Sheikh Zayed, the Father of the Nation, once said that what he prized above all was not "material entities" but what he called "the able man", possessed of "intellect and capabilities". That, in so many ways, is also an apt description of Sheikh Zayed himself. When he embarked on his quest to unite the territories that comprise today's United Arab Emirates, the chief weapon in his arsenal was his vision. The meteoric success of the UAE over the last 46 years vindicates Sheikh Zayed.
It is fitting that 2018, the centenary year of the Founding Father's birth, will be celebrated across the country as the Year of Zayed. His legacy is indispensable to healing the fractures of a world that is being disfigured by demagoguery and divisive politics. Upholding human dignity – treating "every person, no matter what his creed or race, as a special soul", as he put it – was his principal objective in public life. He emphasised the urgency of opening up opportunities in "all sectors" for women and warned that no society that excluded half its citizens could prosper. He welcomed people from every part of the world with open arms, transforming the UAE into one of the most pluralistic societies in the world.
The momentous change over which Sheikh Zayed presided was never, in his eyes, a departure from the heritage of the UAE but an affirmation of its finest aspects. The true genius of a culture and a society lay, he believed, in their capacity to adopt and thrive in a changing world. A cursory glance at the Middle East shows how right he was – and how well he prepared the UAE for the 21st Century. In a region characterised by strife and conflict, the UAE is not only a haven of stability and prosperity but also the place where the future is imagined and brought into being. At the same time, it has given so munificently to the less fortunate that it has gained recognition as the most generous donor of aid on earth.
All of this is Sheikh Zayed's legacy. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, tweeted in the closing hours of 2017, "We welcome 2018 with goodness ... the Year of Zayed ... a year of loyalty and gratitude to the founding father ... with wishes for more virtue, elevation, development for our dear homeland, and for our brothers and friends stability and peace". There can be no finer message to take into 2018.
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