When the international nations think about the Arab world, there are some stereotypes that come to mind instantly. From oil reserves to wealthy sheikhs, a vibrant picture of the Arab countries is painted. When it comes to Sheikh Zayid bin Sultan, these stereotypes are true and justified. In his book, With United Strength: H.H. Shaikh Zayid Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Leader and the Nation, published by Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, author Andrew Wheatcroft uncovers and tells about the private and public life of Shaikh Zayid Bin Sultan, the Amir or leader of Abu Dhabi and the President of the United Arab Emirates. The main idea of the biographical is the focus on the tremendous work and effort Shaikh Zayid bin Sultan made to become a well-loved ruler and one that truly benefited not only his own country but others around him.
The child Zayid Bin Sultan was born in the year 1918 into the royal family and the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, Shaikh Sultan bin Zayid bin Khalifa Al Nahyan and his wife Shaikha Salamah. As was the custom, he was sent to live with the desert Bedouins. This was a necessary part of a royal child’s upbringing for two reasons. Firstly, there were limited opportunities for higher and more structured education at the time, as one can find in the modern universities. The education that was cherished was one of practical use. That is why, secondly, the children were sent to live with the primitive Bedouins to learn from their nomadic ways. The imperative thing was to learn how to survive while having the bare necessities. Furthermore, the nomadic conditions proved to be cleaner and healthier in contrast to the urban civilization. The most crucial lesson taught by the Bedouins and one cherished by the urban people was the ability to learn to survive in harsh conditions. This was an important knowledge area for the royal family as the men had to possess the skill for survival in case of danger, battles or even natural disasters.
In the year 1918, political and international relationships were different for Abu Dhabi in contrast to later times. At the time, Abu Dhabi was following certain signed agreements with the British. The country was part of the seven countries which were together known as the Trucial States. All these countries were following treaties with the British. Despite the British influence, Zayid was not given a formal western education, both because of the lack of resources and also because of the Arab resistance to following the Western culture. Therefore, Zayid received an Islamic education at an early age, which included the basic principles and rulings of the religion, especially those dealing with leadership and authority.
Wealth was of no shortage for the young Zayid, yet it came with a price of its own. Unlike other young men growing up alongside him, Zayid was given immense responsibility and tasks throughout his youth. At the ripe age of 28, he was given the position of governor for the entire Eastern Region of the country. In fact, this was a great challenge for him and one that he was successful in. The governor had to reside in the city of Al-Ain and specifically, in the Muwaiji Fort. The city was not what it is today as people were exposed to filth, diseases and poverty during Zayid’s governorship. Throughout Zayid’s life and rule, he was appointed with one main task: to search for further oil reserves and aid in protecting them against international authority. This is exactly what his job was as the governor of East Abu Dhabi: to explore for oil.
Despite the great power that the young Zayid possessed, he was starting to be known as an honest and diligent authority figure with the interest of the common people in mind. An example of his integrity and wisdom was seen during the Buraimi Dispute. In the year 1952, a number of Saudi Arabians took over a village in the Buraimi area, and Zayid decided to take action as he was opposed to the Saudi claims in Abu Dhabi. His honesty was tested when he was bribed with over 25 million pounds, which he urgently rejected. He traveled to Europe to resolve the matter in front of the international committee in Switzerland. He succeeded so much that he even restored the water system integral for the Buraimi plantations.
Because of his honesty, he was greatly loved by the Abu Dhabi people and Zayid continued to make many truces and treaties that promoted international compromise and peace. Some include the Treaty of Jeddah and various religious freedom treaties for non-Muslims. In fact, he was extremely tolerant of other religions, especially favoring Arab Christians, which gained him some criticism from fellow Arab rulers. Zayid was also known to be very opinionated and vocal about the Muslim events in the world, always tending to side with the oppressed rather than the oppressors. This was coupled with his charitable attitude which favored the poor Muslim people throughout the Arabian Peninsula. Throughout the UAE, Zayid built countless hospitals, set up affordable health care and even modernized colleges and educational institutions, instantly making him loved by the people.
Furthermore, Zayid’s personality was not secretive and his family members were also well known and well-liked. He had six wives in all, with the eldest wife, Shaikha Hassa bint Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan gaining the most prominence. In all, the wives provided Zayid with an abundant progeny which consisted of almost 30 children. Zayid lived a long life of 86 years which ended on November 2, 2004. The ruler suffered from various illnesses, the main one being kidney malfunction. He is succeeded by his eldest son, Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid Al-Nahyan, who is the current Amir of Abu Dhabi. Zayid bin Sultan’s influence on his people and the international world is no secret. He was loved greatly and even received personal get-well letter by the Abu Dhabi people which was personally signed by over one million fans! There are many places around the world that are named in his honor, including the London School of Economics and an airport in Pakistan. There is no doubt that the ruler was one who made a positive difference in history. As the author Wheatcroft states, “He pioneered the modernization of the country and ultimately created an effective framework for collaboration with neighboring Gulf States (23).”
As with any biography book that one reads, the author heavily focused on Zayid’s political and ruling life. There is minimal focus on the private life of the Shaikh, which would by my main criticism. In a similar book about the ruler, called Zayed, a Photographic Journey: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan by Nadi Turath al-Imarat, the author did a better job of focusing on the man Zayid and not merely the ruler. In my opinion, when I am looking to learn more about a well-known personality, especially a ruler, I want to learn about his or her personal life as much as possible. The other aspects, the professional and public aspects, of the ruler’s life can be researched through many resources. It is the private life aspects, such as personal habits, children’s names, and dealings with family members that truly provide a better aspect into the person’s life and give more credibility to the authors of the books.