Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan

Page update - Sep 26, 2022

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the Emir of Abu Dhabi (from Aug 6, 1966 to Nov 2, 2004) and the President of the UAE (from Dec 2, 1971 to Nov 2, 2004). During his reign, he transformed Abu Dhabi from a small dusty town into a rich and flourishing metropolis. He created the country of the UAE and managed to organize one of the few "states for the citizens" in the world.

Sheikh Zayed went down in history as one of the world's wisest leaders, without even a basic school education. With his strong character, principles, and deep understanding of basic Islamic ethics, he became an example and a legend in the Islamic world.

The year 2021 marked the UAE's 50th anniversary and once again honored Sheikh Zayed. The year 2018 was declared "The Year of Sheikh Zayed" in the UAE to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

During a trip to the United Arab Emirates, every tourist hears his name many times. This page will detail the personality, life, and achievements of Sheikh Zayed.


The first surprising fact of Sheikh Zayed's life is that the exact date of his birth is unknown. At that time, birth certificates were not issued in Abu Dhabi, and the fact of this event was not documented. The date of May 6, 1918 emerged later. This date is disputed by historians, and some even believe that Sheikh Zayed was born in 1916.

Sheikh Zayed was the fourth and youngest son of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan. He was named after his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, nicknamed "Zayed the Great", who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909.

His father ascended the throne in 1922 and was assassinated in 1926. Sheikh Saqr came to power, but in 1928 he was assassinated. Sheikh Zayed's older brother, Sheikh Shakhbut, ascended the throne. Theoretically, Sheikh Zayed had no chance for the throne.

Seeing this chain of murders, Sheikha Salama bint Butti Al Qubaisi, the mother of the four sons took a swear from them never to use violence against each other. This swear they kept.

As a child, Sheikh Zayed received a minimal education. He learned to read and write, learned the verses of the Koran and the basics of Islam. From 1927, he lived in Al-Ain city in the desert with the Bedouins, learning the ways of survival in the harsh conditions of the Arabian desert. It was the desert that shaped the character of the future president, fostered patience, strategic thinking and wisdom, for which he was later called the "Sage of the Arab world".

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Governor of the East

In 1946, Sheikh Zayed was appointed governor of the eastern region of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (centered in Al Ain). This region was poorer than the coast, and epidemics were frequent. The young Zayed proved to be very active. He personally supervised the development of the falaj irrigation system and reformed the water distribution system.

In 1952, a small force from Saudi Arabia under the command of Turki bin Abdullah Al Otaishan captured the village of Hamasa in the oasis of Buraimi. Sheikh Zayed did not have a serious military force to fight, but he did not give up in defending Abu Dhabi's territorial interests.

Saudi Arabia wanted to develop an oil field there. Sheikh Zayed refused a bribe of 30 million pounds from the Aramco Oil Company (Saudi Arabia). Sheikh Zayed and his brother Sheikh Hazza appeared before a tribunal in Geneva and proved the facts of the aggression. After the tribunal ruled in favor of Abu Dhabi, British forces recaptured the Buraimi oasis with a unit of Omani scouts. The territorial dispute over the Buraimi oasis was not fully resolved until 1974.

The dispute over the Buraimi oasis was not just a division of a piece of desert, but it was a struggle for oil. It was this conflict that showed the importance of controlling oil in the region.

The Emir of Abu Dhabi

In 1958, oil was found in Abu Dhabi, and the first shipment took place in 1962. The ruling Sheikh Shakhbut was in no hurry to spend the oil money for the country development. He preferred to save up money.

The ruling family was dissatisfied with this course of affairs, and it was decided to change the ruler. Sheikh Zayed, who had already proven himself, was the best challenger for the throne, despite the fact that he was the youngest son.

On August 7, 1966, a squad of Omani scouts arrested Sheikh Shakhbut and took him in an airplane to London. Sheikh Zayed was declared the new Emir of Abu Dhabi. The bloodless coup was fully supported by the British, and Sheikh Zayed fulfilled the swear he had made to his mother - no violence.

After the ascendancy, Sheikh Zayed began the active development of the emirate. Houses, schools, and hospitals began to be built. Specialists from different countries were invited to the emirate. The salaries for the foreign specialists were very generous. Many foreigners were offered citizenship at that time, but there were few who wanted to.

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Abu Dhabi city and Katsuhiro Takahashi

In 1966, the city of Abu Dhabi was small - only 40,000 people. Sheikh Zayed saw gigantic prospects and wanted to make it a modern metropolis.

He invited Japanese engineer Katsuhiro Takahashi to plan the city. There was no Japanese embassy in Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Zayed made the invitation through the embassy in Kuwait.

Katsuhiro Takahashi recalls:

I got a call from the embassy in Kuwait about an invitation to work in Abu Dhabi. I called Pan American Airlines, but they had no idea where Abu Dhabi was. They asked if it was some new city in the Caribbean.

We met every day, sharing the vision for the new Abu Dhabi. I was free to speak up when our opinions differed. I even told Sheikh Zayed once, "You hired me because I have experience and education in this field and you don't. You should listen to me". And this was in a time when advisors would only say to the ruler, "Yes, Your Majesty. You are right, Your Majesty!" I don't remember exactly the words spoken to Sheikh Zayed at the time, but it was very dangerous in that feudal society.

However, Sheikh Zayed listened, learned, expanded his knowledge and horizons. He was a new generation politician. You can see the results of their work together if you visit Abu Dhabi.

Formation of the UAE

On January 8-11, 1968, British Foreign Secretary Goronvi Roberts arrived to the Persian Gulf. He informed the emirs that Britain intended to leave the region. The Emirates were left unprotected next to very aggressive and large neighbors - Iran and Saudi Arabia.

On February 18, 1968, Sheikh Zayed met with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum (ruler of Dubai). They agreed to create a unified state. For the next almost three years, Sheikh Zayed used all his negotiating skills to convince his neighbors to join. Qatar and Bahrain refused.

On December 2, 1971, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, and Fujairah signed the treaty establishing the United Arab Emirates. In early 1972, the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah joined. International observers predicted the UAE's imminent disintegration, as there were serious disagreements between the emirates. It was Sheikh Zayed with his talent for negotiation, who became the link between the emirs, extinguishing their conflicts.

In February 1972, the supreme authority of the UAE was finally formed - the Federal Supreme Council (became consist of 7 emirs after the joining of Ras Al Khaimah). The history of the UAE began. Sheikh Zayed became president of the UAE and remained in that position until his death in 2004.


Sheikh Zayed became famous as a man who could not only speak beautifully, but also listen carefully, as a sensible ruler.

Traditionally in Arab countries, there was a system of majlises. In common meaning, a majlis means a room for rest and communication. But in extended meaning, it is the open forum where people can express their opinions, suggestions or vision of the situation to the ruler. But before Sheikh Zayed, the majlis existed more for the sake of appearances. Sheikh Zayed made the majlis his full-fledged instrument. He was not afraid to listen, to agree or to change his mind.

Sheikh Zayed allowed private media, but under conditions of self-censorship, when the media themselves are obliged to monitor their publications. Open criticism of the ruler or the ruling family was forbidden. Sheikh Zayed took the position that all internal contradictions should be resolved in the majlis.

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Sheikh Zayed's views

Sheikh Zayed's views and ideology are best expressed by his 14 famous quotes.

1. Arab oil cannot be more expensive than Arab blood.

2. The one who does not know the past cannot create the better present and future. From the past we learn lessons.

3. The ruler must not have a barrier that separates him from people.

4. Islam gives women their rightful status and encourages them to work in all sectors where they are given the proper respect.

5. It is my duty as the ruler of young men in this country to encourage them to work and prove themselves in order to raise their standards and serve the country. If a healthy person with a strong mind and body does not work, it is a crime against himself and society.

6. The press has a duty and a right to criticize. We welcome constructive criticism.

7. All these years we have stressed the need for unity as vital to ensuring a better life for the people, stability for the country, and realization of the hopes of our people.

8. Our system of government is based on religion, that's what our people want. If people want an alternative, we are willing to listen. We are all in the same boat, we are the captain and the crew.

9. Wealth is not about money. Wealth is in the person. That's where the real power lies, which we value. It convinces us to put resources into building the individual, to use God-given wealth to serve the nation.

10. The situation is constantly changing. A friend can become an enemy and an enemy can become a friend. Life is fickle and changes like the weather or how we feel. We must be prepared for the changes coming our way.

11. It doesn't matter how many buildings, schools, and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we erect, these are all material goods. The real spirit behind progress is the spirit of man with the mind and abilities.

12. History is a series of events. The present is a consequence of the past.

13. I am not forcing change on anyone, that would be tyranny. We each have our own opinions, and those opinions are subject to change. Sometimes we put all opinions together and develop a unified point of view. That is our democracy.

14. We address every person, regardless of race or faith, as a special soul, this is a sign of Islam.

These quotes evoke different feelings in people who read them. Some call Shaykh Zayed a hypocrite, some openly admire him. But clearly he was a sensible and intelligent man.

Forbes magazine estimated the wealth of Sheikh Zayed at 20 billion US dollars. By the way, in the UAE, civil servants are not forbidden to have a business, but using their position for their own interests is strictly punishable by law.

Grand projects

The city of Abu Dhabi has grown in a few decades from a small town into a modern metropolis. Skyscrapers Etihad Towers, ADNOC and others stand on the site of fishermen's huts and pearl fishermen. The Corniche promenade welcomes thousands of tourists, the Emirates Palace hotel strikes with luxury.

Greening the desert. A grandiose project to irrigate the soil and plant trees. On the island of Sir Bani Yas the ecological reserve of the UAE was created, where the trees grow and rare animal species, such as the Arabian oryx and Sand gazelle, are preserved in the wild. Sheikh Zayed received a Gold Panda award from WWF for this project.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Its construction began during the time of Sheikh Zayed and was completed after his death. He planned it as a masterpiece of culture and spirituality in Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed is buried next to this mosque.

And there are a huge number of other projects for new residential neighborhoods, medical and educational centers that he initiated or supported.

It was this man who made Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates the second economy of the Middle East, a prosperous country for citizens. Education and medicine are free for UAE citizens, including the services of foreign universities and hospitals. Except that not all of the UAE's population has citizenship, as you can read about in our review "The population of the UAE".

Sheikh Zayed died on November 2, 2004, at the age of 86. He left behind a completely renovated Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the UAE country, with hundreds of properties in different emirates and even an area in Cairo named after him. He had seven wives and 30 children. The Sheikh Zayed Memorial in Abu Dhabi is dedicated to his memory.

Enjoy your visit to the UAE, and read our interesting pages about the country (see the list of the link below).


Tips for Tourists in the UAE


What to Take for the UAE

What You Should Not Do in the UAE

To the UAE with Kids

Sharks in the UAE

Weather in the UAE by Month

Holidays in the UAE

Are Unmarried Young Women
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Power Sockets & Voltage in the UAE

Hotels in the UAE with Own Beach


The UAE - Info, Facts, Figures

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Population and Citizens of the UAE

History of the UAE

Flag of the UAE

Friday and Weekend in the UAE

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Sheikh Zayed - Father of Nation

Sheikhs of the UAE


What to Bring from the UAE

What You Can and Not Bring In the UAE

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Date Fruits in the UAE

Camel Milk and Dairy Products

Bakhoor and Oud


Money in the UAE - Emirati Dirham

Currency Exchange in the UAE

How Much Money to Take to the UAE

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