No story of the UAE would be complete without Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah.
He celebrates 50 years as ruler this year, presiding over huge changes, yet also providing stability and continuity for his people.
Sheikh Dr Sultan has ruled Sharjah since January 25, 1972, the longest of all the current UAE Rulers.
Yet his passions – education, culture, and a deep appreciation of history – keep his leadership as lively and relevant today as it was half a century ago.
Here we look at some key moments in his life:
Taught in Sharjah
Sheikh Dr Sultan was born on July 2, 1939. He was one of four brothers.
After beginning his education in Sharjah, he enrolled at an English private school as a teenager to learn English and for two years, between 1961 and 1963, taught the language and maths at Sharjah Industrial School.
Passion for heritage
From an early age, Sheikh Dr Sultan's passion for culture and heritage was evident.
Studying for a degree at Cairo University’s College of Agriculture, his studies were interrupted when, in 1970, he learned Sharjah’s historic old fort was being demolished.
Sheikh Dr Sultan rushed home to save what remains of the building, sparking his passion for heritage.
The restored Al Hisn Fort is now the centrepiece of the Heart of Sharjah project.
Sheikh Dr Sultan’s vision for the emirate extends even further.
The city now boasts an impressive collection of museums, including institutions dedicated to Islamic civilisation and archaeology, art, classic cars and even the conversion of the old British RAF base at Al Mahatta into an aviation museum.
First education minister
After graduating from university, Sheikh Dr Sultan is appointed to manage the office of Sharjah's Ruler, his brother Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.
In December 1971, with the formation of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Dr Sultan is appointed the first Minister of Education.
Ruler of Sharjah
He becomes Ruler of Sharjah on January 25, 1972.
At 32, he became a member of the UAE Supreme Council.
Throughout his rule, Sheikh Dr Sultan has been an enthusiastic supporter of the UAE.
On the UAE's 40th anniversary, he said: “Decades have passed on our unity and we had what we wished, a strong and modern state, a proud people living in dignity and maintaining their identity.”
In 1985, he was awarded a doctorate by Exeter University, England, for a thesis that challenged the conventional narrative that Britain's East India Company had been forced to attack and subdue the people of the Northern Emirates on the grounds of their piracy.
This determination to defend the culture and story of his people, and the wider Arab Muslim world against western imperial powers, is a constant theme of his writing.
Later published as a book, The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf, Sheikh Dr Sultan has also written a series of historical novels, including The White Shaikh, in 1996, set in 19th Century Dhofar and a two-part epic of the history of Sharjah, Tale of a City.
Sheikh Dr Sultan published the first part of his biography, My Early Life in 2009, recounting struggles before becoming Ruler of Sharjah.
Critically acclaimed, it was published in several languages, including English, Spanish, French and German, followed by a second volume, Taking The Reins, covering the first years as ruler.
The Heart of Sharjah, an ambitious heritage project to revitalise the city’s historic centre, was announced in 2010.
Due for completion in 2025, it is the largest preservation scheme of its kind in the region and will restore old buildings and create new ones in traditional architecture to include art galleries, museums, cafes and restaurants, and the five-star Al Bait hotel.
Sheikh Dr Sultan opened the new Sharjah to Khor Fakkan motorway in April 2018, cutting the journey time to the east coast by half, to just 45 minutes.
The road is part of a multi-billion dirham initiative to improve life in the Khor Fakkan and Kalba exclaves of the emirate, with the redevelopment of Kalba’s corniche, restoration of the historic Saif bin Ghanim fishermen's mosque and conservation projects that include coastal mangroves and the pomegranate trees on Jabal Al Ruman mountain.
In 2021, he opened a 10,250-square-metre viewing area and rest house 600 metres above sea level in Khor Fakkan.
The Al Suhub Rest House includes a restaurant, cafe, children's play area, prayer rooms, bathrooms and viewing areas. About 8,700 trees were also planted.
The many initiatives Sheikh Dr Sultan has supported abroad include an Islamic centre in Estonia, a foundation for marginalised children in Malaysia, a library in Nairobi and a project to support theatre festivals in the Arab world.
He has been particularly generous in Egypt, supporting both a centre to train journalists and a new liver transplant wing at Mansoura University Hospital, to name but two of many projects he is involved with.
At the heart of this is Sheikh Dr Sultan’s belief in the power of arts and science to enlighten and inform society.
“Proper education is a safeguard against destructive ideas and misguided groups. A stable family background contributes effectively to nation-building,” he said.