Sheikh Zayed shaped rise of modern Abu Dhabi

An Iraqi who served in the emirate’s first cabinet, Adnan Pachachi recalls the Founding President’s approach to local governance and unity in the Gulf.

Adnan Pachachi was a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council for 20 years in the early days of the UAE. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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An Iraqi who served in the emirate’s first cabinet, Adnan Pachachi recalls the Founding President’s approach to local governance and unity in the Gulf.

ABU DHABI // Adnan Pachachi experienced first hand the founding and growth of the Abu Dhabi Government.

A former diplomat and foreign minister in Iraq, he first arrived in Abu Dhabi in May 1969 as part of a tour of the Arabian Gulf that Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the current emir of Kuwait, had suggested he undertake.

Sheikh Sabah and Mr Pachachi first met when they served as their respective countries’ foreign ministers.

Now 93, Mr Pachachi can clearly recall his first meeting with Sheikh Zayed in Qasr Al Hosn. “He was very interested in explaining to me the efforts being made to establish a union among the nine Arabian Gulf states, the two additional ones were Qatar and Bahrain,” Mr Pachachi said.

At the time Dr Wahid Raafat, an Egyptian legal scholar, was asked to draw the constitution.

“Sheikh Zayed was interested in setting up a new system of government in Abu Dhabi,” Mr Pachachi said. “He wanted to move from the traditional tribal system to a modern system in which the responsibilities of government are clearly defined”.

Mr Pachachi was also asked to assist in that process. So a group of them “sat down and proposed a new law, it was called the law for government reorganisation for the Abu Dhabi emirate”, he said.

They decided that the Ruler would have ultimate authority but there would be a council of ministers to advise him. This would be under the chairmanship of the crown prince at the time, Sheikh Khalifa.

The council was renamed the Abu Dhabi Executive Council ­after the founding of the UAE “to avoid confusion”.

Mr Pachachi later became a minister of state and was a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council for 20 years.

“This was the first Abu Dhabi government,” he said, pointing to a photo of himself with council members on July 1, 1971.

“As you can see I was the only non-Abu Dhabian in the government, which was a great privilege and honour.”

Despite his years of political experience, Mr Pachachi said he learnt a lot about governance from Sheikh Zayed. “He advised me rather than I advised him. He is the one who thought about these things,” he said. “For him the individual is the main objective of the reforms. He wanted to make sure that every individual in this country should have a good life and all the necessary services, like education and health.

“Besides making the individual the main theme of his reforms, he opened the country to all other religions besides Islam, so there is a kind of religious tolerance in this country, which is quite noticeable.”

He believes the third main principle that Sheikh Zayed based the state on was “the maintenance of peace and security for all those who are living in this country and I think he succeeded quite remarkably”.

Introducing taxes was never on the agenda because the revenue from oil was more than enough to pay for all these services and to build the infrastructure.

“And there was always a surplus, and that is why we had the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia). It invests the surplus from the oil revenues ... so there will not be an exclusive dependence on oil,” said Mr Pachachi, who was on the executive boards of Adia, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development.

“I think we succeeded more than all other oil-producing countries. We were able to withstand the economic crisis better than all other countries because we had a good solid basis.”

In the early days of the Government, the UAE was gaining recognition for its efforts to gain regional support for the union of the nine Arabian Gulf states.

“There were some problems and difficulties and Sheikh Zayed wanted to get as much Arab support as he could for this union,” Mr Pachachi said. “He asked me to go to Cairo to meet the president, Anwar Sadat, at that time in 1971, and he [Sadat] said he would support [the union].”

Mr Pachachi said that although some countries felt “it would be wiser to postpone the union until the outstanding frontier differences were settled – the frontiers were not clearly defined – we said ‘no, the people of these states are eager to have a union and we can’t wait too long’.”

He also described how Sheikh Zayed transformed Bedouin life in the UAE. The Bedouin led nomadic lives in the country during summer and winter, but Sheikh Zayed built proper houses for them and provided them with medical care, mosques and schools. “So the Bedouin life, which was the majority, came to an end,” said Mr Pachachi.

He also recalls a humorous moment with Sheikh Zayed.

“We went to visit him and he started laughing, and asked us: ‘Do you know why I am laughing? A Bedouin came to me with a cheque worth 1 million dirhams and asked me ‘what is this million? I don’t know what it is’.”


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