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‘The UAE will grow’: When Sheikh Zayed insisted on building wider roads in Abu Dhabi deserts – News

Published: Tue Jan 30, 2024, 6:00 am

Roads are a lifeline for any country to develop and prosper. No one in the UAE knew its importance better than the founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

In the 1960s, when there were no roads or highways, but deserts everywhere, the visionary Emirati leader laid the foundation to create a modern capital with world-class infrastructure. After his visits abroad, Sheikh Zayed wanted something similar to the Champs-Elysees: one of the most beautiful avenues in the world with wide streets that was being built at home.

At an event in Abu Dhabi, eminent Emirati businessman, author and historian Mohammed Abdul Jalil Al Fahim recounted a fascinating conversation he witnessed in which Sheikh Zayed urged urban planners at a British company to build wider roads like those he saw in Bombay (now Mumbai). and Paris.

From the personal collection of Zaki Nusseibeh, cultural advisor to the President of the UAE (KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar)

From the personal collection of Zaki Nusseibeh, cultural advisor to the President of the UAE (KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar)

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In the past, Al Fahim’s father used to be a close confidant of Sheikh Zayed. They traveled to India together for the first time, which turned out to be a new learning curve for them.

“I remember when my father went to India for the first time in 1959 with Sheikh Zayed, they both carried British passports. I still have my father’s old passport,” Al Fahim said in his speech during the annual seminar of the Abu Dhabi chapter of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

Mohammed Abdul Jalil Al Fahim (supplied)

Mohammed Abdul Jalil Al Fahim (supplied)

“In 1959, there was nothing but desert in Abu Dhabi. And after having seen India, they returned with such beautiful memories that they talked about it for 10 years. They saw things they didn’t even think about,” said Al Fahim, president of the Al Fahim Family Council and member of the Al Fahim supervisory board.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Sheikh Zayed visited European cities, including Paris. These trips motivated him to create similar facilities for his town. In August 1966, when Sheikh Zayed became ruler of Abu Dhabi, his goal was to accelerate development without making concessions.

“He was so inspired by what he had seen in India and Europe that he inspired everyone around him. He was determined to build the country as he had seen it to the point that one day, I was sitting with him in his crowded Majlis, and the planners came up with plans to build the roads in Abu Dhabi, and then. ..”

KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar

KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar

Al Fahim recounted the lively conversation Sheikh Zayed had with urban planners from a British company about the width and design of roads to be built in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed: “Roads are too small”

Architects: “Your Highness, we are talking about Abu Dhabi. Paths should not be more than 10 meters in both directions.”

Sheikh Zayed: “We hope that in the future this country will grow and we need wider roads.”

Architects: “Your Highness, the number of cars you have in Abu Dhabi in 1967 does not exceed 1,200. How much can you grow? You don’t need bigger roads. Furthermore, you are living on an island, you do not need to take advantage of it by building only roads, you need to leave space for others, such as residential areas and institutions.”

Sheikh Zayed: “Still, we need bigger roads.”

Architects: “You don’t need it. This is the width we always had in England. Why should they have bigger roads?

Sheikh Zayed: “I have seen it in Bombay and I have seen it in Paris. I saw the Champs Elysees. “I want all our roads to be even bigger than the Champs-Élysées.”

Architects: “Look, we can build you roads as wide as Park Lane in London.”

Sheikh Zayed: “No, I want them to be like the Champs Elysées.”

Architects: “Your Highness, these are the designs. If you don’t like it, you can always get someone else.”

KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar

KT Photo: Ashwani Kumar

Al Fahim revealed that he was surprised by Sheikh Zayed’s assertiveness and determination to have broader paths.

“Here was a Bedouin who came from the desert. He couldn’t believe that he was dictating his will to the architects of a highly reputable British firm. And the next morning, Sheikh Zayed got the best American and Canadian companies. And now our roads in Abu Dhabi, in the city center, look like Champs Elysees because Sheikh Zayed insisted on having wider roads,” Al Fahim said to thunderous applause at the seminar.

Today, Abu Dhabi is a sought-after world-class capital to live, work, do business and invest.

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