The past year has been a milestone year in the UAE for many reasons, but none more significant than the simple fact that 2018 has been the Year of Zayed. 2018 marked 100 years since the birth of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan.
Sheikh Zayed is one of the country’s most revered and respected leaders. And his legacy was one of tolerance, progression, environmentalism, charity, and leadership. Born in 1918 to the Bani Yas tribe in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed became the first president of the United Arab Emirates, a position he held from 1971 until his passing in 2004. Under his leadership and guidance, he transformed a desperate group of nation states into the strong, thriving, and unified nation it is today. Because of this, he is frequently known as The Father of the Nation.
A compassionate leader and ruler, he championed his core beliefs of tolerance and coexistence. He believed that the UAE’s ability to welcome different races, religions, and cultures without abandoning its social and cultural identity was crucial to the country’s success. Given today’s political climate of injustice and intolerance, every country could stand to take a page from his teachings.
In honour of what would have been his 100th birthday, the entire country has been recognizing his legacy through events, initiatives, and celebrations based on four key objectives:
¥ To educate and create greater awareness of the life and achievements of the late Sheikh Zayed with local, regional, and international audiences.
¥ To raise the profile of the late Sheikh Zayed and have him be recognized for his visionary leadership.
¥ To reinforce national pride and and have Sheikh Zayed be recognized as a powerful symbol of the UAE across the world.
¥ To commemorate and honour his legacy through projects and initiates that are consistent with his vision and values.
Signature events have been carried out across all seven Emirates. A sampling of some of the events that happened in Dubai have included:
¥ A city-wide scavenger hunt to find 15 special light bulbs hidden throughout the city. The light bulbs are symbolic of Sheikh Zayed’s notion that ‘Knowledge is a light that never fades’. Each light bulb was designed by a local artist to represent a particular theme.
¥ A special number plate auction in a nod to Dubai’s car culture and love of vanity plates. The special commemorative vanity plate had the number Z-1971 which refers to the year of federal unification of the UAE and the man who made it all possible.
¥ An aquarium scuba dive where a group of policemen did a public dive at the Dubai Aquarium in the Dubai Mall to unfurl a banner thanking Sheikh Zayed for his many contributions.
Other significant initiatives including bolstering the UAE’s Gender Balance Council—another significant passion of the late Sheikh Zayed who was once quoted: “The woman is half of the society, any country which pursues development should not leave her in poverty or illiteracy. I am on the woman’s side.” Today, the UAE is ahead of many nations in the region when it comes to female empowerment, which is a testament to his legacy.
Charitable initiatives have also been carried out including bolstering education and healthcare funding and sustaining orphanages. This is not only a continuation of 2017’s Year of Giving, but an extension of Sheikh Zayed’s establishment of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development which channeled a portion of the UAE’s wealth from oil into 40 developing nations in the Arab world as well as Asia and Africa.
Sheikh Zayed was a visionary leader, and his influence can still be felt across the UAE to this day. According to H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the current ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, “Sheikh Zayed has instilled in us the willpower and determination to challenge and achieve the impossible. This is why we are always convinced that we are capable of being pioneers and to become one of the best countries in the world. He inspired us to see his way to the future, to follow in his footsteps with confidence and insight, and to solidify the gains and achievements.”
2016 was known as the Year of Reading. 2017 was the Year of Giving. 2018 has been the Year of Zayed. And if the past three years are any indication, 2019 will be very bright indeed.