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Conference on the achievements of Shaikh Zayed
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Hundreds of Muslim and other intellectuals, including professors, writers, journalists and religious leaders converged on Abu Dhabi last month to pay rich tributes to one Muslim leader who,starting from a scratch., has painstakingly achieved a lot for his country in three decades of selfless service to his country and Arab and Islamic causes.

This extraordinary man is the ruler of Abu Dhabi [Abu Zaby] and president of the seven-emirate union, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He inherited an impoverished and unknown emirate in the desert with no schools, no hospitals, no infrastructure. Within three decades he has transformed his own as well as the six other emirates into a modern state with all the latest infrastructure which is the envy of the Arab and Muslim countries.

Shaikh Zayed unified seven tribal emirates without making fuss about ‘Arab unity’ and played a constructive role in bringing about the Gulf Cooperation Council, another unitarian step, without raising slogans and unleashing propaganda. He transformed the desert into a garden without inserting full page advertisements in international newspapers and without convening international conferences and seminars in world capitals as we have seen some oil-rich Arab states dissipate their wealth over the years.

Shaikh Zayed’s prolonged illness and return to his people after recovery provided the impetus to his admirers in the country to think of a way to highlight his achievements and the result was this conference to which, surprisingly, came so many serious intellectuals who would normally shun such gatherings. I made it clear that I have no material relationship of any kind with the UAE except giving some interviews from time to time on current affairs to the Abu Dhabi TV over the phone.

Most speakers shared the feeling which I expressed during the conference that Shaikh Zayed has not been given his due by the media simply because the modern media is more concerned about disasters, wars, crimes, violence and make-believe glamour that it passes by people who are selflessly and silently serving a cause and achieve a lot without hoopla and without many undue noise.

Speaker after speaker unravelled unknown aspects of Shaikh Zayed’s personality. Here was a man who quietly worked to help the Arab war effort in 1973, who made up between Sadat and Qaddafi, who knew his country’s limits in the dispute with Iran, who painstakingly ushered a bedouin-tribal society to the twentieth century and beyond, who took exceptional care to protect wildlife in his state and beyond, who got old manuscripts edited, published and distributed all over the world, who took care to repair Muslim and Christian monuments in Jerusalem. Some speakers narrated some of his sayings which should enter history: “Arab oil is not dearer than Arab blood,’ ‘Foreign policy cannot be based on revenge.’ When a westerner asked him how he would go about development, he said: ‘your iron and our faith.’ Dr John D Anthony, an American scholar, summed it up aptly: A museum will be built one day to commemorate Shaikh Zayed’s achievements and the words that should be etched on its entrance should say: ‘Arabia redeemed.’

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