Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 2004 and First President of the United Arab Emirates from 1971 to 2004, is widely recognised as the ‘Father of the Nation’. He was born in Abu Dhabi around 1918, the youngest of the four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. After the death of his father, Sheikh Zayed was raised in Al Ain and it was here that he received the education that would shape his life and character. Schooled in traditional values, he had a deep love and respect for the environment and was initiated into falconry, which became a lifelong passion. When Sheikh Zayed became the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi in 1946 he set about transforming Al Ain, establishing a sound administration and personally funding the first modern school in the Emirate. He revised local water ownership rights to ensure a more equitable distribution which led to agricultural development and the re-establishment of the oasis as the predominant market centre.
In August 1966, Sheikh Zayed succeeded his brother in becoming Ruler of Abu Dhabi. His successful years in Al Ain were to be a model for his transformation of the lives of his people. Oil revenues were channelled into a massive construction programme for schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Britain announced that it would leave the region, Sheikh Zayed took the lead along with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai in calling for a federation of the Emirates. These were difficult times but, through his skilful approach of building consensus through consultation, Sheikh Zayed convinced his neighbours that their future strength lay in unity. On 2 December 1971 the flag of the newly formed United Arab Emirates was raised. Sheikh Zayed was elected by his fellow rulers as the first President of the UAE, a post to which he was successively re-elected.
Since its establishment the UAE has exceeded international expectations by developing successfully in all areas of life including social services, health, education, technology, trade and finance. Sheikh Zayed’s philosophy, informed by his deep faith, was that the resources of the country should be used to benefit the people living across all the Emirates, including women whose role he believed was vital to the development of the nation. Sheikh Zayed also developed international ties establishing the UAE as a country with global reach and significance.
Sheikh Zayed passed away on 2 November 2004. His vision for the future success of the UAE continues to be developed by his son His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was elected to succeed his father as President of the United Arab Emirates.