Left to right, HRH Prince Charles, HE Saeed bin Ahmed Al Otaiba, unidentified men. (Courtesy Al Ittihad)

Obituary Saeed bin Ahmed Al Otaiba witnessed more than a century of Abu Dhabi's story

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One of the last links to the old world of Abu Dhabi, before the transformation brought by oil and gas, has been broken with the passing of Saeed bin Ahmed Al Otaiba.

He is believed to have been born around 1916, in a time before birth certificates, and just seven years after the death of Sheikh Zayed the First who had ruled Abu Dhabi since 1855. During his lifetime he saw seven rulers of Abu Dhabi and every aspect of life in the Emirate and the UAE transformed.

The world into which he was born had been largely unchanged for centuries, where wealth and influence were centred around the Arabian Gulf pearl trade.

The Otaiba family were leading pearl merchants in Abu Dhabi, with Khalid bin Abdullah establishing a fleet of more than 80 ships in the 19th century and earning the unofficial title “king of pearls.”

Mr Al Otaiba would also make his own contribution during more than a century of life and work. Born in Al Dhahr in Abu Dhabi, his schooling included reading, writing and learning and reciting the Quran.

From trading pearls to chambers of commerce

He began working life as a pearl trader, before expanding to other commodities as the pearling industry declined in the 1930s due to the arrival of Japanese artificial pearls.

Following the formation of the UAE in 1971, he worked to establish Sheikh Zayed’s economic vision for the country, becoming chairman of Abu Dhabi Chamber of Industry and Commerce and elected chairman of the UAE Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

The Otaiba family had long been close to the Al Nahyan Ruling Family, with Saeed Al Otaiba sharing memories of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the Founding Father of the UAE and his brother, Sheikh Shakhbout, the previous ruler, in a recording for Abu Dhabi Culture in 2020.

He recalled working for Sheikh Zayed when he was the Ruler’s Representative in Al Ain in the 1950s until 1966.

“He used to be there from 8am until the noon prayer and then we would go to lunch near the palm trees in a place called Al Ma’mourah. This was how Sheikh Zayed worked on the development of this country.”

In the recording he praises Sheikh Zayed for his work in the city, “Al Ain got its water from the Al Aflaj water channels but he also dug wells and planted palm trees. Before that there wasn’t a single palm tree in Al Ain. He is considered to have brought the city of Al Ain to life, may he rest in peace.”

Mr Al Otaiba was also a noted Nabati poet, a vernacular style unique to the Arabian Peninsula, a passion he shared with his son, Mana Al Otaiba, who in addition to publishing several works of his own was also the UAE’s first minister of petroleum.

Saeed bin Ahmed Al Otaiba’s grandchildren include Yussef Al Otaiba and Hend Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassadors to the United States and France respectively.

In 2022, Delma Street was renamed Saeed bin Ahmed Al Otaiba Street in honour of his contribution to Emirati culture and business in a ceremony he attended with Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed, chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, and family members.

Updated: May 29, 2024, 1:26 PM