Founder's Office has received over 600 proposals to mark the centenary of Sheikh Zayed's birth
How the Year of Zayed will pass on his story and values to a new generation
Like so many of his generation and older, Faris Saif Al Mazrouei has his own personal memory of Sheikh Zayed.
It was on a trip to Geneva in Switzerland while strolling through one of the city’s parks when he suddenly noticed there were other fellow Emiratis around.
There on a bench was the President of the UAE.
“It was not a formal setting,” says Mr Mazrouei.
“I passed by one of the benches and he was sitting there. Very peaceful, very humble. A fatherly figure and the leader at the same time.”
Appreciating the values and life of Sheikh Zayed is now a full time responsibility of Mr Mazrouei, but on a much larger scale. He is the general manager of the Founder’s Office, which is charged with ensuring the success of 2018 and the Year of Zayed.
Those celebrations can be said to have begun publicly with the opening of the Founder’s Memorial on the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Built on a site at the entrance to the breakwater road, it was once familiar for the giant portrait of the UAE’s Founding President that stood there for many years.
The Founder’s Memorial will feature a spectacular artwork that captures the image of the late president, along with a visitor’s centre with photographs and objects relating to Sheikh Zayed’s life, and a garden that also celebrates his love of plants and environment.
“The Founder's Memorial is a huge effort that's been in the works for many years now,” says Mr Mazrouei.
“It's a space to commemorate Sheikh Zayed, about Sheikh Zayed and his achievements.
“Every single thing in the memorial has been studied, from the artwork, to the space, to the landscape. Every single thing has a meaning.”
After the formal opening on Monday night, attended by many of the most senior figures in the country as well as members of the Al Nahyan family, the public are expected to be given access soon afterwards.
For the Founder’s Office, the memorial is only a part of what will be a year of events to mark the birth of Sheikh Zayed in 1918.
They are assessing and assisting with every event – large and small – to mark the Year of Zayed, making sure, as Mr Mazrouei says: “It is done in a certain way, a presentable way.”
The bigger issue is what the Founder’s Office hopes to achieve with the Year of Zayed.
“It was chosen to commemorate him, to remind the previous generation about the achievements of Sheikh Zayed, the milestones he established in this country” says Mr Mazrouei. “And to educate the new generation that knows of him, but doesn’t know a lot about Sheikh Zayed.
"They recognise him as a leader - but it’s always different when we relate to him. We've lived during his time, but the new generation? It’s one of our responsibilities to make sure that they see and capture the achievements and the developments that took place; his values as a leader that we are currently continuing.”
Since the beginning of the year, the Founder’s Office has already received over 600 proposals for events and initiatives over the next 12 months. They have come from government organisations and the private sector, but also many individuals. Some have come from overseas.
They include books, exhibitions and charitable events but also an orchestra and a musical. “It’s very interesting how people see and want to remember Sheikh Zayed,” says Mr Mazrouei. “How do they want to talk about him, describe him, remember him? We’ve had a lot of types.”
The Founder’s Office is focusing on four values they see as best expressing Sheikh Zayed. Those of respect, wisdom, human development and sustainability.
“If you look at the topics of respect, today we have over 200 nationalities living in the UAE,” says Mr Mazrouei. “This did not come out of nowhere. He had a strong belief to respect different religions, to respect one another. This is something we would like to shed a light on, and to emphasise.”
Many proposals involve charitable projects. The thinking, says Mr Mazrouei, is that they should do more than just take the name of Sheikh Zayed, but also reflect his view of charity.
“This was one of the values of Sheikh Zayed. To help and see the growth and development of people around him. His success was to see everyone around him successful."
The Founder’s Office is working on its own ideas as well as supporting those of others. “There’s a lot in the pipeline,” Mr Mazrouei says. “There will be more to come and that’s one reason we are looking and screening at everything about Sheikh Zayed.”
The thinking is, he says, that some of more impactful events from the Year of Zayed might become permanent features in the calendar even after 2018.
There are hopes also that the restoration of Qasr Al Hosn, the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, will be completed by the end of the year, after being closed to the public for nearly a decade.
And then there is National Day on December 2, perhaps inevitably the climax of the Year of Zayed.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest we’ve ever seen,” promises Mr Mazreouei.
“It’s still a work in progress, but the topic is Sheikh Zayed and you can image what will come out of this.”