The Year of Zayed has been a fitting tribute to the vision of the Founding Father

Today marks the end of a special year, but the legacy and principles of Sheikh Zayed can be seen every day in the great country he built

The Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan's Portrait. (Courtesy Al Ittihad) Portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. (Courtesy Al Ittihad)
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It is mind-boggling to think that in less than half a century, the UAE has managed to not only compete with much larger countries that have been around for centuries, but even surpassed some of them in attributes such as quality of life, safety, prosperity and happiness.

The land the UAE was once part of, known as Arabia Deserta, was for many years inhospitable, filled with vast sand dunes and not much else. Today, our nation is home to people from around the globe and a list of superlatives, from the world’s largest to the tallest and fastest.

As a 26-year-old Emirati woman, I have had the opportunity and privilege to travel to many of this planet’s most beautiful cities, but there is not a single place I would rather call home. The UAE is, of course, not without its detractors. Some like to downplay the UAE’s triumphs and lazily associate all the nation’s successes with its large reserves of oil. While oil might have been the catalyst of the UAE’s development, it is far from the whole story. This country has given history a challenging and inspirational example to replicate. Its drastic transformation from a desert to one of the most dazzling countries in this world is the embodiment of Sheikh Zayed’s will and determination.

Not every nation with oil reserves prospers. Nor does every country with abundant natural resources have a low crime rate, a happy population or empower its youth. In short, being rich in resources does not always mean the wealth is passed on to a population. Wise and compassionate leadership is key, and the UAE’s leaders have always had in mind the fact that natural resources are exhaustible. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, highlighted that when he said: “In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, we won’t be sad. We’ll actually be celebrating that moment.”

The late Founding Father of the UAE, fondly known by Emiratis as Baba Zayed, has, through his example, engraved his name and values into each and every one of us and led by example. It was his will, compassion, generosity and noble values that led to the establishment of this country, and it is his legacy that is responsible for its subsequent flourishing. We as citizens of this country, the sons and daughters of Baba Zayed, stand today with pride. His teachings make us continuously dare to dream big.

As a young Emirati, I feel like an integral part of this nation, one that empowers its women and its youth. Some observers might wonder:  how can Emirati women be proud when they are subject to gender inequality? Yet this is a widely held misconception. Women and men in the UAE are given equal opportunities to contribute to the success of their nation. It is never about gender but about having the right mindset, skill set and determination to pursue one’s dreams. Our leaders continue to empower youth – who are the nation’s real wealth – nurturing them to continue the fulfilment of Sheikh Zayed’s vision. Youth today – both male and female – are ministers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.

This was the Year of Zayed and as it draws to a close, I feel compelled to express my gratitude to Baba Zayed for his inspiration and to our current leaders. This year was a reminder of why we love him so dearly, because he built a nation that is a haven for peace in a world filled with conflict and war. We will forever look up to him and learn from him because even though he has physically gone, his spirit and values still live within us. One of the sights of 2018 that made me happiest this year were the huge billboards that went up around the country, depicting Baba Zayed and his contagious smile. Was there ever a world leader who smiled as much or as sincerely?

As we head into the Year of Tolerance, one quote from Sheikh Zayed perfectly encapsulates both the year gone and the one that dawns tomorrow: "No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise, all these are material entities. The real spirit behind progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities".

Maha Al Mehairi is a capital projects performance specialist for the Abu Dhabi Executive Office