x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

'The relationship is rare and precious'

Sheikh Khalifa's official translator speaks about on close friendship of Rulers

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince Andrew at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2010. Andrew Henderson / The National
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince Andrew at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 2010. Andrew Henderson / The National

Less than a decade after the birth of the UAE, Queen Elizabeth was welcomed here on an official state visit.

Her first invitation, in 1979, came from Sheikh Zayed, the founding President, who was a personal friend of the British monarch.

Just eight years after the country was formed, the queen spent three days here, sailing from Abu Dhabi to Dubai in the British royal yacht HMY Britannia, which became one of the first vessels to dock at the new Jebel Ali Port.

Two and a half years ago, she returned for her second state visit at the invitation of Sheikh Khalifa. This week she returns that hospitality, as Sheikh Khalifa embarks on his first official state visit to the UK in his capacity as President.

Zaki Nusseibeh, who lives in Abu Dhabi, was the official translator for Sheikh Zayed in 1979 and will assume the same role for Sheikh Khalifa in London this week.

"This is a head of state who is invited as a personal guest of the queen, not as a government guest, this is what is important," says Mr Nusseibeh. "He has been to England in his capacity as Crown Prince but this is his first time in his official capacity as President of the UAE.

"Sheikh Zayed had established a very close relationship with the queen, the duke of Edinburgh and the prince of Wales. This is still reflected in the ties of the two governments. The relationship is something very rare, and very precious."

Almost 35 years ago, on February 24, 1979, Queen Elizabeth began what was the first state visit to Abu Dhabi and Dubai by any British monarch.

In Dubai, she opened the World Trade Centre and inaugurated the Jebel Ali Port, which is now one the world's largest.

Much of her time in the capital was spent privately with members of the Ruling family, including an audience with Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the wife of Sheikh Zayed.

Given the two families' close relationship, it was fitting that her first call on her second official state visit, in November 2010, was to pay her respects at the grave of Sheikh Zayed, with whom she remained close friends until his death in 2004.

Accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, and second son Prince Andrew, she was driven to his tomb, which lies just outside the courtyard of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

After praying for his soul, she was escorted through the marble-floored courtyard of the mosque by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Accompanied by the British foreign secretary, the visit was also fruitful for trade and industry.

"The important thing is that with the new era, Britain and the UAE are developing new ties in new areas, whether it's commerce or health or education or energy," says Mr Nusseibeh.

"This is the important thing.

"Of course, there is also the ceremonial part, which England and the UK are particularly good at.

"And I hope the very strong British community that lives in the UAE will be happy to see the two sovereigns coming together - it is something to feel proud of."

munderwood@thenational.ae