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Michael Schindhelm | NUT SLAVES ABOUT SHEIK ZAYED

Nusseibeh about Sheikh Zayed

Sheikh Zayed, founder of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1971, was born in Al Ain. The desert city has been the real center of the Emirates for centuries. Equidistant from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it went from here to the land masses of the Arabian Peninsula, to Oman, to the Saudis or to Bahrain and Qatar. Forty years ago there was no paved road even between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Since the borders to Oman and Saudi Arabia were indefinite, you had to pass a border post between Al Ain and Abu Dabi.

Sheikh Zayed had acquired knowledge of human nature and charisma in this Bedouin world. He was offered the highest amount of bribes ever, in 1956, when the Saudis, in a team with British and American oil companies, began to smell the black gold in the region: 30 million pounds. Zayed refused. At that time they tried to bribe the tribes in order to steal them from Abu Dhabi, and Zayed had greamed the people: Take the money, but stay with me. You stayed.

The situation became difficult at the end of the 1960s. The British government announced the withdrawal from the region on the grounds that it no longer wanted to raise the cost of 30 million pounds. When in 1971 the plan with Coussin Sheikh Rashid from the neighboring emirate of Dubai was decided to found a separate statute with the other five emirates, there was international diplomatic laughter. Nobody believed this handful of uneducated Bedouins to be able to build their own state with security, foreign or economic policy. Zayed visited the Shah of Persia, the King of Saudi Arabia, the rulers of Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait. Also Egypt and Syria. Everywhere skepticism had to be dispelled and claims to land and natural resources had to be turned off. For a time, the Saudis claimed up to 70 percent of the land from Abu Dhabi. In some of the smaller emirates there was also the fear that Zayed, like the Egyptian President Nasser, was only interested in using populist methods to usurp the whole country. Today the United Arab Emirates has one of the highest gross national products in the world.

Zayed was a humanist in Nusseibeh's eyes. This man grew up in the desert, among the simple Bedouins. He was looking for a balance between tradition and modernity. Why God, Zayed always said, created Muslims, Jews and Christians, should not be questioned by us. People would only have to judge their own kind based on whether they acted good or bad. When Zaki followed the moon landing on television with him and a few confidants and business people in Malaga in 1969, some of the companions thought the television images were fraudulent. In the Koran it was stated that the earth is surrounded by several celestial clouds, and therefore humans cannot fly to the moon at all. Zayed is said to have replied that Allah alone knows when he wants to lead people where, and now he has just decided that we could visit the moon.

Zayed knew from personal experience how difficult it was to survive in this region and that we could only do it together. The Arabs on the peninsula are of a different kind than their neighbors on the Mediterranean. The Majilis in the desert is the place of negotiation, of social equilibrium. The men meet in the shade of the palm trees. Everyone knows their place in the group. You discuss the things that are important for living together. The little people do not sit right next to the sheikh, but they tell their neighbors about the problems in everyday life, and through a kind of whispered mail they also reach the ruler's ears. In French, the term phone d’Arab was derived from this. Zayed listened to his people. He was a passionate but also sensible man. He drew his strength from tribal membership. That is why he managed to convince the emirates of his modernization project.