x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'He was a man who cared' - humanitarian groups pay tribute to Sheikh Ahmed

Humanitarians cand ordinary citizens speak of the loss of a great leader, a man respected for his generosity and compassion whose charity work left a lasting impression

Humanitarian groups paid tribute to Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed last night, mourning the loss of someone they described as "a great leader in the UAE aid sector". Sheikh Ahmed was an active member of the donor and humanitarian relief community, holding the position of chairman of the board of trustees of the Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation.

Ahmed al Mazrouei, the chairman of the UAE Red Crescent Authority, described him as an "open man who cared about humanity", who was both "humble and charming". "He contributed a lot to humanitarian and charity work, especially to the needy and orphans," Mr al Mazrouei said. "He is one of the people who had a very generous hand in this field. It's a loss for us and the humanitarian community inside and outside the UAE. We have lost someone who was a leader in humanitarian efforts to relieve pain and hunger."

In a statement issued last night, Hazza al Qahtani, the director general of the Foreign Aid Co-ordination Office, said Sheikh Ahmed "embodied the spirit of philanthropy and compassion for those less fortunate" a legacy left by his father, Sheikh Zayed. Mr al Qahtani said that under Sheikh Ahmed's direction the foundation established "schools, mosques, housing and cultural centres" around the world.

"They have also been very supportive in sending relief aid when disasters struck in different countries," he said. "We have lost a great leader in the UAE aid sector and pray that others will emulate the example he set." Dr Adel al Shamry, the chief executive of the Zayed Giving Initiative, said people who knew Sheikh Ahmed had "tremendous respect" for him and his charity work, much of which he did "behind the scenes".

Across the country yesterday, people received the news on their mobile phones. "I just couldn't believe it; we all just kept on hoping to hear good news," said Jinan al Madfai, 24, from Abu Dhabi, who received the news on her BlackBerry. "He was like a brother and a father to us," she said. "God have mercy on him." The women in her family, friends of the sheikh's family, were going to Al Ain to pay their respects.

"His family is so down to earth and so kind," said Ms al Madfai. "Our prayers and hearts go out to them." She added: "He was one of the world's top leaders." People who knew Sheikh Ahmed as a child were saddened by the news, holding out hope until the last minute that somehow he might have survived a glider crash on Friday. Mohammed al Gufly, a bodyguard for Sheikh Zayed for more than 20 years, was shocked.

"Our whole family was saddened to hear this news," said Mr al Gufly's daughter, Alia. "Our prayers are with the family of Sheikh Ahmed. Their pain is our pain." In a statement, the Ministry of Interior declared that "the death of Sheikh Ahmed is a true shock to the nation". "It is not only the nation that grieves over the death of Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed, but also do the hearts of millions of brothers and friends who knew the generous Sheikh whose charitable work has made him the man of giving, mercy and human compassion," the statement continued.

"All this has made him the loss for both the nation and mankind." Sheikh Ahmed was born in 1969 in Al Ain and graduated from UAE University. His ties to the Garden City were strong. Mohammed al Amri, 30, a police officer, met Sheikh Ahmed last year at his majlis in Al Ain. His initial shock at the news of the accident turned to great sadness. "I had been hoping and praying that he would be found alive but I'm now grief-stricken," Mr al Amri said.

"Sheikh Ahmed was known for his respect for others, his generosity and his compassion. He loved to meet people and left his majlis in Al Ain open 24 hours a day for anyone who wanted to come visit. "That's where I met him last Ramadan. I remember he smiled and laughed a lot." Mr al Amri plans to attend the prayers for Sheikh Ahmed at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque today. "I will be there to pay my respects to Sheikh Khalifa and all the brothers."

Sultan al Deri, 27, a government employee, was at a loss for words; his eyes filled with tears upon hearing the news. "May Allah be with the Royal Family and the people of the Emirates," he said. The news spread through Al Jimi Mall in Al Ain as radios and televisions interrupted regular programming to broadcast verses of the Quran. "He had a white heart and was known for his charitable work," said Yasser al Neyadi, a 19-year-old film-maker. "Our hearts go out to his family." He said that a glum mood had overtaken Al Ain.

Mr al Neyadi, his family and friends plan to pay their respects to the family of the Sheikh, and take part in the funeral prayers. Ibrahim Ubaid of the Emirates Sociological Association, a non-profit association based in Sharjah, expressed his grief for the "loss of the country and the Islamic community". He said Sheikh Ahmed "meant a lot" to the association because of his support of their volunteer work.

"We've always valued his role in this. The one who does good will be remembered through the impact he has left behind. And all the Emirati society, as well as communities elsewhere, have felt the impact of his work." Mr Ubaid said the last thing he did yesterday before leaving the office was to see if there was any news about the Sheikh. He added that people were praying for him, which was "a testimony to their love of him".

"Since he went missing, everyone has been sad. Some because they know him personally or because they know his humanitarian work. There is no doubt his death will leave a gap." @Email:newsdesk@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Hassan Hassan and Haneen Dajani