Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan:The last of the Arab leaders of hope [Archives:2004/787/Opinion]

November 4 2004

The recent death of HM, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan, the ruler of the United Arab Emirates is indeed a sad and tragic loss of one of the most prudent traditional rulers of the Arab World. Undoubtedly the wise leadership of Sheikh Zayed will be missed not only in the country that has been blessed with his steady and far-sighted guidance for the last 33 years, but will be felt in the Arab World, the Moslem World and the international community.
With his simplistic Bedouin reasoning and astute adherence to the sensible principles of Islam, Sheikh Zayed was able to exact his positive influence in so many fronts that the space of this column will not be enough to list all the great achievements and important contributions that this phenomenal Arab leader left his country and the world with. Most of all, the Arab World will miss a leader, who fully understood the sensitivities of not only the citizens of the United Arab Emirates, but of his fellow Arab kinsmen and fellow Moslems everywhere.
Coming into this world at the end of World War I, Sheikh Zayed grew up in a region that was fast becoming a volatile area of the world as the Arabian Peninsula became more exposed to the outside world and more vital for the continued economic prosperity of the world. Amidst great paradoxes, Sheikh Zayed, was able to discern from his traditional religious teachings and Bedouin upbringing that a model can indeed be set up for regional and national cohesion among the Arab states and that it is possible for the abundant resources of the region to be channeled towards the enhancing the welfare of the people and bringing the Arabs out of the darkness of despair and deprivation that the Arabian Peninsula was subjected to for so many centuries.
His wisdom and charisma were easily strong enough to attract family support to get him elected as the Emir of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and eventually to be selected by the Emirs and leaders of the Seven Sheikhdoms that ultimately become the United Arab Emirates in December 2, 1971. Abu Dhabi was the largest state in the new federation, and the other Emirs clearly saw in Sheikh Zayed the wisdom that will insure the survival of their traditional leadership in their respective domains, amidst a rapidly changing Arab World that was threatened by the wave of radicalism that was spreading the Sixties and Early Seventies of the last Century.
But Sheikh Zayed's ultimate route to survival was not based on purely assuring the continuation of a status quo and the maintenance of traditional autocratic regimes. On the contrary, the wisdom of Sheikh Zayed led him to expand his visions to incorporating changes that would help transform the agglomeration of previously deprived societies into the most modern states in the region, which eventually heralded the UAE into the world of modern business and technology. Moreover, the unusual astute management of a rapidly developing wealth, thanks to the vast petroleum resources that lied beneath the desert grounds of his newly found nation, has transformed the UAE into a model of sound resource allocation that leads to the betterment of the welfare of his people and offers long-term sustainable assets that will continue to yield their fruits for his country even after the limited oil has reached its eventual depletion.
Thanks to harnessing of all available resources to the development of the country, under Sheikh Zayed, the UAE gained a respectable place not only in the Arab World but in the international business community as well. Today, from a bunch of rudimentary fishing and pearl diving economies to an international commercial bastion of high volume business activity very few people would have thought possible. This observer recalls how much ridicule was printed in the Western press about the Sheikhs of the UAE still hiding their oil revenues under their mattresses, when this resource began to funnel considerable financial resources and now the UAE has become one of the most modern commercial and financial centers of the world. Surely, Sheikh Zayed had the vision in not only seeing his own country making great strides in development and the enhancement of the standards of living of his once destitute newly acquired constituency, but that of the entire Arab World. Sheikh Zayed was never unconscious of the role that he should play as a conscientious Arab and Moslem leader. His efforts towards getting the Arabs and Moslems to pool their resources together never ceased, even with the paradoxes that reigned in the politics and regional arrangements that prevailed in the region.
The role of Sheikh Zayed, like that of the equally far-sighted King Faisal of Saudi Arabia in promoting united Arab action for the defense of Arab national causes is manifested by the unlimited support and financial backing of the Arab war effort in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, in which the Arabs registered their first major successes against what was viewed as the undefeatable Israeli Army.
The humanitarian efforts of Sheikh Zayed left their prints in most Arab and Moslem countries and even can be found in many other non-Arab and non-Moslem and the many charitable and relief organizations of the UAE are still active in many areas where suffering is widespread. The relief work of UAE organizations have received international recognition for their efficiency and sound organizational structures.
While relying on a traditional Arab rendition of Bedouin democracy, Sheikh Zayed implanted the seeds of democratic progress in the UAE, where participation is regarded as the rule rather than the exception in governance and management.
May God bless his soul and compensate with other visionary leaders who can help bring the Arab World and Moslem World out of their current despair.