From Zayed's foundations to Khalifa's new era of progress

One of the reasons for the UAE's success is that President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed learnt from a master - his father.

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National Day is a timely reminder of the vision of the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, who oversaw the transformation of the desert into the country that we now know as the UAE. This vision became a reality during Sheikh Zayed's lifetime because of his efforts, and those of the other leaders of the seven emirates and many influential figures across Emirati society.

There is a shared understanding that the only way forward to build this nation is through the dedication and commitment of its citizens, and through mutually beneficial partnerships with other countries and people from around the globe.

While it has been noted that President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed has chosen to continue on the path of development and progress set out by his father, it is not widely understood how much Sheikh Khalifa was involved in this project during the lifetime of Sheikh Zayed. During that crucial phase of development, then-Crown Prince Khalifa helped to create the foundations of the modern UAE.

It is important to understand Sheikh Khalifa's background, and how his experiences have significantly contributed to his successes as a leader.

As the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa was born in Al Ain in 1948. He grew up during a crucial period when his father was working tirelessly to gather the tribes under one banner in a unified, stable and secure state.

Those were formative years, both for the nation-to-be and the leaders who would chart its subsequent development. Sheikh Khalifa was exposed at a young age to the majlis of his father, and the lessons of diplomacy and critical thinking.

While he was still in his late teens, Sheikh Khalifa was assigned to be his father's representative in the Eastern Province, where he oversaw major development projects. Over the years, he continued to take on other various positions at both local and federal levels. It was during this formative period as Crown Prince when Sheikh Khalifa worked on the ground to realise the vision of his father, taking the UAE into the 21 first century.

After the passing of Sheikh Zayed in 2004, Sheikh Khalifa shepherded the country into a new era of development. The continued empowerment of the people of the UAE has been evident since the start of his rule, as demonstrated through the development of new laws and efforts designed to improve the standards of living for all Emiratis.

There are many projects that could serve as examples, and 2012 has stood out as a year of unprecedented change for the country and its citizens.

There are a few hot topics that have dominated Emiratis' discussions, and received commensurate media coverage, over the past year. One such issue was the provision of citizenship for children of Emirati women who are married to foreign nationals. Another key area was clarifying the legal status of stateless men, women and children who are living in the UAE. And the third critical area was regarding the prosecution of citizens for debt.

In one example after another, the Government led by Sheikh Khalifa paid attention to these concerns and took action.

In March, the President granted citizenship to more than 1,200 people who were born to Emirati mothers and foreign fathers. Being born and raised in the UAE, many family members saw this as a welcome recognition of their place and status as citizens in their own country. Until that decree, citizenship always followed the father's line, as still remains the case today across most of the region.

In a related move in July, there was further clarity offered to thousands of stateless people, many of whom have been in legal limbo for their entire lives. Sheikh Khalifa implemented an application process under the framework of the "Children of Emirati Mothers Committee". Those efforts are still continuing.

Finally, there was the decision to help Emiratis who are burdened by excessive debt, which has had a considerable effect this year. The Government has pardoned Emiratis who have bounced cheque as well as exempting citizens from future prosecution as part of a broader review of personal debt levels.

Over the past few years, a substantial number of Emiratis had been imprisoned because of a failure to pay monthly charges on loans, leading to some banks turning to the police and the judicial system. The law regarding bounced cheques had a purpose, to deter fraud and punish wrongdoers, but in some cases it was applied against relatively blameless young Emiratis who had simply missed a few payments. The end result was that people were imprisoned with no hope of ever repaying the original debt.

Most citizens and residents of the UAE are aware of the headlines related to each of these developments over the past year. What many might be unaware of, however, are the tangible effects these decisions have had on the everyday lives of so many people.

While most of us will see this National Day as an occasion to celebrate 41 years of unprecedented progress and development, there is a quieter, more personal side as well. As the UAE has grown as a nation, so too have the lives of citizens and residents changed. Forty-one years after Sheikh Zayed laid the foundations, Emiratis are confident that the country is well-positioned for the coming years.

Taryam Al Subaihi is commentator on social and political affairs