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Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan
زايد بن سلطان بن زايد آل نهيان
Emir of Abu Dhabi
President of the United Arab Emirates
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, on a state visit to Brazil in December 2003: photo by Antônio Milena/ABr
Reign 6 August 1966 – 2 November 2004
Predecessor Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Successor Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Born 6 May 1918[1]
Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Trucial States (now the UAE)
Died 2 November 2004 (aged 86)
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Burial 3 November 2004
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Full name
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan
House House of Al Nahyan
Father Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Mother Sheikha Salma bint Butti Al Qubaisi
Religion Islam

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Arabic: زايد بن سلطان آل نهيان ‎; 6 May 1918 – 2 November 2004)[1] was the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Emîr (أمير) (Ruler) of Abu Dhabi and first Ra’îs (رئيس) (President) of the United Arab Emirates, a post which he held for over 33 years (1971–2004).


  • Family and early life 1
  • Career and reign 2
  • Attitudes 3
  • Policies and charity 4
  • Zayed Centre 5
  • Final years and death 6
  • Memorials and Legacy 7
  • Marriage and children 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Family and early life

Although the exact date of his birth is unknown, officially on documents, Sheikh Zayed was born on 6 May 1918 in Abu Dhabi.[1] He was the youngest son of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifah Al Nahyan.[2] His birth date is also reported to be 1916.[3] His father was the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 until his assassination in 1926. Zayed was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan ("Zayed the Great"), who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909.[4] At the time of Zayed's birth, the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi was one of seven Trucial States along the coast of the lower coast of the Persian Gulf.[5]

He was raised and lived for the first fifteen years of his life in Al Ain.[6] As Zayed was growing up, there were no modern schools anywhere along the coast. He received only a basic instruction in the principles of Islam, and lived in the desert with Bedouin tribesmen, familiarising himself with the life of the people, their traditional skills and their ability to survive under the harsh climatic conditions.[7]

His eldest brother, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1928 after their uncle, Saqr bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was also assassinated. Their mother was Sheikha Salma bint Butti Al Qubaisi.[8][9] She extracted a promise from her sons not to use violence against each other, a promise which they kept.[10]

Career and reign

Zayed was appointed the governor of the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi in 1946[4] and was based in the Muwaiji fort in Al Ain. At this time, the area was poor and prone to outbreaks of disease. When survey parties from Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) began exploring for oil in the area, Zayed assisted them.[11]

In 1952, a small Saudi Arabian force led by Turki bin Abdullah al-Otaishan occupied the village of Hamasa in the Buraimi Oasis (the so-called Buraimi dispute). Zayed was prominent in his opposition to Saudi territorial claims and reportedly rejected a bribe of about £30 million to allow Aramco to explore for oil in the disputed territory. As part of this dispute, Zayed and his brother Hazza attended the Buraimi arbitration tribunal in Geneva in September 1955 and gave evidence to tribunal members. When the tribunal was abandoned amid allegations of Saudi bribery, the British initiated the reoccupation of the Buraimi Oasis through a local military force, the Trucial Oman Levies. A period of stability followed during which Zayed helped to develop the region and took a particular interest in the restoration of the falaj system, a network of water channels which kept the plantations of the Buraimi Oasis irrigated and fertile.[11][12]

The discovery of oil in 1958, and the start of oil exports in 1962, led to frustration among members of the ruling family about the lack of progress under Sheikh Shakhbut’s rule.[13] On 6 August 1966, Shakhbut was deposed in a bloodless palace coup.[14] Although it is not entirely clear from the historical record, the coup appeared to have the full backing of the Al Nahyan family and the support of the British, with the Trucial Oman Scouts providing safe transport for Sheikh Shakbut out of Abu Dhabi.[12][15]

In the late 1960s, Sheikh Zayed hired Dr. Katsuhiko Takahashi, a Japanese architect, to design and plan the city.[16]

Between 8–11 January 1968, foreign office Minister Goronwy Roberts visited the Trucial States and announced to its shocked rulers that the United Kingdom would abrogate its treaties with them and intended to withdraw from the area.[17] In a seminal meeting on 18 February 1968 at a desert highland on the border between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai shook hands on the principle of founding a Federation and attempting to invite other trucial rulers to join in order that a viable nation be formed in the wake of the British withdrawal.[18]

In 1971, after occasionally difficult negotiations with the other six rulers of the Trucial States, the United Arab Emirates was formed. Zayed was appointed to the presidency of the UAE in 1971 and was reappointed on four more occasions: 1976, 1981, 1986, and 1991.[19]

In 1974, Zayed apparently settled the outstanding border dispute with Saudi Arabia by the Treaty of Jeddah by which Saudi Arabia received the output of the Shaybah oilfield and access to the lower Persian Gulf in return for recognising the UAE.[20]


Sheikh Zayed salutes Tunisian crowd during his visit to Kairouan City in the mid-70s

Sheikh Zayed was determined to bring the Emirates into federation. His calls for cooperation extended across the Persian Gulf to Iran. Sheikh Zayed advocated dialogue as the means to settle the row with Tehran over three strategic Persian Gulf islands which Iran seized from the (future) UAE Emirate of Sharjah in 1971. The islands remain in Iranian hands, despite over three decades of UAE diplomatic initiatives.

He was considered a relatively liberal ruler, and permitted private media. However, they were expected to practice self-censorship and avoid criticism of Zayed or the ruling families. Freedom of worship was permitted, and to a certain extent allowances were made for expatriate cultures, but this did not always sit comfortably in the eyes of the wider Arab world with Zayed's role as a Muslim head of state.[12]

Zayed did not shy away from controversy when it came to expressing his opinions on current events in the Arab world. Troubled by the suffering of Iraqi civilians, he took the lead in calling for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq imposed by the United Nations in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, despite Kuwaiti displeasure and opposition.[21]

Zayed was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. A Forbes estimate put his fortune at around US$20 billion.[22] The source of this wealth could be almost exclusively attributed to the immense oil wealth of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates, which sit on a pool of a tenth of the world's proven oil reserves. In 1988, he purchased, for £5m, Tittenhurst Park at Sunninghill, Berkshire as his English home.

Policies and charity

At the time the British withdrew from the Persian Gulf in 1971, Zayed oversaw the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development; some of its oil riches were channeled to some forty less fortunate Islamic nations in Asia and Africa during the decades that followed. He is also remembered as "the man who turned the desert green," because he invested oil revenues into projects to improve the harsh desert environment.

Using the country's enormous oil revenues, Zayed built institutions such as hospitals, schools and universities and made it possible for UAE citizens to enjoy free access to them. Other charitable acts included adopting hundreds of orphans and building several hospitals abroad in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

When asked by the New York Times in April 1997 why there is no elected legislature, Zayed replied,

Why should we abandon a system that satisfies our people in order to introduce a system that seems to engender dissent and confrontation? Our system of government is based upon our religion and that is what our people want. Should they seek alternatives, we are ready to listen to them. We have always said that our people should voice their demands openly. We are all in the same boat, and they are both the captain and the crew. Our doors are open for any opinion to be expressed, and this well known by all our citizens. It is our deep conviction that Allah has created people free, and has prescribed that each individual must enjoy freedom of choice. No one should act as if they own others. Those in the position of leadership should deal with their subjects with compassion and understanding, because this is the duty enjoined upon them by Allah, who enjoins upon us to treat all living creatures with dignity. How can there be anything less for mankind, created as Allah's successors on earth? Our system of government does not derive its authority from man, but is enshrined in our religion and is based on Allah's Book, the Quran. What need have we of what others have conjured up? Its teachings are eternal and complete, while the systems conjured up by man are transitory and incomplete.[23]

Land was also often distributed gratis. However, while this policy benefited many landless families, enormously wealthy clans and individuals were given free land grants in proportion to their status and influence with the royal family. His majlis (a traditional Arab consultation council) was open to the public, and as well as discussing national and personal issues, he enjoyed hearing people's opinions on poetry, as well as recitals by new and young poets. He allowed non-Muslim religious buildings, such as churches and temples, to be built. This has particularly had a positive impact on how he was publicly perceived by the vast multitudes of expatriate workers who make up approximately three quarters of the population of the UAE. Zayed was also in favour of certain rights for women, such as access to education and women's labour-rights, within traditional parameters. His views regarding women's rights were considerably more liberal than his counterparts in the GCC nations.

Zayed Centre

Controversy over the opinions of the Zayed Centre caused the Harvard Divinity School to return Sheikh Zayed's $2.5 million gift to the institution in 2000 as "tainted money." Former United States president Jimmy Carter accepted the Zayed International Prize for the Environment in 2001. The award included a monetary prize of $500,000 from the Zayed Centre, and Carter stated in his acceptance speech that the award carried extra significance to him, since it was named after his personal friend, Sheikh Zayed.[24]

There was similar controversy when the London School of Economics accepted a large donation by the Zayed Centre, to build a new lecture theatre in the New Academic Building in 2008.[25] Despite student protests, the gift was accepted with the Sheik Zayed Theatre being the second largest lecture hall on the campus.

Harvard's equivocation, the Carter controversy, and the engendering negative publicity, prompted Sheikh Zayed to shut down the centre in August 2003, stating that the Zayed Centre "had engaged in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance."[26]

Final years and death

In 1999, while he was hospitalized and undergoing a series of tests, the people of the UAE wrote him a personal thank-you letter.

On 2 November 2004, Zayed died at the age of 86. He was buried in the courtyard of the new Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, took an increasing role in government beginning in the 1990s. Directly after his father's death, he was ratified as the Ruler of the United Arab Emirates by his fellow rulers on the Supreme Council.

Memorials and Legacy

Marriage and children

Zayed bin Sultan married seven times (two of them were sisters).[28] His children are as follows:

See also


  1. ^ a b c Martin, Douglas (November 3, 2004). "Zayed bin Sultan, Gulf Leader and Statesman, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Killgore, Andrew I. (March 2005). "Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004)".  
  3. ^ "Profile. Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan". APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy. 27 March 2000. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Joffe, Lawrence (3 November 2004). "Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  5. ^  
  6. ^ "The legacy of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Father of the UAE". AMEinfo. 2 November 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  7. ^ UAEU Bio
  8. ^ Rabi, Uzi (May 2006). "Oil Politics and Tribal Rulers in Eastern Arabia: The Reign of Shakhbut (1928– 1966)" (PDF). British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 33 (1): 37–50.  
  9. ^ Al Hashemi, Bushra Alkaff (27 February 2013). "Memories of a simpler time". The National. Retrieved 20 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Michael Tomkinson (1970), The United Arab Emirates [al-Imārāt al- ʻArabīyah al-Muttaḥidah (romanized form)], Hammamet, Tunisia: Tomkinson, 1975,  
  11. ^ a b Edward Henderson (1988), This strange eventful history, London: Quartet Books,  
  12. ^ a b c "Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan", Daily Telegraph (London), 4 November 2004 
  13. ^ "Farewell Arabia (1968)". Special Operations History Foundation. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  14. ^ Helene von Bismarck (29 March 2013). British Policy in the Persian Gulf, 1961-1968: Conceptions of Informal Empire. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 155.  
  15. ^ Christopher M. Davidson (2009), Abu Dhabi oil and beyond, New York: Columbia University Press 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Heard-Bey, Frauke (1996). From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates. UK: Longman. p. 339.  
  18. ^ Maktoum, Mohammed (2012). Spirit of the Union. UAE: Motivate. pp. 30–34.  
  19. ^ Federal Research Division (2004), United Arab Emirates: A Country Study, Kessinger Publishing 
  20. ^ Schofield R., Evans K.E. (eds) Arabian Boundaries: New Documents (2009), vol. 15, pp. viii-xv.
  21. ^ "UAE - News Reports". UAE Interact. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  22. ^ "Royals & Rulers". Forbes. 15 March 2004. 
  23. ^ Folklore and folklife in the United Arab Emirates by Sayed Hamid A. Hurreiz
  24. ^ Greif, Lloyd (26 April 2008). "To see Jimmy Carter's true allegiances, just follow the money". Daily News (New York). 
  25. ^ Hodges, Lucy (20 November 2008). "The LSE's jaw-dropping £71m structure is a building to wow students". The Independent (London). 
  26. ^ Jacoby, Jeff (31 August 2003). "Harvard must give back tainted money". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 30 April 2008. 
  27. ^ "Montenegro names a street after UAE Sheikh Zayed". Balkan Business News. 12 June 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2014. 
  28. ^ "Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan". The Telegraph. 4 November 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2013. 
  29. ^

External links

  • Sheikh Zayed's website
  • CooperativeResearch - Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan
  • Official UAE tribute to Sheikh Zayed
  • Sheikh Zayed lecture theatre, in the London School of Economics
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Born: 1918 Died: 2 November 2004
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi
6 August 1966 – 2 November 2004
Succeeded by
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Political offices
Preceded by
Post Created
President of the United Arab Emirates
2 December 1971 – 2 November 2004
Succeeded by
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
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