x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Historian’s research sheds light on Sheikh Zayed’s greatness

By speaking to the people who knew him well, Jamal bin Huwaireb believes he has discovered the essence of Sheikh Zayed’s greatness.

Sheikh Zayed, a visionary rooted in his culture, takes part in a traditional dance. Courtesy National Archives
Sheikh Zayed, a visionary rooted in his culture, takes part in a traditional dance. Courtesy National Archives

ABU DHABI // By speaking to the people who knew him well, Jamal bin Huwaireb believes he has discovered the essence of Sheikh Zayed’s greatness.

On the 10th anniversary of the death of the country’s founding Father, the Emirati historian hopes he can portray Sheikh Zayed’s most important characteristics to a generation who never knew him.

Mr bin Huwaireb has conducted research about Sheikh Zayed by interviewing acquaintances of the nation’s first President.

He also gathered information from publications, such as the travel books by Wilfred Thesiger, as well as national and British documents.

What made Sheikh Zayed a great leader was firstly his name and ancestry, said Mr bin Huwaireb. “Zayed was named after his grandfather who was a symbol of justice, generosity and courage,” he said.

He grew up in a family of leaders, and was brought up listening to stories about his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa.

So, it was natural that Sheikh Zayed would grow up to be a wise leader because of the environment in which he lived, the stories he heard and the things he saw from the family surrounding him.

“Zayed grew up with this name, and with the love of imitating the person behind the name. His name had a major role in his character.”

Mr bin Huwaireb said Sheikh Zayed learnt what leadership entailed from a young age from his father, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed. “Even though his father did not reign for long, it was enough,” he said.

“Zayed’s father was blessed with wisdom. This boy looked into his father’s life, he saw the majlises and saw what leadership is in front of his eyes. He saw how fair his father was, and how he treated the community with equality. He spoke to them, played with the children. That is how he created a relationship with the people.”

Sheikh Zayed also learnt from his elder brother, Sheikh Shakhbout, who had a vast knowledge of politics, literature and Sharia.

“From Sheikh Shakhbout’s majlis in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed learnt about literary works like Al Mutanabi’s poetry.”

When Sheikh Zayed became the Ruler’s representative in Al Ain, he quickly won over the area’s people.

“He did it through communication, cooperating with the people. He would borrow money to be able to look after the people of Al Ain. He built a school and a souq, and was continuously developing,” said Mr bin Huwaireb.

He said this period in Sheikh Zayed’s life was about acquiring knowledge.

In 1953, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Shakhbout travelled to London and Paris – their first visit to western countries. Mr bin Huwaireb said: “At that time, there was nothing mentionable in the country. Sheikh Zayed came to Al Ain and he was sad, he was telling people ‘when will our country become like the West’.

“He wanted to develop architecture, to build roads, to make use of technology, and there was nothing in the country but a few buildings and little trade.”

When Zayed became Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 he immediately set to work in building hospitals, schools, and roads, said the historian.

“The country developed in just five years. After the British [announced that they would be leaving] in 1968, he decided to unify the Emirates and, with the help of Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum, it was possible.”

Sheikh Zayed always saw the country in a light that required constant development in all sectors, said Mr bin Huwaireb, who stressed that it was important to impress that development on younger generations.

“Sheikh Zayed followed the path of his ancestors and the characteristics have remained in all the leaders. And now, his children and the sheikhs are following his footsteps. We call our sheikhs ‘father’, because we have a different relationship between the ruler and the people.

“It is important to know that Zayed’s upbringing gave him that personality, and we must take him as a model in raising our own children.”

He said younger generations should be inspired by Sheikh Zayed and “by narrating his story we are instilling nobility, cooperation and the ability to achieve in our children”.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae