By Mary Achkhanian, Staff Reporter
Dubai: When Major Ali Saqr Al Suwaidi met Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in Sir Bani Yas Island at the age of 20 to film artificial coral reefs underwater, there were two things he heard from him that stay with him — to preserve the UAE’s natural environment for future generations and train the youth on the traditions of the country.
Closely observing the environmental efforts of Shaikh Zayed in turning desert islands into successful reserves, Al Suwaidi, an avid pearl diver and fisherman from a very young age, made it a mission to safeguard marine and terrestrial ecosystems just the same way.
Shaikh Zayed became the first person to build a reserve in the entire Gulf and to spearhead conservation works in this area.”
Major Ali Saqr Al Suwaidi | Chairman, EMEG
Now 60 years old, Al Suwaidi, the man behind the Emirates Marine Environmental Group and a stretch of pristine beach and tidal pools called the Ghantoot Nature Reserve, takes Gulf News down the memory lane of the many enduring values he personally got to experience with Shaikh Zayed and how they are still guiding the UAE.
“The late Shaikh Zayed carries a great and beautiful history. We always considered him as a father before being a shaikh because he was very close to the people and took care of everyone,” said Al Suwaidi.
Since Shaikh Zayed lived in the desert, it meant a lot to him, he added. “He feared it would not be preserved for future generations and so he worked hard on making nature reserves. He thought ahead of the times.
“Shaikh Zayed became the first person to build a reserve in the entire Gulf and to spearhead conservation works in this area. In the 1960s, he began his work in protecting animals and birds when not many were aware of that. To this day, the UAE leadership and its people follow in those same footsteps in preserving the environment,” he said.
Greening the Sir Bani Yas island in order for animals to live in a natural environment was among Shaikh Zayed’s main goals. Now the wildlife reserve island is a shining example of the UAE’s success in environment management.
Working closely with Shaikh Zayed to build more artificial coral reefs around the UAE, Al Suwaidi said that there were many great values Shaikh Zayed embodied.
“Shaikh Zayed’s majlis was a place where you could learn many things. People seeking knowledge and wisdom would visit the majlis. He would also spend more than 15 hours just listening to the people and that was not easy. He wanted us to continue to do the same in guiding the younger generation and teaching them the culture and heritage of the country, including the importance of protecting the environment.”
His generosity was a reputation that followed him everywhere, Al Suwaidi said.
“He loved to share his money with the people, and he used to say that the oil coming to the UAE is not for me but for everybody.”
Compassion and generosity
Al Suwaidi narrated a story of a time when Shaikh Zayed was flown to Germany for treatment. At that time, he had asked his secretary to enquire about the financial needs of other Arabs in town.
“His secretary got him letters from different people asking for a house, car, money or furniture and he helped all of them. There was one letter his secretary didn’t want to give him. When he asked him why, he was told that it was because it was a request from a Jewish man. He then told him that it didn’t matter, he also has a God, and ended up helping him.”
Sharing another story, Al Suwaidi said that one day, while Shaikh Zayed was passing by Liwa in the peak of the summer to have a look at the palm trees being planted as per his request, a Pakistani worker had asked to greet Shaikh Zayed.
“When he approached him, the worker asked Shaikh Zayed why he had requested to plant palm trees in the hot climate when they were not going to survive. Shaikh Zayed told him, I’m thinking about you and your family more than anyone else; if you work and make money, that makes me happy.”
Al Suwaidi said tolerance, compassion and humanitarianism are the values that are still evident in the UAE. “We are upholding these traditions to this day. The UAE has welcomed people of over 200 nationalities and we respect them because they are the ones who helped build this country.”
The Emirati identity, he said, has been embedded in all Emirati households for generations because of Shaikh Zayed. “The most wonderful thing is that he created an identity for the UAE and made sure we are proud of our traditional dress. He used to teach us to be proud of our flag and our national identity,” said Al Suwaidi.
“Shaikh Zayed is the best treasure God has given us.”
Al Suwaidi, a father of three, has founded several training programmes to teach marine science and environment. More than 2,000 children visit the Ghantoot Reserve yearly to learn about the environment and about pearl diving.
Zayed’s everlasting spring of life
By Yousra Zaki, Guides Deputy Editor
One of the hot springs at Green Mubazzarah, the tourist resort at the foothills of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. After months of drilling, water started gushing forth on July 4, 1995.
I had many dreams. I dreamt of our land keeping pace with the growth of the modern world.” —
- Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan
For the 32 splendid years of Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s presidency, the country witnessed tremendous changes from the pre-oil days to the new riches that laid the foundation of a contemporary country. He was the architect of a modern UAE.
Falah Al Qubaisi
Gulf News visited Al Ain to explore one of the legacies of Shaikh Zayed that still stands today. Located at the foothills of Jebel Hafeet, with hot water gushing forth in the rough and undulating plains is the Green Mubazzarah.
Al Ain’s hot springs are a natural spa facility and one of the main tourist attractions in the country. They are home to an open resort at the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Hafeet. Gulf News spoke with Falah Al Qubaisi, Shaikh Zayed’s former personal photographer, and Hamdan Al Darei, a respected Emirati historian about how in 1995, Shaikh Zayed did what many deemed impossible.
“Many years ago, scientists told him that it was not possible to find water in this area. He told them that he would try and that if God so willed, with determination, he would succeed,” said Al Qubaisi.
One day in the early months of 1995, when Shaikh Zayed was visiting Al Ain, he walked around the base of Jebel Hafeet. “Zayed always liked to drive and walk around the UAE, rather than fly. He was a very down to earth leader, who loved to see the country the way all its residents saw it,” said Al Darei. As Zayed was walking and looking around the foot of Jebel Hafeet, he had an instinctual feeling that the area he stood on had an abundance of groundwater in it.
“You mustn’t forget that Zayed grew up as a Bedouin. He was deeply in touch with nature and he knew there was something special about these grounds. So he flew in scientists from different countries to assess the soil, and some of them told him that there was no water in this area and that he should give up. But he never did,” explained Al Darei.
Hamdan Al Darei
Subsequently, a German scientist advised Shaikh Zayed to bring in industrial drills and asked his workers to proceed with the drilling, as deep as they possibly could. This went on for months without success. As the drills started to break one by one, Shaikh Zayed brought in more drills and more scientists. He was persistent and patient. Then one day, there was water. A lot of water. It was July 4, 1995.
A geyser column of hot water and steam rose majestically into the sky, and until this day, keeps flowing. “We have proved the scientists wrong and the results are now visible all around us. Inshallah, we will continue the good work by protecting our environment and our wildlife, as our forefathers did,” Shaikh Zayed had said.
This water is laden with natural elements, specifically sulphur, and people consider it useful for treating certain skin infections and rheumatism problems. Access to the spa pools are free of charge and are open to everyone. Since then, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and Al Ain Municipality have jointly developed several spa pools and water streams across Green Mubazzarah that attract thousands of tourists from GCC countries and other emirates.
A transforming vision that will endure
Mohammad Al Bereiki
By Abdulla Rasheed, Abu Dhabi Editor
He has walked shoulder to shoulder with Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and witnessed his era. Mohammad Al Bereiki shared his memories of the Father of Nation.
Al Bereiki was the director of the Heritage Village under Shaikh Zayed’s leadership for 10 years, which was then located at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre area in the capital.
“Year of Zayed must be celebrated each year not only one year because his contributions are countless,” he said.
“Shaikh Zayed always believed that the people of the country are his real wealth. As a leader, he authorised significant investments in health care and education and infrastructure in the UAE that rapidly transformed the country’s social and economic outcomes,” Al Bereiki said.
“It will be more right to attribute to Shaikh Zayed the term ‘a global humanitarian personality’ as he reached out to all corners of the world and helped the needy,” he said.
“During a visit to the village, Baba narrated to me his childhood saying, ‘When I was 16, I didn’t have more than Rupees 10 in my pocket’. Gradually, things changed. When he travelled from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi, he had Dh5,000 in his pocket and he spent all [on others] before reaching Abu Dhabi. That was his generosity,” Al Bereiki said.
Respect for heritage
Shaikh Zayed always emphasised on culture and traditions to depict the real picture of the country.
“On one occasion, Abu Dhabi TV was invited to the Heritage Village to shoot a documentary on Emirati culture, craft and homes. In one part, the head of a camel was shown. Shaikh Zayed watched the episode on TV, and told me that the camel portrayed was not of a local breed. ‘If you want local camels, I can send [them] for you. I hope you exhibit the true picture of things. Since heritage is being shot, everything should be local.’ This was how true to form he was,” Al Bereiki said.
“Shaikh Zayed is an example for every Emirati citizen, and loyalty to his legacy must be followed.”
The wise man had not only imagined a better future for his people but also he had the wisdom and determination to make that ambitious vision into a reality against all odds, said Al Bereiki.
Shaikh Zayed treated people with the utmost respect regardless of nationality, gender, status or religion.
“As President, he advocated strongly for the rights of women, highly valued the role of expatriates in the making of the UAE, and ultimately created the vibrant, diverse and cosmopolitan society that the UAE remains today,” Al Bereiki said.
Shaikh Zayed used to first build his trust among people through constructive and personal interaction.
“He enjoyed getting out and meeting the community, and was considered as a man of the people.”
The Father of the Nation tasked his government with building capabilities in health, education and social welfare, seeing all UAE citizens as instrumental to the nation’s collective success, Al Bereiki said.
“This philosophy remains evident across the country today.”
‘He taught me humanitrianism’
Sedeeq Fateh Ali Khaja
By Abdulla Rasheed, Abu Dhabi Editor
Abu Dhabi: “A humble man with extraordinary ambitions and profound love for his country and its people is late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan who taught me humanity and the humanitarian approach towards people,” Emirati businessman Sedeeq Fateh Ali Khaja said.
Khaja feels fortunate to have lived in the era of Shaikh Zayed. He accompanied him on many occasions and travelled around the country.
In an interview with Gulf News, Khaja, who had witnessed the era of the Father of Nation and spent time withhim, recalled his memories of Shaikh Zayed and his utmost love for the people, culture and development of the country.
“Shaikh Zayed would always listen carefully to the people’s problems and strived to solve them. He travelled to all corners of the country and far-flung villages to meet people to find out their grievances,” Khaja said.
Khaja narrated a few stories of Shaikh Zayed when he travelled with him, saying, “Shaikh Zayed used to have Ramadan Majlis where people from all tribes would come and the practice continued after he became the President of the UAE.
“Most worthy value, which Shaikh Zayed drilled in minds of people, was to spread love among people. When he met people, he enquired about their condition, listened to their concerns and complaints.
“On one occasion, Baba Zayed set up a tent in Al Samih area of Abu Dhabi and invited its residents to share refreshments with him and exchange their views. This used to be a regular interaction with people at different corners of the country.”
Shaikh Zayed met people from different tribes who showed their dissatisfaction with the camel race and declined to participate in the upcoming competitions. When Shaikh Zayed asked them the reason, tribal people said, “We don’t have good, fresh fodder for camels, while others have it and our camels are not that strong to compete with them. That’s why we stepped out from the competition,” Khaja recalled.
Immediately, Shaikh Zayed assured them these demands would be met, so all agreed to take part. So that’s how he used to find out people’s problems and solve them, he said.
Shaikh Zayed used to give much importance to local events which preserve the local culture and traditions for generations to come.
Shaikh Zayed only wanted the development of the country to provide all kinds of facilities to the people. “That was why he loved to interact with the people. Once a group of people complained to him that there was no work. He asked them to collect gravel from different corners of Abu Dhabi,” Khajah narrated.
Those people collected gravel but they didn’t know what would happen to the gravel as there was no development activity in Abu Dhabi at the time.
However, later, people realised the purpose when bridges, airports and other infrastructure projects started in Abu Dhabi. “Shaikh Zayed entirely transformed the barren deserts into a modern country, which can now match the standards of any developed country of the world,” Khaja concluded.