Sheikh Zayed: Man of great ideas
His main domestic concern was improving the basic lifestyle of citizens.
Nearly four years of efforts put by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan turned fruitful when the UAE came into existence, yet the days following the union of the Emirates were hectic for the founding father. This was because Sheikh Zayed had become the President over a state without any form of federal apparatus and some of the Union's states had little formal administration.
What was required to build the new country was fresh ideas, sustained progress in all areas which required ordered growth of state and local administration. These were one of the first policy aims adopted by Sheikh Zayed.
His main domestic concern was improving the basic lifestyle of citizens. While Abu Dhabi and Dubai were offering basic services to their people, water and electricity supplies varied dramatically among the remaining five members and he directed a large part of the federal budget on bringing water and power to all.
Education was another part of the basic policy that became a central concern for Sheikh Zayed for the next 30 years of his administration. In May 1971, the Federal Ministry of Education revealed a building programme which would provide 51 new primary and secondary schools, mainly in the northern emirates. Just in construction cost alone, this represented six per cent of the national budget.
"Our country's future will be built upon our youth. I will not accept a delay. In a year, I want a class for every child of school age. Come to me personally if you encounter anything which will obstruct this and I will come to you personally if we fail, " Sheikh Zayed demanded during a meeting with senior officials from the newly formed Ministry of Education.
"We must have a further education programme - schools, colleges and a university. And for the generations who missed formal education, we wish to see adult learning centres and literacy programmes underway as quickly as possible," he added.
"Poverty, ignorance and sickness - before we build a truly modern future, we must push these into our past," Sheikh Zayed had said.
His intention was to eliminate poverty by ensuring that everyone in the UAE had access to education - both children and adults. This was not easy as culture and family structures in many of the emirates - particularly the desert hinterland - remained backwards. A large part of the population was Bedu - for thousands of years, a son would join his father in attending to livestock and taking part in tribal affairs, while a daughter would get into stitching clothes and preparing food.
The arrival of education was something that Bedu viewed as belonging to the city dwellers. Education, Bedus believed would take a child away from his traditional place and this would mean a loss of an income provider.
Sheikh Zayed had recognised this and also that Abu Dhabi as a whole could never be stable and prosperous if he created a wealthy and educated class on the coast, while the Bedus remained poor and uneducated. Therefore, he engaged with Bedouin tribes and their heads persuading them to be part of his master plan.
A businessman Mohammed Al Fahim had said: "Sheikh Zayed wanted to go much further than simply getting them to accept the new state. His long-term objective was for them to become useful citizens who made significant contributions to the economy either by getting an education, farming or working. In keeping with this goal, the tribe members were often recruited by the military or the police."
In order to put this fear of the Bedouins of losing their earning member of the family (son) to full-time education programmes, Sheikh Zayed came up with a novel plan. His answer to this was to sponsor children, the government paying families a salary in return for regular school attendance!
Sheikh Zayed soon extended this education support programme to all seven emirates. All children received free uniforms, books and school meals, while in many areas, a generous subsidy was paid to parents. This programme ensured that the UAE's children's education - particularly the ones from low-income areas.
"God has given you the opportunities which were denied generations before you.
Do not waste them, or that would be an affront to God, your country and yourselves," Sheikh Zayed told an early graduating class from Al Ain University.
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