Sheikh Khalifa’s legacy is numerous but the most impactful and unquantifiable is his contribution to elevate the quality of life in the UAE, and a peaceful and tolerant model for the future this country offers to the world. In his words:
“Preparing for the future — near or far — starts today, not tomorrow.”
The late President of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who passed on Friday, 13th May 2022 was a humanitarian and a man of the people who always had an ear to the ground. His heart was with the average Emirati citizen and this emotional bond will live long after Sheikh Khalifa is gone. The late President was a towering example of what a modern leader should be, and the world’s tallest building in Dubai rightly bears his name for his achievements as President of the UAE for 18 years. When he became President in 2004, there were many uncertainties in store. The country needed a man of wisdom, composure and calm at the helm of affairs in this scenario. And Sheikh Khalifa was just the man for this onerous task. He was down to earth and was a modest but tireless leader. His was an understated style of leadership, and it worked. The new president was also a pragmatic man, but patient, someone who firmly believed in what he had set out to do. The building blocks of the nation were laid by his father, the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the foundations were solid. Sheikh Khalifa’s task was to strengthen the structure of government and make it responsive to the aspirational needs of Emiratis who were growing into their roles as global citizens and slowly making a mark on international affairs. Expats were also keen on coming to the UAE in search of employment opportunities and a better future in the early 2000s, a period of much churn and migration. The President felt government intervention and guidance in all sectors of the economy were essential, much like Sheikh Zayed’s vision. The government’s role could not be ignored in the early development of the nation. It had to become an enabler for private enterprise, set the rules and make it an even playing field. There was also much work to be done to make the administration robust in empowering communities and businesses. Sheikh Khalifa was up to the task and prepared for his mission early in his presidency by travelling across the country, particularly to the northern emirates. It was his way of taking the government to the people and becoming more accessible to business leaders. He succeeded in both and what we see now is the process of diversification from oil that fuelled the country’s early years of growth. Private enterprise is now booming and the country has embraced what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the knowledge economy. As a moderniser, he was responsible for streamlining government ministries and their work. While his father the late Sheikh Zayed built infrastructure, Sheikh Khalifa focused on nurturing communities across the UAE and the world to make them resilient and prepared for modern challenges. Ministerial reforms helped build accountability into the system of governance during his tenure. The Federal National Council was expanded and given more powers during his rule, and indirect elections were held to the legislature. Landmark legislative reforms saw more women participating in government. It stemmed from his vision of making the UAE a more inclusive and community-focused nation that put gender equality at its core.