The year can be summed up for UAE citizens as the year of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
This is most visible in the world’s tallest building in Dubai. Before its opening this year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the UAE’s Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced: “Today, the United Arab Emirates achieves the tallest building ever created by the hand of man… and this great project deserves to carry the name of a great man. Today, I inaugurate the Burj Khalifa.” The tower, at 828 metres, is expected to remain the tallest for the next decade.
After returning to the UAE after medical treatment in Switzerland Sheikh Khalifa, last month, welcomed Gulf leaders as he chaired the 31st Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Abu Dhabi. His chairmanship came days after the “Kulluna Khalifa” campaign, or “We are all for Khalifa”, ran during celebrations of the UAE’s 39th National Day. The slogan that championed the country’s ruler spread through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook among Emirati citizens and expatriates alike.
In other accolades, the emirate of Sharjah named the city’s most vital road after the country’s Ruler this year; the same applies to the new Dubai-Fujairah highway. Businessweek placed the UAE President on its 2010 World Leaders to Watch list, while Forbes named him one of the world’s most powerful people.
In Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, a new city named after the President is taking shape, complete with 600 houses, a school, roads, extensions to the electricity network, and water and sanitation. Such initiatives don’t garner media attention, but ultimately make a big difference in the lives of many.
This story has been replicated in countries and territories around the world. Sheikh Khalifa’s efforts in alleviating the sufferings of refugees in Palestine, Pakistan, Yemen and many other nations have won him praise from the United Nations and various other global organisations, along with the admiration of his own people.
It is the attention that Sheikh Khalifa pays to the citizens of the UAE that resonates the most in the hearts and minds of young Emiratis. For instance, the President ordered the release of 724 prisoners just days ahead of Ramadan this year and settled their debts so they could be reunited with their families.
Last August, he ordered that a private plane be sent to bring home the surviving family members of an Emirati family which lost several members due to an unfortunate traffic accident in Saudi Arabia.
Because Sheikh Khalifa was fortunate to have spent a significant amount of time with the ultimate teacher, Sheikh Zayed, he was instilled with the traits of a great leader. He saw the formation of the UAE firsthand, as Sheikh Zayed’s representative in 1966, and then as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in 1969, and later as the second deputy prime minister, a position that allowed him to be privy to the major decisions during the delicate formative years of the UAE. Under Sheikh Khalifa, the first elections in the modern history of the UAE took place for members of the Federal National Council.
Sheikh Khalifa is supported by his visionary brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, along with the Supreme Council members of the UAE, who have recognised the efforts of the President made before the founding of the union.
In fact, the depth of knowledge and understanding of regional affairs that Sheikh Khalifa retains can only be attained through the decades of experience that he has witnessed. Also, in recognition of the major role that Sheikh Khalifa’s wife has played in supporting the President and standing by his side, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail award was initiated this year to honour women who have made significant contributions to society.
One need only look to the thousands of UAE citizens who thronged to Al Rawda Palace in Al Ain this September to see that this year was the year of Sheikh Khalifa. Nationals welcomed their president back home in a scene reminiscent of the one that often greeted his much beloved father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founding father of the UAE.
This article was originally published in The National on December 31, 2010.