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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 18:05 GMT
Obituary: Sheikh Zayed
By Julia Wheeler
BBC Gulf correspondent, UAE

The President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan has died. He was believed to have been in his late 80s. Sheikh Zayed was the first and only president of the UAE, which was formed in 1971. He was strongly revered by Emiratis and other Arabs across the Middle East.

Sheikh Zayed waving from a car ealier in 2004
The ailing sheikh stayed out of the limelight after long career
To the people of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed was more than a President.

He was frequently referred to as the father of the nation.

He led them through economic and political change which could not have been imagined when many were born.

Sheikh Zayed was born in Abu Dhabi around 1918 although the exact date is unknown.

As a young man he spent time with Bedouin tribesmen, learning about their way of life and the desert in which they lived.

His first taste of government came in 1946 when he was appointed Ruler's Representative based in the oasis town of al-Ain.

Ruling by consensus

Seen as someone who led by example, he used consultation and consensus to deal with the tribes.

Oil was first exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962 and, as the ruling al-Nahyan family lost confidence in the then ruler to use their new-found wealth for development, Sheikh Zayed replaced his older brother.

There followed a massive building programme - schools, hospitals, housing and roads were constructed on a huge scale.

Sheikh Zayed in 1967
Zayed enjoyed the life of a Bedouin sheikh in the desert
When, in 1968, the British decided to pull out of the area known as the Trucial States, Sheikh Zayed quickly established closer ties with other emirates, taking a leading role in forming a federation.

Rapid development

The UAE came into being in December 1971.

Sheikh Zayed became president and was re-elected to the post ever since.

At the time, pessimists questioned the viability of the new federation, but over the past 33 years or more it has survived and developed beyond all recognition.

The UAE has endured not least because Sheikh Zayed continued to distribute Abu Dhabi's oil wealth throughout the country, ensuring the status quo politically and socially.

Sheikh Zayed was loved by the people of the Emirates, and respected by the expatriates who make up the vast majority of the population.

This adoration goes beyond the sycophancy associated with many other Arab rulers. There is a real sense of gratitude for the sharing of wealth.

Sheikh Zayed is also credited with everything from greening the Emirates by planting vast tracts of vegetation, to keeping its heritage alive through teaching young people about the region's disappearing history.

Emiratis will undoubtedly be mindful that a crucial era of their history is passing with the death of their first president.

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