Sheikh Zayed: Man who believed in equality
Sheikh Zayed won the love of his people as he was always interested in meeting their needs than undertaking projects. — File photo
Sheikh Zayed’s philosophy of governance was based on actual experience rather than pedantic knowledge.
The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s passion and love for his country inspired his nation towards greatness. He was named after his grandfather Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, who was a symbol of justice, generosity and courage. He grew up in a family of leaders, listening to stories about his grandfather. Hence, it was natural for Sheikh Zayed to grow up to be a wise leader.
Sheikh Zayed’s philosophy of governance was based on actual experience rather than pedantic knowledge. His concept of authority was rooted in the belief that “never put oneself in the position of a leader… strong individualists and believers in equality; Arabs of the desert do not take easy to restraints of government”.
Aware of the Bedouins’ pride, Sheikh Zayed always sought to exercise his powers not as an autocratic ruler but in accordance with the tribe’s traditional interpretation of its interests. He believed a responsible leader can win the love of people only after they feel him trustworthy. It is said the late Sheikh Zayed was not interested in undertaking projects “for reasons of prestige” but to meet the needs of the people and the Sheikhdom.
His basic faith in Islam and Arabism inspired him to work for the welfare of his country and his people. In his own words: “True civilisation requires moral and scientific progress, each complementing the other. In fact, our material progress would do more harm than benefit unless accompanied by cultural and social progress serving as the foundation of a civilisation in which we can create a society based on the true Arab traditions.”
Sheikh Zayed underlined the reasonable middle way between the Islamic heritage and the modern world. His cardinal aim was the welfare of his country and people and he envisioned the establishment of a modern welfare state carved out of a bedrock of Arab-Islamic traditions.
He played an important role in regional issues; stressing the importance of cooperation and Arab unity, and he established good relations with other countries. He supported the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel and stood by other Arab countries in need. The Arab world will always remember his famous statement: “Arab oil can never be dearer than Arab blood.”
As a result of fast-paced developments in the country, Sheikh Zayed was held in high esteem by the people, and he was known as the ‘Lord of Buraimi’. The way in which these development projects were conceived and implemented against heavy odds epitomised a style of leadership that was inspirational and decisive. What deserves special attention is that Sheikh Zayed did not remain content with just bringing material benefits to his people but his humanism and conviction about basic human rights, respect and compassion for fellow human beings irrespective of their status.
A saviour of several runaway slavesThe late Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s courageous role to curb the practice of slavery during his tenure in Al Ain is commendable.
The British government had been actively involved through the 19th century in suppressing the practice of importing slaves to the then Trucial Coast by imposing treaty restrictions. There was a flourishing trade in slaves for Saudi Arabia through the Buraimi market.
British records showed how several runaway slaves took refuge with Sheikh Zayed who was kind enough to give them refuge as servants in his house as long as they wished to.
He also took the initiative to help them go to Sharjah thereafter and obtain manumission certificates. Furthermore, he often appeared in person accompanied by the slave to give his witness to the sale of the said slave.
On many occasions, he even pre-warned the Trucial Oman Levies about the activities and movements of some of the prominent slavers. Such concern for issues dealing with human rights and humane treatment was far more advanced than most of his contemporaries.