To commemorate the 100th birthday of the late founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE will mark the year 2018 as the 'Year of Zayed'. The President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, announced the decision during the anniversary of the late Sheikh Zayed's Accession Day - the day he assumed leadership in Abu Dhabi on 6 August 1966 - which marked the start of a new epoch in the history of UAE.
The discovery of oil in the late 1950s changed the whole economic landscape of Abu Dhabi as it marked the tangible start of its development. In 1962, as the emirate began exporting oil, it was immediately apparent that an innovative vision of governance was needed to address the new challenges and to optimize the utilization of oil revenues. The Al Nahyan family unanimously chose Sheikh Zayed as the new ruler of the emirate on August 6, 1966.
In August 1966, Sheikh Zayed became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, with a mandate to develop the emirate as quickly as possible. His years in Al Ain had given him valuable experience in government and time to develop a vision of progress. With the export of the first cargo of Abu Dhabi crude oil in 1962, Sheikh Zayed could rely on oil revenues to start an infrastructure overhaul, constructing schools, housing, hospitals and roads.
A few days after assuming office, the establishment of a modern formal government with its ministries and departments was announced and the new government entrusted with the task of conducting the affairs of the state.
Understanding that the future of the emirate would need to look beyond the energy source, Sheikh Zayed implemented major reforms such as modern education, healthcare, public housing, and general urban development.
"We must not rely on oil alone as the main source of our national income. We have to diversify the sources of our revenue and construct economic projects that will ensure a free, stable and dignified life for the people."
In the late 1960s, Sheikh Zayed hired Dr. Katsuhiko Takahashi, a Japanese architect, to design and plan the city.
"They used to say that agriculture has no future [in the UAE ], but with God's blessing and our determination, we have succeeded in transforming this desert into a green land.”
Soon after assuming power on August 6, 1966 as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed underscored the importance of union. The significance of unity and the need to work in cooperation with the other emirates was thus ingrained in Sheikh Zayed’s thinking very early in his career. Because of these new forces that had been set in motion, Sheikh Zayed, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, along with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then Ruler of Dubai, promptly initiated the move towards establishing a federation. This federation aimed to be the nucleus of Arab unity and to protect the potentially oil-rich coast from the ambitions of more powerful neighbouring countries.
“In harmony, in some sort of federation, we could follow the example of other developing countries”.
On February 18, 1968, they signed Al Samih agreement, which resulted in major changes that set the stage for the discussions of the Union of the Nine that took place among the seven emirates, and Bahrain and Qatar later on. Finally, this led to the unification of the emirates under the name the “United Arab Emirates” after both Bahrain and Qatar announced their independence.
Sheikh Zayed was unanimously elected by the rulers of the emirates as the first president of the new state for five years. The Supreme Council of the Union expressed their confidence in Sheikh Zayed by re-electing him several times.
“Our experiment in federation... arose from a desire to increase the ties that bind us, as well as from the conviction of all that we were part of one family, and that we must gather together under one leadership,” a lengthy profile carried by WAM, the official Emirates news agency, quoted Sheikh Zayed as saying after becoming president".