x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

His task: to help convey 30 years of change

When Queen Elizabeth II begins her official state visit today, Zaki Nusseibeh will be by her side performing the same duties he did when she was last here, 31 years ago.

Zaki Nusseibeh, the vice chairman for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Cultural Affairs, relaxes in his home library.
Zaki Nusseibeh, the vice chairman for the Abu Dhabi Authority for Cultural Affairs, relaxes in his home library.

Abu Dhabi // When Queen Elizabeth II begins her official state visit today, Zaki Nusseibeh will be by her side performing the same duties he did when she was last here, 31 years ago.

As official translator to Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE, and now to Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mr Nusseibeh has a crucial role to play.

The father of three, who is also vice president of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, spent many years accompanying the late Ruler on foreign trips and was always part of the welcoming party for visiting dignitaries.

His home library is filled with photographs dating back to the 1960s, many of which include the British royals. But Mr Nusseibeh modestly says his role was to "not exist".

"The relationship was very warm, particularly between the Queen and Sheikh Zayed. He was a communicator by nature and could reach out to all kinds of people.

"They were a contrast in some ways. Sheikh Zayed was always very outgoing and the Queen was more reserved, but it worked. There were never any awkward moments, which is always the concern of a translator. They always found it easy to talk to each other, and not only about politics but family, horses and agriculture."

The Queen's first official visit was, according to Mr Nusseibeh, a celebration of the formation of the UAE just eight years earlier. Not only had the Emirates become a country, it was on its way to becoming a successful one.

The relationship between the two families was far from only political. Shared interests in other areas cemented the relationship further.

"The relationship had even existed from the first time Sheikh Zayed met the Queen. They established a very strong rapport, which is a curious thing to say, as they come from totally different backgrounds."

That they spoke different languages, he says, did not present a barrier to their friendship. "Sheikh Zayed had the ability to read faces," he said. "He made people feel like he could understand them, without the English language."

The British royal guests will spend an evening and one full day in Abu Dhabi before leaving for Oman, but even this short trip, Mr Nusseibeh says, will be as memorable as the first.

"It's a different era, it's a new generation of leaders. The Emirates have become recognised on the global scene, they have expanded their relationship with the rest of the world. This is their chance to share all of that, 30 years later."

munderwood@thenational.ae