As we approach the halfway stage on the Founding Father's birthday, events commemorating the life of the UAE's first President are gathering pace
Marking Sheikh Zayed’s birthday – a year of celebrations is in full swing
The year is 1918. The First World War will come to a close, and a Spanish flu epidemic is sweeping across the globe.
It was into this tumultuous year, 100 years ago today, that the Founding Father Sheikh Zayed was born.
They were tough times. The pearling fleets that had sustained generations had dwindled because of the discovery of cultured pearls in Japan.
When Sheikh Zayed became Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region in 1946, a second world war had brought more hardship to the region. But his rule through consensus, care and dialogue did not go unnoticed.
“I will not easily forget my first visit to Buraimi and my first meeting with Sheikh Zayed. It is impossible to meet him without immediately being taken by him,” Col Hugh Boustead, the British political agent to Abu Dhabi from 1961 to 1965, wrote in his book The Wind of Morning.
“He invariably had a kind word for everybody and was most generous with his money. I was struck by all that had been done in Al Ain, The springs had been dug out to increase the water supply to the gardens, wells dug and pumps supplied and cemented baths for men and women had been built in the fallujahs [falaj system]. Everyone who visited Buraimi noticed the happiness of the people in the areas.”
By 1966, oil was being shipped abroad, Sheikh Zayed was Ruler of Abu Dhabi and the region was on the cusp of a transformation.
David Neild was an officer with the Trucial Oman Scouts at that time. “Here was a great man who loved the desert and everything associated with it. But he was also more than capable of understanding the problems of the modern world,” he wrote about Sheikh Zayed in his book, A Soldier in Arabia. “The time would soon come when it would be his destiny to transform his beloved desert into what the UAE has become today.” That moment arrived in 1971 when the Emirates was formed with Sheikh Zayed as president.
Today, 100 years from his birth, the UAE is about halfway through the Year of Zayed. Yesterday, to celebrate 100 years since the founder’s birth, the President, Sheikh Khalifa ordered that all serving and retired Government employees be paid an additional one month’s salary.
The year-long celebration of the late president’s life highlights his role in establishing the UAE and his achievements for tolerance, peace and progress. Since the start of the year, the Founder’s Office said it had already received more than 600 proposals to mark the year. In Abu Dhabi, one of the most visible commemorations has been the opening of The Founder’s Memorial. The installation was completed by artist Ralph Helmick, opened on April 22 and at its centre is The Constellation – a work of 1,327 geometric shapes suspended from 1,110 cables that form a three-dimensional profile of Sheikh Zayed.
But there have also been countless other initiatives. Etihad launched a “young aviators programme” to inspire children to become pilots, it has a branded freighter aircraft to carry out humanitarian missions, and also unveiled a Year of Zayed-themed plane. Emirates in Dubai also has unveiled Year of Zayed livery on 10 of its aircraft.
On Abu Dhabi’s Corniche during the Mother of the Nation festival, 500 drones lit up the sky in celebration of the special year, while Sheikh Zayed was announced as personality of the year at Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
His face was illuminated with hundreds of solar lanterns in January, and the life of Sheikh Zayed in a 100 minutes and 100 films is being told by the National Archives.
Of course we cannot forget, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, pinned a Year of Zayed badge to a carpet seller who had refused to sell his portrait of Sheikh Zayed to a visitor.
There are too many other initiatives to mention and we are not even half way through Year of Zayed. Dates such as National Day are on the horizon, Qasr Al Hosn is set to open and everyone has much more to look forward to before the year is out.