As the UAE celebrated its formation on December 2, 1971, foreign political analysts were already predicting that the union would struggle to last even a few months. History has shown how wrong they were.
Indeed, a look at the days leading up to that momentous milestone reveals a complex story of political acumen and shuttle diplomacy, as Sheikh Zayed worked with the other Rulers to overcome the obstacles to union. The leadership and spirit of cooperation in those early days laid the foundations for the subsequent 40 years.
It's a fascinating story - and one that is too little appreciated by Emiratis and UAE residents alike.
As The National reports today, there remains a widespread lack of awareness about the country's rich history, with a YouGov survey revealing that many respondents struggled to name the country's leaders, the date that oil was first discovered, or how many emirates the country consisted of at the time of the union. And, most unfathomable, only 53 per cent of those polled could identify 2004 as the year when Sheikh Zayed passed away.
Experts blame the trends revealed by the survey, conducted on behalf of The National and Al Aan TV, on inadequate history education at both schools and universities in the country.
As highlighted in our pages, many schools continue to carry substandard history books published as far back as the 1980s. Many of these texts lack detailed, or in some cases even accurate, information on the UAE's pre-federation history. The country's recent history meanwhile is, as a result of the dated textbooks, often entirely missing.
For all concerned, this is a shame. The country's education authorities should be concerned that the UAE's history is not given the prominence it deserves across academic institutions. An overhaul of curricula, and bringing textbooks up to acceptable standards, is one obvious measure. Some universities have already set up Arabic history and literature clubs, hoping to imbue a sense of pride and curiosity in the minds of Emiratis about their nation's heritage.
Few countries have had a development trajectory to rival that of the UAE over the last 40 years, not to mention the pre-union era. It is a story that deserves to be told, not just to Emiratis, but to the world.