Looking back at Sheikh Zayed's 1991 visit to Paris

The UAE's relationship with France is one built on 'loyalty and reliability' - traits embodied by the Founding Father

Mayor of Paris Jacques Chirac (R) invites United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Zayed Ben Sultan Al Nahyan (L), to enter the Paris City Hall 10 September 1991. Sheikh Zayed Ben Sultan Al Nahayan is in France for a three-day official visit. AFP PHOTO PIERRE GUILLAUD (Photo by PIERRE GUILLAUD / AFP)
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On September 9, 1991, the UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, met French president Francois Mitterrand in Paris. As a statesman and a leader, Sheikh Zayed was respected the world over ― and the UAE’s enduring relationship with France is a testament to his legacy.

Sheikh Zayed had previously visited the French capital in 1951, as part of a delegation to the International Court of Arbitration, where Abu Dhabi won the rights to oil found under the sea, as well as on land. Sheikh Zayed travelled to France via Bahrain, before visiting Italy, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon.

The UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, pictured with France's then-president Francois Mitterrand during his 1991 trip to France. Getty

“Travelling abroad in the 1950s and 1960s, [Sheikh Zayed] was inspired by what he saw in Europe, and wanted the same for his people,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

“And with the new revenues generated by oil sales, he was able to embark upon major construction and development projects at home, to ensure that the people benefited from their wealth, and to work for unity and federation in the region.”

The UAE's Founding Father during his first presidential tour of France in 1975, with a young Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed watching on. Photo: Zaki Nusseibeh

An exhibition from 2019, Sheikh Zayed and Europe: A Journey, included a quote from Zaki Nusseibeh, Cultural Adviser to the President of the United Arab Emirates: "[He] visited museums like the Louvre in Paris and said that one day, there will be a museum like that in the UAE." Today, the presence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a testament to that vision.

Sheikh Zayed’s first presidential tour of France after the unification of the United Arab Emirates, took place in 1975. He was pictured meeting French president, Valery Giscard d’Estaing. Also present was his son, now President Sheikh Mohamed, who was 14 at the time, and Nusseibeh.

Sheikh Mohamed shared the photo during his own first state visit to France earlier this year, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron later hailed the partnership between the two nations as one based on "loyalty and reliability", and hailed Sheikh Mohamed's key role in addressing international challenges.

The French president said: "Through your new presidential duties, you will continue your efforts to make the UAE a strong, stable, diversified and growing economy and an influential member of the international arena in addressing global and regional challenges.”

As the two nations continue to look forward, on this day we look back to where it all began.

Scroll through more images of Sheikh Zayed's travels to Paris below.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 6:02 PM