There are no memories fonder than our recollections of events that mark a defining moment in the history of a nation.
I have been fortunate to live the nation’s dream — an ambitious idea conceived by great men that came true. I consider myself lucky to be from a generation that has not only seen this dream become a reality but has also seen it exceed all expectations.
Those historical moments are still engraved in my mind and shall always remain vibrant.
My personal recollections of those national events come back to me so clearly, as if they happened yesterday. This is quite simply because these are the moments that have changed the course of this nation’s history and have transformed the present and future of our society.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UAE, I often reflect on the most important day in my life.
I was just 12, but I recall the events clearly. It was the day of the establishment of the UAE, which was the culmination of a tough journey from the late 1960s — after the decision by the British Labour government to pull out from what was then known as the East of Suez — until the announcement on Thursday, Dec. 2, 1971.
An atmosphere of joy
During the summer of 1971, my father sent me to live with a British family on the south coast of England to improve my English language skills, and I remember my parents’ intermittent calls to check on me.
But the call that I still remember in all its details was at the end of summer when my father told me about the agreement to establish the UAE. Despite not having an entirely clear understanding about exactly what the new state was or its name, I was overwhelmed with joy.
Although I was still young, I was aware that we were heading for a historic day and an event that would change the face of this special part of the world. I never forget my father’s call, as it has remained with me as a constant catalyst for me to reflect on the future of our country and what it might become.
As the date of independence and the announcement of the UAE approached, an atmosphere of joy prevailed. I remember it was Thursday and my brothers and I were in our old house near Gamal Abdul Nasser Square in Deira.
On that unforgettable day, as we prepared to move to a new house, we were eagerly awaiting the return of my late grandfather, Ali Abdullah Gargash, from the flag-hoisting ceremony and the announcement of the UAE, in Al Madheef in Jumeirah.
I was passionate about learning more about the details and what the flag would look like after replacing the local emirates’ flags — with their white and red colours — with one national flag. We realised the value, significance and symbolism of the flag, and we even indulged in drawing several possible designs for the new flag, decorated with palm trees and stars.
While we were still busy sketching, my grandfather stepped into the house, holding the official statement that was distributed on the historical occasion. The most pressing question was the appearance of the flag.
My grandfather took coloured pencils out on the table and began to draw the flag on the back of the statement, to show us the symbol of the state that would henceforth represent us in all international forums, ministries, institutions and houses, as well as in the hearts of Emiratis.
Will of the leadership
The circumstances were not as easy as some may imagine. And the road ahead was not so straightforward, as the UAE has gone through tough moments that have demonstrated the strength and the determination of its leadership.
The UAE would not have existed without the great statesmen who strongly believed in it and who were faithfully dedicated to safeguarding it and enabling it to become what it is today.
The first challenge that faced the UAE came just a few weeks after its foundation. There was news of an attempted coup threatening the nascent state. We heard about this development while we were celebrating the first day of Eid in early 1972 in our new house in Abu Hail, amid a happy family atmosphere.
This was the UAE’s first crisis. Despite my young age, I fully realised the enormity of the situation and the critical moment in the history of the nation. With his vision, historical leadership and deep faith, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan dealt with the situation in a manner that helped preserve the new country’s unity.
Under his leadership it was clear that the past had no power over the present and we would not turn back the clock. In his capacity as the President of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed issued clear directives to the young Minister of Defence, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid, who played a crucial role in preserving the new state.
The farsightedness of the nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed and his brothers, and the other founding fathers, was not limited to the successful formation of the UAE but included having a vision of a state with a strong presence and status among other countries.
The founding fathers were firmly devoted to establishing a state that worked for the advancement of its citizens and residents by providing them with all means necessary to enjoy a prosperous and secure life.
Journey of progress
Following the announcement of the UAE, the fast-paced process of development started with a massive construction programme, including the development of infrastructure. This, coupled with the expansion of education, health and housing, along with social dynamism and new kinds of employment, have changed the nature of our society.
During the time of the UAE’s founding, the Emirati people felt optimistic and were full of hope for a better tomorrow. This was despite the challenging circumstances and the complexity of many problems we faced, the extent of which we may not have fully realised at that time.
The ambitious dream compensated for the years of British protection over the region, and this optimism would not have been possible without the wisdom of Sheikh Zayed in creating a sense of identity and loyalty to one country; after all we were one people scattered across small entities. With his wisdom and patience and that of his brothers, the rulers of the UAE, many complex issues were resolved; notably internal border issues, the unification of the army, and international recognition.
In the year of the 50th anniversary, I recall the first days of the founding of the UAE and remember my grandfather’s visits to the rulers. I remember his visit to Sheikh Zayed in London, which was the first time I saw the great leader, who will remain in our memory and identity as an inspiration; the symbol and the role model who opened the doors of progress and development for us.
I remember when I accompanied my grandfather on his visits to the Majlis of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, where I sat in the last row. I was impressed by the qualities of the legendary personality, his modesty, magnanimity and practical approach — a great leader who was the mastermind behind building Dubai, with his strong will, determination and intelligence.
My recollections also include my grandfather’s visits to the UAE’s rulers and his personal friendship with the late Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid of Ajman and the late Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid of Um Al Quwain. I used to listen carefully to their optimistic conversations about the country’s new dawn and bright future.
Building human capital
During the early life of the UAE, the leadership’s approach was clearly focused on building human capacity and the development of generations of Emiratis capable of moving the country forward and propelling it to far-reaching heights of prosperity and progress. The expansion of education was a key element of modernisation, with high school students starting to go to universities in Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.
I was one of the first batches of students who studied in the United States. We were 30 students in high school, 20 of whom studied at US universities. The year 1977 witnessed the establishment of the UAE University.
And here I am grateful to my late father, Mohammed Abdul Khaleq Gargash, who despite his engagement in trade, was a strong believer in public service, and always encouraged us to pursue education and work in public service.
Inspired by my father’s advice and encouragement, my eldest brother joined the UAE army and completed his studies, graduating as an officer from the Royal Sandhurst Military Academy in Britain.
There are plenty of memories and events to talk about and little space. In fact, there are many important details about the nation’s rise and journey towards success, but through this article I wanted to focus on some personal glimpses of the most important event of my life. My generation is very lucky and proud to live in the time of Sheikh Zayed, the time of the Union, and the time of the Emirates.
Message to the next generation
Today, we are reaping the fruits of a great dream that was pursued by great men, who defended it and protected it with their strong will and resolve, until it became an impregnable fortress, a nation we are proud of, a homeland governed by many values and achievements that we cherish.
The UAE is a country where we are motivated by optimism and hope to continue pressing ahead with its march forward under a wise leadership that puts humanity at the top of its priorities.
Hence, we must send messages from our generation to the next generations, who will carry the torch and continue the march.
Nations are built with values, ambition, science, solidarity and synergy. My message to both present and future generations is to preserve this rich legacy and keep pace with the cultural and scientific developments in our world.
The UAE succeeded because it has maintained its values and opened its doors to the world. So let our success in the coming decades be built on this solid foundation.
There is no room for doubt that this blessed journey requires us to document it in all its aspects, including the personal narratives and historical accounts — to tell our story in all its details, from the humble beginnings to the incredible country that we now live in.
The UAE’s story of success is a story of facing challenges — a story of determination, a story of a dream that the entire world has heard of. It is a dream that started five decades ago and will continue with hopes of an even brighter future.
As we celebrate the year of the 50th anniversary, we celebrate our journey of success; we celebrate our wise and dedicated leadership that has given so much to the UAE and its people.
We are proud of being part of the UAE, proud to count among its people. May Allah bless the UAE, its leadership and people.
Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash is the Diplomatic Adviser to the UAE President