Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan: A Legacy of Noble Values


Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

A Legacy of Noble Values

Sheikh Zayed is considered a noble leader as denoted by the values that the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) demonstrated during his reign. Notably, the legacy of Sheikh Zayed is decorated by noble values that encompass equality, tolerance, the empowerment of Emirati women, and charity and peace. Importantly, the principles upheld by Sheikh Zayed played a considerable role in facilitating the social, economic, and political development of the Middle Eastern country. In this light, this paper offers a detailed investigation of Sheikh Zayed’s values that stood out during his 33-year leadership to the extent of making him leave a legacy admired by Emiratis up to date.

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Sheikh Zayed’s Noble Values


Sheikh Zayed saw the need for creating a nation that upheld the value of equality to facilitate the realisation of prosperity. In this concern, Sheikh Zayed underscored the need for spreading the wealth among people from different financial backgrounds in the UAE. In the commemoration of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s 100th birthday, Sheikh Mohammed uttered, “We celebrate the centennial anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest and most noble men who dedicated his life for the present and future of the nation” (Reporter, 2017, para. 14). Importantly, the leader identified real wealth as investing in people to foster the socio-economic development of the country instead of promoting material gains. The equality approach played a considerable role in building the future of the Middle Eastern nation.

The need to promote the realisation of equality influenced Sheikh Zayed to invest in people through the development of key areas of the country. For example, the creation of a formal government structure saw Sheikh Zayed appoint officials in different sectors of the economy to serve the entire Emiratis equally (Reporter, 2017). Notable areas where significant development was made towards the promotion of equality in the nation include social welfare, education, and health. The approach led to the construction of basic housing facilities, hospitals, and schools. Sheikh Zayed used revenues acquired from the exportation of oil to facilitate equitable distribution of resources at the national level.

The construction of basic housing facilities ensured that Emiratis from different occupations could acquire decent housing in addition to meeting other basic needs. The provision of health services is part of the leader’s equality agenda. He promoted the health of the UAE citizens equally, regardless of whether one could afford to pay for such services or not. Moreover, the construction of educational facilities by Sheikh Zayed left a legacy of heightening the literacy level of the Emirati people compared to the case of other nations in the Middle East. As such, Sheikh Zayed’s noble value of equality ensured that citizens could access basic facilities and services without discrimination based on their background. Sheikh Zayed also promoted gender equality by empowering women in the UAE (Reporter, 2017). In this respect, the leader saw the need for ensuring that women equally participated in the social and economic development of the UAE.


During his reign that spanned more than three decades, Sheikh Zayed demonstrated a great deal of tolerance. The value of tolerance helped this renowned leader to easily accept opinions and behaviours that he did not like. Notably, Sheikh Zayed demonstrated considerable tolerance towards people of diverse faiths, including Islam. During his reign, Antwi-Boateng and Binhuwaidin (2017) assert that the leader accepted the behaviours and opinions of Christians, Hindus, and adherents of other religions. Sheikh Zayed’s nobility fostered the aspect of inclusiveness through tolerance.

The need for flexibility in the UAE also influenced Sheikh Zayed to consider the need for upholding the value of tolerance. Important to note, expatriates in the UAE emanated from different backgrounds. Thus, the renowned leader emphasised the need to tolerate their opinions, beliefs, and practices since they played a substantial role in developing the Middle Eastern nation (Reporter, 2017). Sheikh Zayed could work with professionals from different faiths since his vision was to collaborate with diverse parties in facilitating the prosperity of the UAE.

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Sheikh Zayed’s tolerance towards other religions differentiated Abu Dhabi from all bordering societies. The leader ensured that people in Abu Dhabi enjoyed their full freedom of religion, thereby fostering inclusivity. Respect for religious diversity earned Sheikh Zayed global recognition. Up to date, the world identifies the UAE as a nation where people from different religions still live together peacefully, thanks to Sheikh Zayed’s efforts (Antwi-Boateng & Binhuwaidin, 2017). In this light, the leader’s tolerance also enhanced the international relations of the UAE.

The establishment of policies towards Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 demonstrates the degree to which the value tolerance was central, thanks to Sheikh Zayed’s graciousness. Notably, the noble leader saw the need for bridging the rift between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Sheikh Zayed pushed the need for dialogue while at the same time holding the opinion that Iran should acknowledge the sovereignty of the UAE in its involvement in matters concerning the three strategic islands of Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb, and Abu Mousa (Antwi-Boateng & Binhuwaidin, 2017). Therefore, Sheikh Zayed’s tolerance towards political differences that existed between all conflicting parties influenced the application of diplomatic approaches instead of confrontation.

Interestingly, Sheikh Zayed upheld Muslim conservatism in a way that disallowed extremism. In this light, in addition to showing support towards religious education through the establishment of learning centres, Sheikh Zayed discouraged the application of excessive judgements delivered by Sharia courts. Instead, he constructively deployed the presidential powers offered by the UAE Constitution to suspend decisions perceived to be harsh (Antwi-Boateng & Binhuwaidin, 2017). Thus, Sheikh Zayed demonstrated a great deal of tolerance towards diverse individuals and groups in the UAE and beyond during his reign.

The Empowerment of Emirati Women

Sheikh Zayed valued the empowerment of Emirati women since it went a long way in ensuring the realisation of equality in the UAE. Today, Emirati women enjoy a wide range of opportunities just like their male counterparts, owing to the efforts of the country’s founding fathers (Kemp, 2013). Importantly, the leader encouraged women to take part in the social and economic development of the nation by offering education and employment opportunities. Moreover, the honourable leader established a women empowerment initiative to encourage the participation of the female gender in the development of the country. As such, by supporting Emirati women to contribute towards the development of the country, Sheikh Zayed promoted the empowerment of women. Therefore, in addition to valuing the role of men, Sheikh Zayed was aware that women had the potential of improving the productivity of their country.

Particularly, Sheikh Zayed identified women as important players in the growth of the UAE. Thus, they could help to secure the prosperity of future generations. The leader underlined that women needed to take appropriate positions where they could execute their roles and responsibilities in ways that uphold their respect and dignity as the creators of future generations. Furthermore, Zayed insisted that women should represent the UAE in international conferences addressing the theme of gender equality to explain to the world the extent to which the country was committed to empowering women (Reporter, 2017). The leader’s approach towards women empowerment also underlined the need for women to observe religious values as a way of upholding their dignity. In this light, Sheikh Zayed was aware that women could play a significant part in the development of the Middle Eastern country.

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Sheikh Zayed saw the significance of empowering the entire community through women. The approach allowed women to develop their abilities by joining hands with men in the public and private sectors (Kemp, 2013). As such, communities in such settings could reap the benefits of a collaborative approach towards the realisation of national prosperity. For this reason, more women in the UAE secured employment opportunities in various sectors, thereby lessening the gender gap in employment.

Women empowerment decorates the noble legacy of Sheikh Zayed as denoted by the current developments regarding gender equality. Notably, the UAE Constitution upholds the equality of men and women in the workplace (Grzelak, 2017). Additionally, more Emirati women are pursuing careers that were perceived to be male-dominated in the past. Interestingly, women make up 90% of students at Zayed University, denoting the legacy of the country’s founding father towards women empowerment.

Charity and Generosity

The reign of Sheikh Zayed was characterised by values of charity and generosity, especially towards underprivileged individuals and groups in society. Notably, the values of charity and open-handedness manifest in the degree to which the leader offered support to fraternal countries (El-Aswad, 2015). Sheikh Zayed also earned global respect and recognition for his willingness to offer needy countries foreign aid and assistance. Through such efforts, the UAE’s founding father left a memorable legacy of giving among other noble values.

In addition to taking care of the welfare of the Emiratis, Sheikh Zayed also demonstrated concern towards providing for the less fortunate citizens of other countries. In line with El-Aswad’s (2015) revelations, the establishment of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Arab Economic Development (ADFAED) facilitated the extension of Sheikh Zayed’s charity and generosity to at least 50 countries in need of foreign aid in Asia and Africa. Therefore, the provision of considerable assistance to those in need denotes the willingness of Sheikh Zayed to offer help to the less fortunate in the society.

Moreover, investing in ADFAED ensured that the UAE played a leading role in addressing the prevailing inter-Arab affairs. As such, the noble values of charity and generosity influenced Sheikh Zayed to utilise the country’s wealth from oil to facilitate the realisation of stability in the Middle East and Africa (El-Aswad, 2015). For instance, ADFAED investments facilitated the role of the UAE as a mediator in the conflict between the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen and Oman before the former aligned with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990 (El-Aswad, 2015). Furthermore, Sheikh Zayed used the country’s wealth to moderate the conflict between Riyadh and Aden. Therefore, Sheikh Zayed’s spirit of giving contributed significantly to the realisation of stability in the Arab countries.

Peace and Vision

Sheikh Zayed was regarded as a man of peace and vision as denoted by his commitment towards the attainment of political stability in the Arab countries. Amid the troubles triggered by crises, Sheikh Zayed encouraged the need to uphold the virtues of compromise, reason, and dialogue. By embracing these qualities, Sheikh Zayed played a notable role in stabilising all inter-Arab affairs.

Notably, Sheikh Zayed is regarded as the pioneering diplomat who advocated for union among Arabs. The founding father of the UAE saw the importance of cooperating with its tribal neighbours to foster the prosperity of Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed identified the need for maintaining peace in the region to facilitate the realisation of collective growth and development (Antwi-Boateng & Binhuwaidin, 2017). As such, the leader envisioned a prosperous region characterised by peace and unity.

The first step towards the realisation of peace required Sheikh Zayed to arrange a meeting with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum who ruled Dubai in 1968. Thus, meeting the leader of the neighbouring society provided an opportunity for Sheikh Zayed to encourage his counterpart to embrace compromise and reason for the sake of emphasising peace in the Middle East (El-Aswad, 2015). Therefore, discussing the essence of creating an Arab nation that is united by one flag denotes the peaceful and visionary approach applied by Sheikh Zayed.

Sheikh Zayed’s vision was realised in 1971 when six Emirates formed the UAE. Thus, Sheikh Zayed successfully became the first president of the UAE after pushing the agenda of embracing peace and unity in the Middle East (Reporter, 2017). As a result, the UAE now depicts a significant sense of unity and cohesiveness, thanks to the noble values of the founding father.

The vision of peace and unity in Sheikh Zayed also transcended beyond the borders of the UAE. In this light, the leader developed foreign policies that aimed at promoting peace between conflicting nations (Grzelak, 2017). Sheikh Zayed intervened in the conflict between Israel and Palestine to facilitate the realisation of a fair and equitable remedy. Interestingly, the leader allocated billions of dollars to assist in the alleviation of sufferings encountered by Palestinians under the occupation of the Israelis. This move depicted Sheikh Zayed as a leader who had other people’s interests at heart. He knew that peace could be achieved if he took the initiative of intervening financially and even through campaigning for togetherness in all regions where conflicts prevailed.

Sheikh Zayed also moderated numerous conflicts in the Arab world to enhance the attainment of peace and unity. As earlier mentioned, the commitment of the leader towards conflict resolution has seen more countries in conflict in the Middle East embrace dialogue over confrontation, thanks to the memorable legacy that Sheikh Zayed left. Furthermore, the foreign aid efforts of the leader facilitated the effective management of crises that could disrupt peace in the Arab world.


The legacy of Sheikh Zayed as the founder of the UAE is characterised by an array of noble values that include equality, tolerance, women empowerment, charity, and peace among others. The values upheld by this legendary leader contributed greatly to the socio-economic and political development of the UAE. Sheikh Zayed also influenced the peace and stability of the Middle Eastern region by reducing cases of conflicts and crises to almost zero. In this respect, the world needs to continually celebrate the immortal legacy left by the founder of the UAE.


Antwi-Boateng, O., & Binhuwaidin, M. (2017). Beyond rentierism: The United Arab Emirates’ exceptionalism in a turbulent region. Contemporary Arab Affairs, 10(4), 522-536.

El-Aswad, E. S. (2015). From traditional charity to global philanthropy: Dynamics of the culture of giving and volunteerism in the United Arab Emirates. Horizons in Humanities and Social Sciences: An International Refereed Journal, 1(1), 1-21.

Grzelak, K. (2017). 5 of Sheikh Zayed’s greatest achievements. Web.

Kemp, L. J. (2013). Progress in female education and employment in the United Arab Emirates towards Millennium Development Goal (3): Gender equality. Foresight, 15(4), 264-277.

Reporter, S. (2017). Year of Zayed to mark UAE’s late founding father’s 100th birthday. Khaleej Times. Web.

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