Reflecting on the past to inform the UAE's future

The legacy of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Khalifa are key to understanding today's country

The UAE is mourning the passing of Sheikh Khalifa. Ministry of Presidential Affairs
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“Preparing for the future – near or far – starts today, not tomorrow.” Among much else, the late Sheikh Khalifa’s legacy will be formed by his commitment to securing a strong future for his country. The UAE might be mourning his passing, but it will never lose all he did to strengthen it. As his own father Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, said: “Man is mortal, but his work is not.”

When it comes to understanding the Emirates, there could be no better person to begin with than Sheikh Zayed, who in a matter of years harnessed the UAE’s oil wealth, strategic location and common ambition to create one of the most rapidly developed countries in history. He always stressed the importance and strength gained through unity, a theme about which he often spoke. It was this unity that led to the creation of a government quickly able to secure prosperous, stable lives for its people without losing sight of a cherished culture.

When Sheikh Zayed died in 2004, the first transition of power in the UAE’s modern history took place. It was a successful and momentous one, with Sheikh Khalifa stepping forward. If Sheikh Zayed’s legacy is defined by foundation, Sheikh Khalifa’s is one of empowerment.

He was the perfect person to do so, embodying the mixture of openness and patriotism that is at the centre of the UAE. Under him, the country’s population more than doubled, bolstered by people from more than 200 nations coming together to make an even more cosmopolitan society and economy. But he also never strayed from his roots, well-known for his love of meeting citizens in the majlises that he had been attending at the side of his father since childhood.

Now, it is the turn of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa’s brother. The responsibility of public service is familiar for him. For 18 years he was Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. He stood alongside Sheikh Khalifa throughout his remarkable time in office, overseeing historic transformations of the country’s economy, military and society. He also did so in some difficult times, none more so than during the Covid-19 pandemic, which the UAE was able to navigate and emerge from quicker and more safely than most.

Leaders from around the world are gathering in the country to pay their respects. As soon as they arrive, they will see the legacy of Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Zayed in the buildings, society and, most importantly, the people of the UAE. Many of them will have known and followed the development of the UAE for decades, and all of them will be connected to the country in some way, whether through strategic, cultural or economic partnerships or the fact that many of their citizens call the Emirates home.

Unique about today’s visits is the chance they offer to reflect in a country that so often focuses on an exciting future, and so often invites fellow nations to be a part of it. But as Sheikh Zayed was always keen to stress, appreciating history is key to getting the full understanding of the Emirates. “A nation without a past is a nation without a present or a future," he once said. The UAE is building on the legacy of the past fifty years, and preparing for the next fifty, as it enters a new chapter under the guidance and stewardship of Sheikh Mohamed.

Published: May 15, 2022, 2:38 PM