Baba Zayed

Why travelling is so virtuous for us? Because it puts us in front of our lack of knowledge. It reminds us how little and self-absorbed we are. And it feels good to be reminded from time to time. The latest example for me is named Sheikh Zayed.

I studied for 22 years. I went to university, studied economics and I went halfway through a PHD (that’s another funny story but for another time). I think I can consider myself as cultivated. And I had NEVER once heard the name Zayed before arriving in the UAE. 

Arriving here, I saw huge images of him everywhere. ‘Forever grateful’ was written next to him, he must have done something right. Hospitals, highways, streets, mosques, sport stadium, schools, everything carries his name. In every lobby people have pictures of him. Who is this guy? I started to wonder. 

Wikipedia will tell you that Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the Ruler of Abu Dhabi for more than 30 years. He was the founding father and the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates,  becoming the Union’s first President, a post which he held for a period of almost 33 years (1971 until his death in 2004).He is popularly referred to in the UAE as the Father of the Nation.

From what I learned during this year, I can add he was a great ruler. He praised diplomacy, patience and generosity. He tried to be on friendly terms with every nation. He ended up being one of the richest men in the world according to Forbes. He probably had more than one wife (I couldn’t find anything about the number, but he had 35 children, so I really hope he had at least 10 wives). He was from a time where the succession between the Sheikhs was pretty chaotic and very violent, but his mom made him swear he wouldn’t ever use violence against his family, and he kept his promise. He didn’t receive a real education and he lived like a Bedouin for a big part of his life. He stayed close to his people despite having money. He wished to bring civilization to the Bedouin, and not the Bedouin to the civilization. This is very important. He wanted his country to keep its culture and traditions. He built hospitals, schools, sports stadiums, roads, airports. He granted Emiratis free access to education, health care and housing. He used to organize Majlis (Arabic council, comes from the literal translation of the verb “to sit”) where people could come, meet with him and talk to him about their concerns. He saw education as the greatest investment a country could ever make. I also have to add that he was a pro women’s rights, much more than the other countries’ leaders in the region, it explains the historical background of why we are so well treated here. 

It hit me. I was such an idiot. I had no clue about this amazing man. I, who had studied economy, the oil sector, history, geography, and never once learned about tris guy who created a country. He created a country from scratch, or in this case we should say from sand. He designed it pretty good if you want my opinion. Give all this petrol money to any other leader in the world and I’m not so sure he would spend it for the greater good of the population… 

It’s an understatement to say that one year later, we LOVE Baba Zayed. Recently, Agnès, my 4 years old daughter, asked for a Sheikh Zayed security blanket. He’s on my iPhone case. Just to tell you how much he’s cool, He used to drive a nice Mercedes in the desert. Then he went for the Nissan Patrol, reason why, if you ever drive here in the UAE, you’ll see the Nissan Patrol is the non-official official Emiratis car. They all have one. Some expats try to drive one too, but really, it’s a thing for them, we shouldn’t be able to have one, I think. He’s the father of the nation. They called him “Baba” meaning daddy in Arabic, so we started to call him baba Zayed too. And it’s so good to look up to a leader like this. Not that I don’t like my King, but I would never put him on my iPhone case if you see what I mean. No offense Philippe. So, I figured it out I needed to talk about him as he is in some way, a very important person in my daily life here in Abu Dhabi. Also, I wanted to bring the discovery of his name to every citizen in the world who reads me and never heard about him. Did you just discover him too? No problem, you’re smarter than yesterday, this was a good day, go back to bed now.

He smiles like Grandpa Lou being proud of you.