On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the state

Is this the UAE that Sheikh Zayed sought?

2 Dec 2021
Is this the UAE that Sheikh Zayed sought?

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is the first president of the United Arab Emirates. He held this position since the establishment of the Union on the second of December 1971 until his death in 2004 and was the first to call for the establishment of a Union between the Emirates of the Trucial Coast, which is why the Emiratis called him " Founding Father".

Sheikh Zayed was known for his pan-Arab stance, his personal qualities of openness, insight and wisdom, as well as being a good listener, reformer and mediator in settling disputes, which earned him the title of "The Wise Man of the Arabs", and this is not surprising for a person who played an important role in the unification of the Emirates.

However, what the late Sheikh was most famous for was his undying humanitarian attitude, for being kind to his people, helping the poor and forgiving the wrongdoers among them. He dedicated a number of good customs to them, such as paying debtors and regularly pardoning prisoners on national occasions and holidays so that they could be with their families.

In the time of Sheikh Zayed, we did not know the phenomenon of political prisoners or the mistreatment of dissenters. On the contrary, he was eager to integrate them into society and give them high positions like all other citizens. Just look at the positions held by today's political prisoners before their imprisonment and the role they played in building the UAE.

These days, as the UAE celebrates its 50th anniversary, and with the memory of the late Sheikh and his distinguished career, the question for Emiratis is: what if Sheikh Zayed was still alive? What if we told him what happened after his death? How would he react or how would he feel?

What if we told him that Emirati citizens today need a security clearance from the State Security Apparatus (SSA) to exercise their basic rights such as education, employment and treatment? And that Emirati families suffer from poverty because they have been prevented from working or studying.

Will he believe us when we tell him that Abu Dhabi teacher and son Hussein Al-Jabri, who was a principal at Abu Dhabi Educational District schools, is currently in prison? And that his citizenship has been revoked? And that his daughter Aisha was prevented from enrolling in college simply because she is his daughter? And that his son Muhammad was fired from his job and his passport and ID card were confiscated even though he did nothing?

We wonder how he will feel when we tell him that Al-Jabri's case is not an isolated one, and that dozens of Emiratis like him are now languishing in prisons without having committed a crime, and that many families are suffering from the same problems that the Al-Jabri family experienced?

Sheikh Zayed, who was fond of pardoning prisoners and debtors on holidays and occasions, including non-Emiratis, would he have agreed to throw dozens of his own citizens into prisons even after their sentences had expired? Would he accept these people being separated from their families at all?

What if we told him that the "Al-Razeen" rehabilitation center, which was supposed to treat drug addicts, has turned into a large prison and graveyard for human rights defenders and political opponents, and is now classified as the worst prison in the Arab world?

We do not know if we can tell him the story of political prisoner Alia Abdel Nour, who died as a result of medical negligence. Although she was suffering from cancer, the UAE authorities refused to give her a dignified death and she died while chained to her bed in hospital for helping a Syrian family.

 What would Sheikh Zayed say if he heard the cries of Maryam Al Balushi and Amina Al Abdouli in the leaked recordings from the prison in which they talk about the torture and ill-treatment meted out to them, would he have been able to continue listening to these recordings?

Or what should we tell him about Alaa Al-Siddiq, whose story moved millions and did not move the UAE government one bit, which did not even allow her to be buried in her hometown or to see her imprisoned father, Muhammad Al-Siddiq, one last time.

Even saying goodbye to the dead has become a dream for some Emiratis. The story of political prisoner Salem Sahouh, whose daughter died without seeing her, is one of dozens of stories of prisoners whose mothers and fathers died while behind bars.

Did Sheikh Zayed want the UAE to become what it has become? And what would he say if he knew that the SSA he built to protect the UAE had put Muhammad Al-Nuaimi, the child with cerebral palsy, on an entry ban list to avenge his father? And that he died far from his family and they were not even allowed to say goodbye to him.

Would Sheikh Zayed, who once sponsored the treatment of people of different nationalities, have agreed to stop funding the treatment of Emirati prisoner Abdul Salam Darwish's children and stop paying pensions for his children with neurological disorders and autism?

How will Sheikh Zayed, who enacted and signed the law criminalizing normalization with Israel, react when we tell him the story of 62-year-old Emirati writer Thabia Khamis, who was banned from traveling and even summoned for an investigation simply because she rejected normalization?

These are all questions that make us wonder: is this the UAE Sheikh Zayed was looking for! Would Sheikh Zayed, an icon of authoritarian countries and an example of human rights abuses, in any way accept Emiratis being thrown into prisons and their families mistreated in this inhumane way? We only ask ... What if Sheikh Zayed were still alive?