Ali Manea Mufreh Al Ahbabi with his sons Sultan Al Ahbabi and Saqer Al Ahbabi on a tour of the photo gallery in the family’s majlis Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/XPRESS

Al Ain: We are in the majlis of 87-year-old Ali Manea Mufreh Al Ahbabi in Al Ain. Breakfast is being served and there’s much to choose from: fresh dates picked from the family’s nearby farm, a special nut sauce, ginger kahwa, laban from goat’s milk and halwa, among other things.

On the walls of the majlis are a number of photographs. One of them shows Al Ahbabi with the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father with his son His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

There’s another frame in which Al Ahbabi, sporting a traditional Emirati dagger, is with the Father of the Nation.

“This picture was taken at a royal wedding in Dubai,” said Al Ahbabi. “I recited poems on the occasion.”

One of the oldest and most ardent admirers of the late President, Al Ahbabi takes pride in his recollections as UAE declares 2018 as the ‘Year of Zayed’.

“As a poet, I had the privilege of sitting next to the late President once at the Royal Palace. I have written over 100 poems till date. They evoke patriotism and show my love for the country. My poems touched the late President’s heart and he complimented me,” said Al Ahbabi.

One of his poems titled Zayed the man of peace reads: “We ask God to always honour Shaikh Zayed … and he shall lift up his banner above the nations …”

Book of poems

Al Ahbabi, a permanent member of the Nabati Council of Poetry, said he is set to publish his poems in a book and his sons are currently in the process of compiling his works.

Walking down memory lane, Al Ahbabi has many fond memories of the late President. “I still remember the second anniversary celebrations of the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s accession to the throne. I was given the task of carrying the UAE flag around Abu Dhabi. It was a momentous day for me.” He said the following year, he had a close interaction with the late President. “It was the first day of Eid Al Adha. I was working at the Mina Zayed Port and the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan walked up to me and asked me why I was not at home with my family. I told him I was celebrating the occasion with the country. He patted my back and commended my ‘good work’. My happiness knew no bounds.”

Learned man

While Al Ahbabi did not receive any formal education, his poems and humanitarian work have earned him recognition as a learned man. “On many occasions, I was invited by the late President to discuss matters related to education and social responsibility,” said Al Ahbabi, who not only ensured his children studied well, but also pushed for education among youth in general. Not surprisingly, government schools in Al Ain hold him in the highest esteem.