After having lived in the UAE for the last couple of years, I have to say that I’m exceptionally proud to call it my home. The all-year round sunshine (admittedly less likable during the summer months), the mingling of cultures, and just the fact that the UAE is a desert turned green. I still whole heartedly believe that nothing is perfect, and the best we can do is to try every day to work towards an ideal, but this year in the UAE has given me a lot to be grateful for and reflect over.
The Year of Zayed as 2018 marks 100 years since the birth of this nation’s leader, patriarch, president, and guiding principle. The city of Abu Dhabi as we know it now, was a product of his vision. As western media frequently said, Sheikh Zayed was “the man who turned the desert green”. Yet when I look around the city, even that seems to be an understatement. Sheikh Zayed took a Bedouin people traveling through the harsh desert and placed them in the lap of luxury atop the skyscrapers and clouds. In just 47 short years, the UAE is a force to be reckoned with.
As I’ve continued my research, driven equally by curiosity and by my desire to understand my new home’s history a little more deeply, I find myself more and more awestruck by the nature of the man himself – even more than his achievements.
Sheikh Zayed set himself apart from the other Arab rulers of the time. He was solemn in his promises and steadfast in his principles. From conservation to women’s rights, he was a step ahead of his time. I thought it was particularly interesting that despite being an avid shooter himself and growing up in a culture where hunting journeys were a way of life, Sheikh Zayed gave all of that up at 25 in an effort to conserve wildlife. It may not say much in the grand scheme of things, but I think it speaks wildly about his principles and dedication to lead by example.
Without our principles, we have nothing. And that’s probably the biggest lesson that I’ve taken away from Sheikh Zayed’s legacy. As he famously said “Arab oil can never be dearer than Arab blood.” He put his words into actions and tailored his foreign policy to aid in the Arab wars and payed special attention to supporting developing nations.
It is easy to be impressed by legacy but much more profoundly affecting to be impressed by kindness.
As a woman heading her own business in a predominantly conservative environment, I’m also grateful to Sheikh Zayed’s vision as a liberal leader. He was a champion of women’s rights, insistent on the education and liberation of the country’s women. In fact, the UAE was the first Arab country to make it mandatory to have female representation in boardrooms. These are the traits which set him apart, and which have created a history to be proud of.
I love a good quote, and I think I’ll end with one of Sheikh Zayed’s that speaks ferociously about ideas that I hold dear and some that I think we often need reminding of.
“Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to build the individual, and to use the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation.”