Sheikh Zayed's death: how the UAE mourned the loss of its founding father 18 years ago

The ruler's death is marked each year on Ramadan 19, which, in 2004, fell on November 2

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On this day, 18 years ago, the man responsible for the unification of the UAE and much of its early development died.

It was the 19th day of Ramadan and a time when news was heard on radios, television or by word of mouth.

It was no secret that Sheikh Zayed had been in fragile health. He was 84 and his public appearances had become rare.

A TV presenter on a local station delivered the upsetting news in the evening. Overcome with emotion, he said Sheikh Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, the Founding Father, was dead.

All pretence of normal life ceased; offices were deserted and shops closed.

Radio stations played the Quran and flags were lowered as a sombre mood enveloped the country.

Forty days of mourning were declared and schools and government offices closed for eight days, to reopen after Eid Al Fitr.

The funeral was held the day after his death, with prayers held at Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed the First Mosque, in Al Bateen, and attended by the rulers of every emirate and leaders of Arab nations.

The prayers and burial were streamed live on local television.

Helicopter footage showed a sea of white as kandura-clad men poured out of the mosque and into almost a dozen large parked buses.

Sheikh Zayed's body, cloaked in the UAE flag, was taken to the then under-construction Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where he was laid to rest.

Thousands of people of all backgrounds and creeds lined the streets, waiting beneath the shade of the trees, to mourn the much-loved leader, known affectionately as Baba Zayed.

Men and women cried, some threw themselves to the ground while others stood in solemn silence.

Crowds of people clamoured around the vehicle, waving pictures of the country's Ruler and trying to touch the car.

Those who did not head to the streets, prayed at home or in mosques.

Sheikh Zayed was born in Abu Dhabi on May 6, 1918. He became Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and President of the UAE at its birth in 1971.

After the death of Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa was named President. Sheikh Khalifa died on May 13, 2022.

Zaki Nusseibeh: How I met Sheikh Zayed

Zaki Nusseibeh: How I met Sheikh Zayed

In 2013, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced that November 3 would be marked with Flag Day, a celebration of Sheikh Khalifa's accession by raising the country's flag.

The day aims to remind everyone not just of the UAE's glowing memories of the past but also to consider the promise of an even brighter future.

The anniversary of Sheikh Zayed's death is marked each year on Ramadan 19 with Zayed Humanitarian Work Day in commemoration for his legacy of charity and giving that is upheld and continued in the UAE to this day.

It's also an annual event to announce the launch of several humanitarian and charity initiatives through official community events held in the Emirates.

Sheikh Zayed in his words, part 1

Sheikh Zayed in his words, part 1

*This story first appeared in The National in 2021