History tells us who we are. Stories of the Founding Father must be retold for future generations
Sheikh Zayed’s 100th birthday is a moment to reflect on extraordinary growth
It is almost impossible to conceive what the UAE, formerly the Trucial States, might have been like when Sheikh Zayed was born a century ago. The youngest of four sons, he was born into a country where survival in the harsh desert heat was tough and depended on eking out a living on the scarce resources of the land, from fishing and pearl diving to basic crops grown in a few scattered oases. In his youth, he travelled extensively to acquaint himself both with the country and his people. In the heart of the desert, he lived among Bedouin, discovered the joys of falconry and learned an appreciation of the land. By the time of union in December 1971, he had already served as the ruler’s representative in Al Ain for 20 years and as ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1966, where he was well-versed in both the needs of the people he served and how to go about addressing them. When Abu Dhabi began exporting crude oil in the 1960s, the riches it brought helped fund schools, housing, transportation, hospitals and roads, all under his vision and leadership. The country we see today has largely been shaped by his extraordinary ability to understand its potential and foresee its development.
As the years go by, there will be fewer people who can recall just how far the UAE has come in a breathtakingly short timespan. While there are still stories handed down firsthand by those who can recall meeting the Founding Father and being dazzled by his foresight, grace and wit, that pool will get steadily smaller. And as time passes, all that will remain will be stories passed down from generation to generation of the man who led the charge to make the world take note of a tiny corner of desert – and succeeded. What was once personal experience will become posterity.
That process has already begun with the Year of Zayed, which commemorates his achievements in the centennial year of his birth. The monuments it will see inaugurated, the anecdotes that will be recounted, the exhibitions that will be visited – all these form an important part of the tapestry being woven to tell the story of how far the UAE has come. History tells us who we are and never more so when it is still in living memory. How it is retold is crucial to how life here will be remembered for centuries to come.