At the time Sheikh Zayed's birth, Abu Dhabi was a poor and undeveloped state, with an economy based on fishing and pearl diving. He led a simple life even as member of the ruling family. Sheikh Zayed's education was based around studying the instructions and the principles of Islam.
Sheikh Zayed enjoyed hunting, and falconry, he was an excellent marksman, although in an example of his future foresight as leader he gave up hunting with guns many years ago in the name of wildlife conservation.
Shaikh Shakhbut the ruler of Abu Dhabi assigned Shiekh Zayed to govern Al Ain in 1946.
His travels in the remoter areas of Abu Dhabi provided Sheikh Zayed with a deep understanding both of the country and of its people. In the early days of oil exploration, Sheikh Zayed was assigned by his brother the task of guiding the geological survey teams around the desert.
During these expeditions, he obtained his first exposure to the industry that was later to have such a great effect upon the country. Sheikh Zayed came to believe the finding of oil was gift from God and as such when he was later to become ruler he shared this new found wealth with others less fortunate.
His humanitarian aid in the hour of need reached every corner of the world and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Economic Development provided grants and loans for economic projects in various developing countries of Asia and Africa.
Sheikh Shakhbut and Zayed traveled widely during the 1950's and on his return, Sheikh Zayed was convinced that there was a real need to develop the area in order to bridge the large gap between it and the rest of the world.
Sheikh Zayed swiftly established himself not only as someone who had a clear vision of what he wished to achieve for the people of Al Ain, but also as someone who led by example.
On August 9, 1966, Sheikh Zayed assumed control of Abu Dhabi, his priorities where to build basic housing facilities, schools, health services, and the construction of an airport, a sea port, roads, and a bridge to link Abu Dhabi to the mainland.
Sheikh Zayed realized that for Abu Dhabi to prosper, it would need to co-operate with its tribal neighbours. So his first step was to meet the then ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
On the 2nd of December 1971, a federation of six emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm al-Quwain) formed the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed was elected president and Sheikh Rashid was elected vice-president. Shortly afterwards, Ras Al Khaimah decided to join the federation.
Sheikh Zayed wanted the people of the UAE to move forward on the road to progress, but he expected a balanced approach towards modern life. He wanted them never to forget their past and retain whatever was good and beneficial for society.
Sheikh Zayed wanted traditional values and customs to stay in place. He always emphasized the need for preserving the country’s heritage and culture so that the younger generation did not lose touch with its past.
Sheikh Zayed loved the desert and wanted to preserve the gifts of nature for the future generations. He wanted the new financial resources invested in spreading greenery, preserving the date palms and creating special laws for saving the UAE’s flora and fauna. Sheikh Zayed took special interest in frequent campaigns for tree plantation and created specialized organizations to protect birds, wild animals and fishes.
He strongly felt that dialogue was the essence of civilized settlement to disputes and shunned force. He believed that tolerance and understanding of the other side were essential for the elimination of social, cultures and political differences.
Sheikh Zayed was man of extreme courage and strength of character. Gracious, firm and yet magnanimous. His bedouin background, and his desert upbringing endowed him with a real understanding of his fellow human beings. His words and advice was always full of wisdom.
Over the course of 33 years as President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed provided a leadership with vision and foresight that has ensured the future prosperity and wellbeing of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.