Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004),
served as president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
from 1971 until his death in Nov. 2, 2004. Born
around 1918, he was the youngest of the four sons of
Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, a member of the
Bani Yas tribe, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1922 to
Abu Dhabi Emirate is primarily a vast desert
area (It occupies 67,340 square kilometers or 86.7%
of the total area of the UAE) with about two dozen
islands in the coastal waters, including the island
where the city of Abu Dhabi (Previously called Milh
or Salt) is located.
The Emirate was poor and undeveloped and its economy
was based primarily on fishing and pearl diving
along the coast and on date plantations and camel
scattered oases inland with part of the population
In 1939, Sheikh Shakhbut, the then ruler of Abu
Dhabi, granted the first of several oil concessions
on his territory. When oil was discovered in Abu
Dhabi in 1958, economic matters began to improve.
The first commercial field entered production in
1962. And Abu Dhabi was on its way to become very
On August 6, 1966 Sheikh Zayed succeeded his eldest
brother, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan, the
traditional ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1926, after the
latter was deposed in a bloodless palace coup and
proclaimed itself in power.
Earlier from 1946, Shaikh Shakhbut assigned Shiekh
Zayed to govern Al Ain as governor of Al Ain, Abu
Dhabi's eastern province until he deposed his
brother to become the emir of Abu Dhabi. In 1953
Sheikh Zayed made his first visit abroad,
accompanying his brother, Sheikh Shakhbut to Britain
When Britain announced in January 1968 that it would
withdraw its military presence in the Gulf, Sheikh
Zayed and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoom, the
then-ruler of Dubai, held a meetings and discussed
on border disputes and co-operation with its tribal
On the 2nd of December 1971, a federation of six
emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah,
Umm al-Quwain) formed the United Arab Emirates [UAE].
Sheikh Zayed was elected president and Sheikh Rashid
was elected vice-president. Shortly afterwards, Ras
Al Khaimah decided to join the federation, which
officially took place on the 11th of February of
1972. Two of the Trucial states, Bahrain and Oman,
chose not to join the federation.
Sheikh Zayed had been re-elected as president at
every five-year intervals by the Supreme Council
Members. These elections were not by popular vote,
there is no democratic institutions exist in the UAE.,
he infact appointed by the other six ruling Sheikhs
that sit with him on the Supreme Council. To make this as a 'federal statutes'
of the country, Zayed
utilized the oil revenues of Abu Dhabi to fund
projects to the other six emirates as well.
Sheikh Zayed was considered one of the wealthiest
men in the world. Zayed's fortune estimated at
around US $30 billion a year. The source of this
wealth could be almost exclusively attributed to the
immense oil wealth of Abu Dhabi Emirate, that he
accumulated for himself and his family.
He invested part of the wealth into
projects to transform Abu Dhabi into a major city.
One of his weddings landed in the Guinness Book of
Records for being the most expensive in the world.
Sheikh Zayed's critics point out that it was not his
own wealth that he was distributing, but the
Sheikh Zayed advocated dialogue as the means to
settle the row with Tehran over three strategic Gulf
Musa) which Iran
seized from the UAE in 1971. The islands remain
solidly in Iranian hands, despite over three decades
of UAE diplomatic initiatives.
Zayed had played a major role in the formation of
the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The Arab
Gulf Cooperation Council, (GCC) grouping the UAE,
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, was
founded at a summit conference held in Abu Dhabi in
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.,
the UAE was identified as a major financial center
used by al-Qaeda in transferring money to the
hijackers (Two of the 9/11 hijackers were UAE
citizens) the nation immediately cooperated with the
On 3rd November, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
was appointed as the new President of the United Arab
Emirates to continue in the footsteps of his late
father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Sheikh Zayed had more than forty-five other
children, although most of them were not involved
actively in politics.
Sheikh Zayed an Anti-Hero or Villain? (Part 2)