UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa was a man of honor and a peaceful leader
The UAE has lost its beloved, widely respected leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the age of 73. He leaves behind a progressive, harmonious country that hosts about 200 nationalities and where people of all different religions, backgrounds and beliefs live peacefully.
The news of the passing of the president of the UAE, who ruled for about 18 years — he came into power in 2004 — was predominately received with sorrow, grief and genuine sadness in the 50-year-old country, while messages of condolence poured in from around the world.
Sheikh Khalifa was only the second president of the UAE and the son of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the founder of the country. Father and son shared many traits and leadership skills, but above all there was a general sentiment within Emirati society that categorized them both as father figures.
They both treated their citizens like their own sons and daughters, listening to their challenges, investing in their well-being and sparing no efforts to develop the country’s infrastructure, housing schemes, healthcare services, education and standard of living. The UAE was ranked the happiest country in the Arab world for the sixth consecutive year in the 2020 World Happiness Report and it also topped the Arab world in the Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum in 2019.
Sheikh Khalifa was a man of honor and a leader of peace. He believed in developing peaceful ties with countries all over the world, including his neighbors, and upholding international law.
“Our relations within the region and international spheres are based on respecting neighbors, staying away from polarization, standing by the righteous, according to the international law and principles,” Sheikh Khalifa told Saudi journalist and current Saudi ambassador to the UAE Turki Al-Dakhil in a rare interview for the UAE-based Al-Roeya newspaper in 2009.
“We think the balanced foreign policy that we are adopting is providing us with a space to have a dialogue with everyone,” he added.
He was a humble man who focused on prioritizing the interests of his country and its people
Al-Dakhil narrated his conversation with Sheikh Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, after the interview. “Sheikh Mohammed told me that his brother is a very patient man. He doesn’t get angry easily and has a high tolerance while dealing with people. However, for him, the red line was corruption, he doesn’t tolerate it,” Al-Dakhil said.
The Saudi journalist then told another story to which he was an eyewitness. “As Sheikh Khalifa invited people for lunch, a man in his 70s stood and said, ‘Khalifa, how are you?’ He then replied with a smile, ‘Hello, how are you? How is your family?’” Highlighting the fact that the man did not call him “your highness,” which is the usual courtesy said out of respect, Al-Dakhil explained: “This was not a conversation between a citizen and the president of his country, this was more of a conversation between two dear friends. Many people there told me this was the norm with Sheikh Khalifa.”
In 2007, the late president ordered a 70 percent pay rise for federal government employees — the highest salary increase in the history of the country. The UAE today has one of the highest gross domestic product per capita rates in the world.
Forbes magazine named Sheikh Khalifa in its list of the most powerful people in the world in 2018, but he was not very interested in the media attention. He was a humble man who focused on prioritizing the interests of his country and its people.
The UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs said on Friday there will be 40 days of official mourning, with flags flying at half-staff, and three days of closure for ministries and official entities at the federal and local levels, as well as the private sector.
As we bid farewell to Sheikh Khalifa, it is not only the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world, which bears his name — that will stick in our minds about him, but also his smile, his philanthropy, the bond between him and his people, and everything he has done for his country with absolute passion. Great leaders may leave us physically, but their memory remains perpetual in our conscience.
Sheikh Khalifa, you will be missed.
• Ibrahim Shukralla is a Dubai-based Emirati journalist. He has interviewed many heads of state and high-profile political and sporting figures. He holds an MA in media, culture and communications from New York University in the US. Twitter: @shukralla