A couple of years ago Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan Al-Nahyan, the emir of Abu Dhabi and president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) patronized the translation and publication of an old Islamic text about the �ideal prince�. Now that he has passed away one might suggest the title �The Ideal Prince� for Sheikh Zayed�s own biography.
For Sheikh Zayed was the ideal prince in more than one sense of the term. To begin with, he did not come to power simply because he was a son of his father. In fact, as the fourth son of Sheikh Sultan Al-Nahayan, Zayed might not have gone beyond the position of �a brother of the prince�. By the mid-1960s, however, Zayed had emerged as the natural leader of his tribe and his ministate that, at the time, was under British protection as part of the Trucial States. Before long he had replaced his elder brother Sheikh Shakhbut, the emir; and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Sheikh Zayed was the first ruler of the Trucial Coast to campaign for an end to British protection and the creation of an independent state. Initially, he had imagined a larger federation that would include Bahrain and Qatar in addition to the seven sheikhdoms of the Trucial Coast. In the end, however, Bahrain and Qatar chose to stay out. This left Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al-Khaimah, Um Al-Quwain, Ajman and Fujairah as founders and components of the United Arab Emirates which came into being in December 1971. Unanimously chosen as president of the newly created United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed deployed his natural leadership talents in the service of developing harmonious ties among the seven founding members of the federation. Although Abu Dhabi, enjoying fabulous oil wealth, was by far the strongest of the seven in economic as well as political terms, Sheikh Zayed remained scrupulous in his policy of giving all the emirates an equal say in shaping the strategies of the new state.
By the mid-1980s the UAE was established as a force for political stability, social progress and economic development in the Gulf. Sheikh Zayed cherished the diversity of the UAE�s population that includes people from more than 140 different nationalities. He also played a pioneering role in promoting the rights of women, including their participation in the political process. Sheikh Zayed�s pro-women policy found its highest symbolic manifestation just two days ago when a woman was appointed as the UAE�s first energy minister.
Together with his life-long partner, Sheikh Rashed Al-Maktum of Dubai, who passed away a few years ago, Sheikh Zayed turned the UAE into a haven of peace and prosperity in an Arab world marked by conflict, poverty and war.
Zayed�s success in domestic policies was paralleled by is spectacular success on the international stage. He forged close and privileged relations with all the major powers while establishing himself as a steadfast champion of legitimate Arab causes, especially Palestine.
It would be no exaggeration to include Sheikh Zayed among the greatest of Arab leaders in the 20th century. As a builder, an open-minded man, and a compassionate ruler his memory is certain to pass the test of time.