and the start of the space programme with the Mars exploration.

He carried forwards Sheikh Zayed’s rich humanitarian legacy with the establishment of the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation in 2007 to fight hunger, poverty, disease and illiteracy worldwide. More than 80 countries have received help from the foundation.

Last year, he announced the next 50 years plans -- not only to sustain the UAE’s phenomenal rise as a global centre for business and innovation but also to realise the founders’ vision of making this young nation the best and happiest country on earth.

New era

Today, the UAE enters a new era but one that will be a continuation of the glorious march it has witnessed in the past five decades. Guided by the same vision and principles, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed shoulders his constitutional responsibility to realise the 50’s principles.

Described by political experts worldwide as one of the world’s most influential leaders, Sheikh Mohamed will put all his years of experience in government in the service of his nation to take up the country’s development to new, unprecedented levels.

We all remember his promise that the UAE will be celebrating when it ships out the last barrel of oil in 50 years as the economy will no longer be dependent on oil. To realise this ambitious plan, the President has put a great focus on education. He always says that Emirati men and women, not oil, are the real wealth of this nation.

Under his long years at the helm of the armed forces, the UAE military has become one of the most powerful modern armies in the region. He has also been the architect of the UAE’s effective foreign policy that continues to play a leading role regionally and beyond to bring about stability, peaceful resolution to conflicts and economic prosperity in this part of the world — a reminder of the role Sheikh Zayed often played during his life, offering mediation and innovative solutions in regional disputes. It is the same thread of wisdom, tolerance, and moderation.

In his congratulatory letter, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid described Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed as an “extension of Zayed.” The President “is the protector of the values, principles and pillars that Zayed instilled when he founded this country with his brothers, the Rulers of the Emirates,” the Vice-President noted.

And that is another lesson the UAE presents to other countries, close and afar. It is consistency. A continuous vision that all its leaders subscribe to and work hard to realise. A vision that was set on that auspicious day, December 2, 1971, when legendary men signed on to form this unique nation.