x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

National Day is 'a time to reflect on Sheikh Zayed'

Businessman hopes young note hardships of their forefathers.

A nation transformed: Mohammed Al Fahim. Jaime Puebla / The National
A nation transformed: Mohammed Al Fahim. Jaime Puebla / The National

While most of the country is gearing up for festivities to mark the UAE's 40th anniversary, a well-known businessman and author will be a little more restrained in his celebrations.

Mohammed Al Fahim, the honorary chairman of Al Fahim Group, will spend National Day quietly reflecting on times gone by, and remembering his mentor and friend the late Sheikh Zayed, founding President of the nation.

"I wish Sheikh Zayed was here to celebrate with us," says Mr Al Fahim, 63. "Without him the celebration will be missing its most important element.

"I'm one of those people who was brought up in his time. Everything I learned was because of him. Everything I achieved was due to his guidance, encouragement and rules.

" Without him here, to me, the celebration has lost some of its glamour."

Mr Al Fahim knows more than most about Sheikh Zayed's influence on the country. His father, Abdul, was a confidant and close friend for more than 50 years.

Like many of his generation, Abdul was born into poverty. He founded a small trading company in the 1950s and built it up into a business empire.

Now that company has a vast portfolio of interests, including the UAE franchises for Mercedes-Benz, Jeep and Chrysler cars, and ownership of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel in Abu Dhabi.

The growth of this business, as well as the birth and development of the nation under Sheikh Zayed, was the subject of Mr Al Fahim's book, From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi.

Since it was published in 1995 it has sold more than 100,000 copies, has had nine print editions, has been translated into 12 different languages and is often described as the definitive guide to the early years of the UAE.

The book starts with an exploration of the austerity of life in the Gulf region, with Mr Al Fahim describing how, before the 1960s, the impoverished inhabitants barely scraped a living from pearl diving, fishing and farming.

He then gives a first-hand account of how oil wealth hastened the onset of modernity within a generation.

As well as giving visitors and expatriates an insight into this transformation, Mr Al Fahim hopes his writings impart an important lesson to the younger generation of Emiratis.

"This current generation were born with a silver spoon in their mouths but they don't know how difficult it was for us to get that silver spoon for them," he says.

"I hope the second generation will understand the difficulties we had to face to achieve all that we have today.

"It's now entirely up to them to improve on what we have achieved and then take up the mantle and progress forward much further than we have reached.

"So as well as celebrating the 40th anniversary, I hope that this generation will not just think of the significance of this achievement, but also remember the hardships that their forefathers went through before them."

hberger@thenational.ae