Emiratis are mourning the death of a UAE royal known for his warm demeanour and dedication to the country’s traditions.
Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, the UAE President's Representative and brother of Sheikh Khalifa, died while receiving treatment abroad on Monday. His body is expected to arrive in the UAE on Tuesday night with funeral prayers and a burial planned for Wednesday.
Those who were closest to him were hit hardest by the news.
Eissa Mattar Al Falahi, who spent 40 years with Sheikh Sultan as one of his companions, told The National he would always regret not being by his friend's side when he died.
“Since 1975, I have never left his side. I was supposed to be with him on that fateful trip,” said Mr Al Falahi, 67, who was unable to travel with Sheikh Sultan before his death.
“Sheikh Sultan woke up at around 5am every day and since the moment he woke up ’til he retired to his bed, I was around him.”
Their lives seemed to run in parallel – with a mere three-year difference in age and each marrying only a few years apart.
“Sheikh Sultan was unlike most rulers. He was accessible and you could walk into his majlis any time you wanted. There were no restraints or barriers between the people and him. If you needed him and wanted to see him, he was there. He didn’t like fancy cars and any car whatever the make or brand, he would ride.”
Known as the ‘Father of heritage’, Sheikh Sultan felt a deep connection with his country’s roots and even held an annual heritage festival in celebration of those traditions in Sweihan racecourse in Abu Dhabi.
“He loved camel racing, falconry and horse riding. During his younger days, he rode camels and cared for them,” Mr Al Falahi said.
Once a year, he would travel to Pakistan where he had a home and would spend his days hunting. “In his final years, it was his favourite destination.”
Sheikh Sultan’s love for tradition culminated in the founding of Emirates Heritage Club in 1993. He remained head of the club until his death.
“[He] loved his heritage and cared for camels and riders and equestrian activities. At the finish line, his concern was never who won the race but the well-being of rider and the animal,” said Saeed Al Mannaie, activities manager at the club.
“But most of all the ‘father of heritage’ loved his people. He loved the youth and developing their potential,” he said.
Sheikh Sultan was also a humanitarian, helping to send Emiratis abroad for medical treatment and sponsoring the education of those in need. He was also known to fund Hajj pilgrimages and Umrah for the less fortunate.
“He held what was called the mass wedding of the century in November 1999 for 1,300 grooms and 1,300 brides where he gave each couple Dh10,000 and paid for all their expenses. There aren’t enough words to describe him.”
Mr Al Mannaie said Sheikh Sultan had a close relationship with his father and shared many of the UAE Founding Father’s personality traits.
“There aren’t enough words to summarise Sheikh Sultan.
“We can start with how close he was to his father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, and how he accompanied him everywhere,” Mr Al Mannaie said.
“He inherited all of Sheikh Zayed’s traits and the heritage club began from seeds that were planted by Sheikh Zayed and a famous quote where he said ‘those without a past are without a present or future’.”
Mr Al Falahi described Sheikh Sultan as a gentle man who treated everyone with respect.
“I have never known him to lose his temper and in all the years I knew him, he never said an unkind word to me or anyone. Even when he was sick, he insisted to be among his people. He was always smiling and laughing and his happiest moments was when he was among his people.”
He said Sheikh Sultan would also be missed by his staff, who he would ensure had eaten before he had his lunch each day.
“He was the last to eat after making sure everyone had eaten first. In every part of his being, he put others first and had to ensure that everyone was comfortable and had all their needs met first.
Sheikh Sultan would also meet Emiratis almost every day at his majlis in Sweihan to hear their concerns.
“There will never be any man like Sheikh Sultan. He left a gaping hole in our hearts,” he said.