|Check out this fawning account of the life of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. My favorite snippet:
"His skills as a mediator were celebrated throughout the region. They had been honed during a long apprenticeship as Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, lasting from 1946 until he took over as Ruler in a bloodless coup 20 years later. His sense of honour became a trademark. He never betrayed the solemn fraternal oath he and his brothers swore before their mother Sheikha Salaama not to murder each other."
Yes, Arab desert culture is very different from that of your average urbanised Briton or American. Sheikh Zayed was, however, unequivocally, a good man and to mock his pledge before his mother, in a culture where fratricide was not uncommon, is quite uncalled for. Whilst it is certainly true that there were certain aspects of Sheikh Zayed's life that were somewhat 'curious', it remains a fact that he did a great deal for his country, partly through the good luck of the territory he controlled containing something like 10% of the world's known oil reserves, but even more because of his very effective political skills in uniting warring tribes into a pretty peaceful and moderate country, the United Arab Emirates. In his own Emirate, Abu Dhabi, his similar skills, not the least of which was the 'restraint' he showed in not following the common path and eliminating his brothers as potential rivals, but instead making sure that every citizen had a chance to benefit from the wealth made possible by the natural resources their Emirate was blessed with.
Even I, as a foreigner, benefitted in a small way from his goodness. It was his dream, as someone born in a country short of potable water, to make the desert 'bloom'; of course, he couldn't do that literally, but there is still a lot of greenery in the capital and other major settlements, with little expense being spared to bring the water there (from desalination plants) to allow this to happen. How did I benefit? Simple - if you had a garden, you could get enough plants to fill your garden, of whatever kind you wanted, simply by applying to the municipality nurseries. There was no charge of any kind. Similarly, one of the other senior people locally had laid out a public park on his land, but outside the walls of his palace, where anyone could have a picnic or simply take the dog for a walk - that's what I used it for. It was relatively little used, because it was in a secluded residential area, pretty close to where I lived, so one never felt in any way crowded in what was in any case a pretty large space - several dozens of acres.
No, Sheikh Zayed was a good man who could so easily have taken his country in a quite different and less attractive direction.