In an opinion piece written for the English language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, The National, Rana Almutawa said that it's important that young Emiratis be taught about how the country's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed, realised things, and not just that he did them. Almutawa argues that the nation's youth should be educated on exactly what the founding father did to unify their country, the efforts he made to encourage, educate and empower women, and the steps he took in order to spearhead the nation's development in various ways.
The full text of the piece, entitled 'A closer look at Sheikh Zayed's leadership needs to be developed', is as follows: "Young Emiratis have heard much about Sheikh Zayed, the father of the nation. They know that he unified the country and spearheaded the nation's development, among many other things. However, they do not know how he accomplished these things. The schoolbooks I studied and the ones still being used do not analyse the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that he faced. They do not investigate the process of unification. Students only know what happened, but not how. This means that while students read positive things about Sheikh Zayed, they do not know the scale of his achievements. Studying Sheikh Zayed provides an opportunity for further knowledge production in political science and related fields, but studying his life in a manner that lacks analysis eliminates that opportunity within academia.
When asked how Sheikh Zayed encouraged women into education, some may say that he built schools and universities. However, this is quite superficial. Many people can build schools, but not many can change a society's perceptions about female roles in society. Sheikh Zayed sent his own female family members to university to promote the idea that education is an honourable pursuit, so that others would follow his example.
Changing attitudes is much more difficult than building schools, yet this has not been studied. When Sheikh Zayed was ruler in Al Ain, he faced opposition from tribal members who did not want to share the water of their irrigation channels with the poorer members of society. This was resolved when Sheikh Zayed gave up his own water rights and others followed suit.
Similarly, many do not know about the efforts necessary to create the union. Schoolbooks teach little about the struggles and obstacles he faced and instead mostly recite the milestones. In reality, great struggles between the different emirates ensued, as well as Bahrain and Qatar (which were considered to join the union at some point). There were different viewpoints to weigh up and a general lack of trust.
Such details are mentioned in other books within the UAE, such as the National Archive's 'Zayed: From Challenges to Union' and 'Zayed: Man Who Built a Nation'. However, they do not feature in any of the school texts. Without remembering these struggles, how can one truly understand them and how can one truly learn from them? In fact, the different viewpoints and the obstacles that ensued from those differences show the importance of persistence, tolerance, reconciliation and coexistence – values which the UAE was built on. Deeper knowledge of the obstacles to the union can be used to promote these ideals. It is not enough to reiterate to students that these values are vital pillars of the union. Only when students understand the depth of the issues that existed and the efforts that were made to overcome them, can reconciliation and tolerance be appreciated.
I speak from experience. I recently developed the idea for a research project studying Sheikh Zayed, to create new knowledge from his vision. I emailed professors in major western universities asking for support.
Other postcolonial figures of his time, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, are much more commonly studied than Sheikh Zayed. There is more serious research on them, and therefore their political ideas can be easily found. I believed that studying Sheikh Zayed in the same manner would create knowledge that can be used within these fields, which are predominantly Eurocentric."