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Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

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Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Arabic: ٱلـشَّـيْـخ زَايِـد بِـن سُـلْـطَـان آل نَـهْـيَـان‎, translit. Ash-Shaykh Zāyed bin Sulṭān Āl Nahyān); 6 May 1918 – 2 November 2004) was the Ruler of Abu Dhabi for more than 30 years (6 August 1966[2] – 2 November 2004). He was the founding father and the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates, becoming the Union's first President (Arabic: رَئِـيْـس‎, translit. Raʾīs), a post which he held for a period of almost 33 years (1971 until his death in 2004).[1][3] He is popularly referred to in the UAE as the Father of the Nation.[4]

Sheikh (Arabic: ٱلـشَّـيْـخ‎)

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Official portrait of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Native name
Arabic: زَايِـد بِـن سُـلْـطَـان آل نَـهْـيَـان‎, translit. Zāyed bin Sulṭān Āl Nahyān
Abu Dhabi (majority view, see text), Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Trucial States (now the UAE)
Died2 November 2004(2004-11-02) (aged 86)
Burial placeSheikh Zayed Mosque
24°24′43″N 54°28′26″E / 24.412°N 54.474°E / 24.412; 54.474
President of the United Arab Emirates
In office
2 December 1971 – 2 November 2004
Prime MinisterMaktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Vice PresidentRashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Preceded byNone
Succeeded byMaktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum (acting)
Emir of Abu Dhabi
6 August 1966 – 2 November 2004
Preceded bySheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Succeeded bySheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Supreme Commander of The Armed Forces
In office
2 December 1971 – 2 November 2004
Preceded byPost established
Succeeded byKhalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan


Family and early lifeEdit

Zayed was the youngest of four sons of Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan.[2][3] His father was the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 until his assassination in 1926. Zayed was the youngest of his four brothers.[2] His eldest brother, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan, became ruler of Abu Dhabi after their uncle, Saqr bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was also assassinated in 1928.[2] His mother was Sheikha Salama bint Butti.[5][6] She extracted a promise from her sons not to use violence against each other, a promise which they kept.[7] Sheikh Zayed was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan ("Zayed the Great"), who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909.[8] At the time of Sheikh Zayed's birth, the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi was one of seven Trucial States along the lower coast of the Persian Gulf[9] He also showed interest in falconry.[10]

It is normally held that he was born at Qasr al-Hosn in Abu Dhabi, with some sources stating that he was born in Al Ain.[11][12] He is at least known to have moved from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain in 1927, after the assassination of his father.[1][13] As Zayed was growing up in Al-Ain, there were no modern schools anywhere along the coast. He only received 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.[14]

Career and reignEdit

Zayed was appointed the governor of the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi in 1946,[8] and was based in the Muwaiji fort in Al Ain. At this time, the area was poor and prone to outbreaks of disease. When parties from Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) began exploring for oil in the area, Zayed assisted them.[15]

In 1952, a small Saudi Arabian force led by Turki bin Abdullah al-Otaishan occupied the village of Hamasa in the Buraimi Oasis (the '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.[15][16]

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.[17] On 6 August 1966, Shakhbut was deposed in a bloodless palace coup.[18] The move to replace Shakhbut with Zayed had the unanimous backing of the Al Nahyan family.[19] The news was conveyed to Shakhbut by British Acting Resident Glen Balfour-Paul who added the support of the British to the consensus of the family. Shakhbut finally accepted the decision and, with the Trucial Oman Scouts providing safe transport, left for Bahrain.[16][20] [19] He subsequently lived in Korramshahr, Iran before returning to live in Buraimi.[19]

In the late 1960s, Zayed hired Katsuhiko Takahashi, a Japanese architect, to design and plan the city.[21]

Between 8–11 January 1968, the UK's 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.[22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

In 1974, Zayed 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.[25]


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

Sheikh Zayed was determined to unite the Emirates into federation. His calls for cooperation extended across the Persian Gulf to Iran. He 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.[citation needed]

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.[16]

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.[26]

Zayed was one of the wealthiest men in the world. A Forbes estimate put his fortune at around US$20 billion in 2004.[27] The source of this wealth was almost exclusively due 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.[28][29][30][31]

Policies and charityEdit

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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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.[32]

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.[citation needed] He allowed non-Muslim religious buildings, such as churches and a temple, to be built.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

After floods ravaged Yemen's Ma'rib Governorate in 1982, Zayed financed the construction of the current dam of Ma'rib in 1984.[33][34] This was to replace the historical one that was damaged in antiquity, and support the country's agriculture and economy. The area of Ma'rib is reportedly from where his ancestors migrated to what is now the UAE.[35]

Zayed CentreEdit

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.[36]

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.[37] Despite student protests,[citation needed] 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."[38]

Final years and deathEdit

In 1989, while he was hospitalized and undergoing a series of tests, the people of the UAE wrote him a personal thank-you letter.[citation needed] On 2 November 2004, Zayed died at the age of 86. He was buried in the courtyard of the new Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan,[1][3] took an increasing role in government beginning in the 1980s. Directly after his father's death, he became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and was ratified as the President of the United Arab Emirates by his fellow rulers in the Supreme Council.

Memorials and legacyEdit

Founder's MemorialEdit

In 2018, a year dedicated in the UAE to the celebration of Zayed's life and legacy,[41] the Founder's Memorial was opened in Abu Dhabi. The memorial consists of an open Heritage Garden and Sanctuary Garden at the centre of which is a cubic pavilion housing The Constellation, an artwork dedicated to Zayed's memory.

Marriage and childrenEdit

Zayed bin Sultan married seven times.[citation needed] His children are as follows:

Name Lifespan Notes
Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan 25 January 1948 (1948-01-25) (age 71) Ruler of Abu Dhabi
Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1955 (age 63–64) Former Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE
Shamsa bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan 11 March 1961 (1961-03-11) (age 58) Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Nahyan (m. 1981)
Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1963 (age 55–56)
Sheikha Shamsa bint Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Nahyan (m. 1979)
Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1965 (age 53–54)
Mozah Bint Mohammed Bin Butti Al Hamed (m. 1981)
Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1968 (age 50–51)[citation needed] Skilled Jiu-Jitsu practitioner[42][43] and son of Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi. He works in the banking sector.[44]
Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan 20 November 1970 (1970-11-20) (age 48)
Alia bint Mohammed bin Butti Al Hamed (m. 1995)

Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan 30 April 1972 (1972-04-30) (age 46)
Sheikha Alyazia bint Saif Al Nahyan (m. 1988)
Al Yazia bint Zayed Al Nahyan 1968 (age 50–51) Daughter of Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi[45]
Shamma bint Zayed Al Nahyan 1967 (age 51–52) Daughter of Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi[45]
Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1968 (age 50–51) Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates
Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan 1971 (age 47–48)[46] Chief of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince's Court
Omar bin Zayed Al Nahyan Son of Mouza bint Suhail Al Khaili
Second Deputy President of Baniyas Sports Club[47]
Khalid bin Zayed Al Nahyan Founder and Chairman of Bin Zayed Group[48]

Vice-chairman of Etihad[49]

Ahmed bin Zayed Al Nahyan March 26, 2010 (aged 40–41) Son of Mouza bint Suhail Al Khaili
Shamsa bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Afra bint Zayed Al Nahyan Daughter of Mouza bint Suhail Al Khaili[citation needed]
Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Real estate developer
Nasser bin Zayed Al Nahyan June 2, 2008 (aged 38–39) Former chairman of the Abu Dhabi planning and economy department
Rawdha bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Dana Amari bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Saeed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (born 1980)[contradictory]
Falah bin Zayed Al Nahyan 7 November 1970 (1970-11-07) (age 48)
Nahyan bin Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Dhiyab bin Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Latifa bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Mouza bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Wadeema bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]
Sheikha bint Zayed Al Nahyan[citation needed]


See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit