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Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan زايد بن سلطان آل نهيان, the late ruler of Abu Dhabi & president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Sheikh Zayed was the youngest son of Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the traditional ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. He was named after his famous grandfather, Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who ruled the emirate from 1855 to 1909. On August 6 1966 he succeeded his brother, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan, as emir or Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Zayed was first appointed by UAE's Supreme Council which includes the rulers of 6 emirates, as the president of the UAE in 1971. He was re-appointed as president four further times 1976, 1981, 1986, and 1991. He was considered a relatively liberal ruler, and permitted private media. However, they were expected to practice self-censorship and avoid criticism of the ruling families.
His religious tolerance of Christians and the freedom given Western workers sojourning in the UAE was in marked contrast to most neighbors in the region and exposed him to criticism. Sheikh Zayed was respected around the world for his unifying influence and his drive to make the all Emirates as one nation.
His calls for cooperation extended across 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, though the islands remain in Iranian hands, despite over three decades of UAE diplomatic initiatives.
Zayed did not shy away from controversy when it came to expressing his opinion on current events in the Arab world. Troubled by the suffering of Iraqi civilians, he took the lead in calling for lifting sanctions on Iraq imposed by the United Nations in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, despite Kuwaiti displeasure and opposition.
Sheikh Zayed was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. A Forbes magazine estimate put his fortune at around USD $24 billion. The source of this is exclusively attributed to the immense oil wealth of Abu Dhabi and the Emirates, which is the tenth of the world's proven oil reserves. Nevertheless he chose to live a relatively modest and traditional lifestyle, riding and hunting with falcons, though he gave up hunting with firearms, a sport at which he excelled, to set an example for wildlife conservation in his fragile desert homeland. He was personally popular, and was regarded to be considerably pious in his religious observances.
At the time the British withdrew from the Persian Gulf, Sheikh Zayed oversaw the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development; through its oil riches were give 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, Sheikh Zayed built up institutions such as hospitals, schools, hotels, tourist attractions, and universities and made it possible for UAE citizens to enjoy free access to them. He also decreed that the State would undertake the cost of foreign health care for those families unable to afford it. Other charitable acts included adopting hundreds of orphans and building several hospitals abroad in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Land was also often distributed gratis. However, whilst 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. His tolerance towards other people and their faiths was evident, and he allowed the building of religious buildings such as churches and temples. This action in particular helped his image with the vast multitudes of expatriate workers who make up approximately three quarters of the population of the UAE. Zayed was also an advocate the education and participation of women in the work force, within traditional parameters. His views regarding women's rights were considerably more liberal than his contemporaries in the GCC nations.
Sheikh Zayed's health was deteriorating starting from the 1990s and he continuously traveled to the United States America & UK for medical check ups and treatments. He traveled to the United States in 1996 for a spinal surgery and then again in August 2000 for a kidney transplant, both of which he has recovered successfully. On 2 November 2004, Sheikh Zayed died, as announced by Abu Dhabi TV. He was believed to be 86 years old. No official cause of death was given;. He is buried in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
His son, Sheikh Khalifah, who was the Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, succeeded him after he passed away on the 2nd of November 2004 (19th of Ramadan 1425H), will succeed him. Al Ain is currently being governed by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Muhammad Al Nahyan.