Sheikh Zayed: How he shepherded UAE to prosperity
Apart from being a great visionary and leader, Sheikh Zayed was known for his wisdom, humility and humanity.
Many have wondered what was it about the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, that made him extremely popular globally.
Apart from being a great visionary and leader, Sheikh Zayed was indeed known for his wisdom, humility and humanity. He was someone who could look into the future, and see what the UAE could become, from being a desert to what we see blooming today. Just eight years after the UAE was formed, the people of the emirates were living in a different place. All the major cities and towns had running water and full electricity supply. Free education was compulsory, while the government was providing new houses, jobs and a proper medical system to all nationals and expatriates. The new government was ensuring that basic services reached citizens in the most remote parts of the UAE.
Sheikh Zayed also realised that a vast majority of growth could be attributed to the growing expat workforce of the country, mainly Asian labourers employed for infrastructure projects. This influx of new cultures and religions was a test for Sheikh Zayed's administration. He knew that the UAE population was not prepared for the influx as they had remained cut off from the rest of the world for much of the 20th century.
Therefore, Sheikh Zayed at the same time promoted the country's heritage. He actively promoted equestrianism, camel racing and hunting, while also demanding the youth of the country to seek employment and play an active role in society. He used every opportunity to interact with the country's youth, and his message was the same: "Knowledge is the only weapon to guarantee a future . cultivate your manners, be obedient to your teachers. The state places all its hopes in you and believes that it is investing in our most important natural resource," he said.
Sheikh Zayed believed that the expatriate-dominated labour markets needed to be national-friendly while also understanding the need to ensure that imported expat talent was not jeopardised. This he achieved by mainly leaving the private sector labour market unregulated.
In his book Zayed - A Man Who Built A Nation, author Graeme Wilson said that the most remarkable facet of the UAE's overall development was not the speed with which it had been completed, or the size of the investments, but that Sheikh Zayed had managed to take the UAE on its roller-coaster of development without mishap.
Wilson said in his book that Zayed believed that in order to join the rest of the world as a modern, progressive nation, the UAE needed to undergo an unprecedented overhaul. With this in mind, between 1971 and 1986, he had involved himself in shepherding the indigenous population forward. He urged people to retain their basic principles while embracing modernity.
Wilson mentioned in his book that: "...although expatriates and their families outnumbered the indigenous population . yet the modernisers succeeded in keeping clear of many ills which afflict society elsewhere in the world.
"Although some ills like the drugs issue could not be avoided, with effective policing and warnings by Sheikh Zayed and his government, the problem was minimised. Sustained and aggressive attacks on imported problems, coupled with efforts to promote traditional Arab culture, ensured that the UAE went through a transformation with its culture largely intact."
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