Nearly 50 years on, adviser remembers first Abu Dhabi master plan

Dr Zaki Nusseibeh worked with Sheikh Zayed, the late Founding Father, on the emirate's first five-year plan, after arriving in the UAE in 1967.

Zaki Nusseibeh said a huge amount of money was put aside, but initially the plan was met with scepticism. Lee Hoagland / The National
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ABU DHABI // After arriving in Abu Dhabi in 1967, aged 21 and fresh out of university, one of Dr Zaki Nusseibeh’s first jobs was to work with Sheikh Zayed on the first five-year master plan for the Emirate.

Aimed at building Abu Dhabi’s basic infrastructure, that plan – which, Dr Nusseibeh said, had a budget of US$670 million (Dh2.4 billion) – would pave the way for the new Abu Dhabi Plan almost 50 years later.

“It was a first time there was a comprehensive plan that looked at an economic future and that set out to establish the basic infrastructure that was needed,” said Dr Nusseibeh.

“You are talking about a time when Abu Dhabi was a developing village. It had no road, no water, no electricity. There was only one school in Abu Dhabi, one clinic in Al Ain and there was one hotel that was built in Abu Dhabi. There were some development plans, but they were never implemented until Sheikh Zayed came.”

At the time, Dr Nusseibeh, who was educated in the UK, worked as a freelance journalist and translator.

When Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, his father, who knew Sheikh Zayed, suggested he move to the Emirates, and Dr Nusseibeh landed the job working beside the Founding Father as that first ambitious master plan began to take shape.

“I remember that first plan very well,” said Dr Nusseibeh. “A lot of it was aimed at putting those infrastructural projects in place – an airport, a harbour, roads. But it was also to show from the beginning that Sheikh Zayed’s focus was in investing in education, health and culture, that and bringing the modern world to Abu Dhabi.

“He had travelled extensively before he became Ruler, and saw what was available to people in other cultures and he wanted to bring that to this country. It was exciting because it was, for those days, a big sum of money that was put aside.”

Initially, said Dr Nusseibeh, the blueprint was met with scepticism.

“I took some people to meet him in 1968 – a British documentary team – and when Sheikh Zayed spoke to them about his ambitions, his plans and what he wants to do in Abu Dhabi, the producer, who was British, came out and said: ‘This man is dreaming. How can he achieve this?’”

Yet, Dr Nusseibeh said, every milestone of that first five-year master plan was achieved.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was all implemented. That and more. We went far beyond the plan. It had projects for everything, for building an airport, for improving the roads, building offices for the government, building schools, clinics, a harbour, then building a network of roads to link Abu Dhabi to Al Ain.”

Dr Nusseibeh, who is now a cultural adviser in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, said he hoped the latest blueprint for the next economic plan, which will keep the emirate on track to achieving its 2030 vision, will help Abu Dhabi become a leader in global best practice.

“The first plan had to look at establishing the basic infrastructures for the country,” he said. “Now Abu Dhabi is established on the world scene as a political power base and with an advanced infrastructure that rivals any in the world, really, so I think what is happening in the next five years is to expand what is happening in the Emirates so to make it truly excel on a global level.

“The region is faced by many challenges, so you still have to make it sure that people living here in the Emirates can overcome the challenges of the 21st century and that means, of course, a focus on education, of training young people and creating the economy that can go into the future.”


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