“Wealth is not money. Wealth lies in men. This is where true power lies, the power we value. This is what has convinced us to direct all our resources to building the individual, and to using the wealth which God has provided us in the service of the nation.”
The unveiling of the largest portrait of Sheikh Zayed on 26th November to commemorate the UAE’s National Day drew rapturous praise.
Sheikh Zayed assumed power in 1966. He was a visionary who changed the face of the Gulf through the formation of the UAE federation, engendering an enduring spirit of Emirati unity. Responsible for transforming vast tracts of desert into a cosmopolitan and prosperous land rich with opportunities, Sheikh Zayed encouraged dialogue with everyone and was renowned for his superlative powers of communication. Crucially, Sheikh Zayed began talking about oil and concessions.
A man of dynamism and great spirit, Sheikh Zayed’s childhood was spent in the desert. It was in the desert that the young Sheikh Zayed discovered his passion for falconry and in his book Falconry: Our Arab Heritage (published in 1977), he recounts the pleasures of this sport.
Sheikh Zayed turned his focus towards the development of Abu Dhabi’s fledgling oil sector where he believed there was immense unexplored potential. At that time, Abu Dhabi was just vast tracts of barren desert land with apparently little to offer. In fact, the only oil company operating in Abu Dhabi at the time was Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company (actually another name for British Petroleum). After one unsuccessful drilling attempt, the company and the British military withdrew their presence completely from Abu Dhabi. Despite the failed attempts of the oil giant, Sheikh Zayed remained convinced about Abu Dhabi’s immense prospects to become a major oil producing centre. The same well was then given to Japan Oil as a second concession. They drilled deeper and as fate would have it, they struck oil.
Sheikh Zayed had already acquired firsthand experience in oil exploration. When the first oil companies arrived in Abu Dhabi in the early 1930s to carry out preliminary geological surveys, it was Sheikh Zayed who guided them around the desert that he knew and loved so well. As a result, he gained invaluable insight into an industry which would revolutionize Abu Dhabi’s economy.
He also introduced a formal government structure with departments to handle specific tasks. Priority was accorded to the development of Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure. Construction of schools, medical centres, roads and housing facilities as well as an airport, a sea port and a bridge to connect Abu Dhabi to the mainland began in earnest. Vast sums were spent on planting trees in Abu Dhabi, transforming it into a lush green city.
A singularly gifted man, Sheikh Zayed had the discerning qualities of a leader of courage, commitment, foresight and single-minded determination. Like the desert, his horizons were limitless. He possessed the unique ability to turn abstract into reality manifest in the UAE’s rapid development and prosperity