Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed at 60: rare images shed light on Crown Prince's early life in Abu Dhabi

To mark his 60th birthday, 'The National' and the National Archives present 32 pictures that capture a life of military service and public duty

Latest: Sheikh Mohamed's childhood teacher leads birthday wishes as past pupil turns 60

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed celebrates his 60th birthday on March 11.

It can be said the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces has lived his entire life in the service of his country, from the earliest age.

He was born in Al Ain, the third son of Sheikh Zayed, at the time the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region.

It was an important moment, not just as the birth of the future Crown Prince. He was delivered at the new Oasis Hospital, the first in the emirate, and set up only that year by American missionaries at the invitation of Sheikh Zayed.

The realisation that the ruling family were among the first to trust these new doctors undoubtedly gave others the confidence to have their babies delivered at the hospital.

This greatly reduced the toll of death in childbirth and infant mortality, that until then had been all too common.

As Abu Dhabi became part of the UAE in December 1971, Sheikh Mohamed had already turned 10.

With their father now the country’s founding President, his sons found themselves increasingly in the public eye, seen through the rapid growth of television, newspapers and magazines.

Several of the photographs seen here, in a unique collection assembled from the UAE’s National Archives, show the childhood of the future Crown Prince.

One of the earliest photographs is from 1970, when Sheikh Mohamed was just nine.

Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Zayed and the Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmad, perform Umrah in this undated picture from the 1980s. Courtesy: The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

It is an intimate family portrait of Sheikh Zayed with sons Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Hazza. Sheikh Zayed looks at Sheikh Mohamed, smartly at attention in his uniform, as a loving father.

Another image from the same time shows Sheikh Zayed with his arms around the two younger boys as Sheikh Mohamed shares the same sofa.

In others we see him enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood, playing on a swing with his brother Sheikh Hazza or joyously riding a bicycle, taken in the 1960s, and another from the same period, sitting proudly on his horse.

By then Sheikh Mohamed was beginning his education, enrolled at Al Kindi Primary School where we see him serious, sitting at a desk with his books and writing on the classroom blackboard just before his eighth birthday in 1969.

A little later, Sheikh Mohamed was beginning to assume public duties, given the responsibility of presenting the opening of the school’s first annual exhibition, in April 1971.

Watched by his teacher, Mohamed Al Tamimi, we see Sheikh Mohamed being greeted by the guest of honour that day, the President of the UAE – but also a proud father.

Sheikh Mohamed with a falcon during his visit to Pakistan in 1970s. Courtesy: The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

By 1979, Sheikh Mohamed had graduated from the prestigious Sandhurst Military Academy in the UK, greeted on his return to Abu Dhabi by Sheikh Zayed, the moment captured in a photograph from Alittihad newspaper.

That same year, now an officer in the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohamed accompanied Sheikh Zayed to Saudi Arabia for the country’s annual military manoeuvres. A photograph shows him in his uniform, smiling behind his father and King Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Several images show him carrying out military duties. The earliest photo of the Crown Prince in uniform is from the 1960s, a portrait of a serious young boy in the cap of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force and the insignia of a lieutenant on his shoulders. Another, from the 1970s, shows him training in Al Ain.

Many years later we see Sheikh Mohamed, now a lieutenant general, inspecting the UAE Armed Forces in Kuwait, in March 2003. From that same year we see Sheikh Mohamed with Sheikh Zayed at a wedding in Al Ain and, in uniform again, with his father at the Idex defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Zayed passed away the following year. With his older brother Sheikh Khalifa now President, Sheikh Mohamed became Crown Prince, along with the position of Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. In 2005 he was promoted to the rank of general.

Since then, Sheikh Mohamed has been a familiar figure on the world stage. His long association with the British royal family is illustrated with images of a banquet hosted by the British ambassador to the UAE for Prince Charles in 1989, greeting the Prince of Wales again at Abu Dhabi International Airport in 2014, and with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, as Queen Elizabeth II began her second state visit to the UAE in 2010.

Two contrasting photographs show first Sheikh Mohamed being presented with the Order of Muhammad First Class by King Mohammed VI of Morocco in 2015 and then dressed as a simple pilgrim performing Umrah in Makkah, with Sheikh Zayed and the Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmad Al Mu’alla.

From January 2008 we see Sheikh Mohamed welcoming US President George W Bush at his tent in Sweihan. The Crown Prince is introducing the president to a falcon, an echo of two much earlier photographs, one at the Falconers Club in Abu Dhabi, and the other, as a smiling teenager, holding a falcon aloft on a trip to Pakistan.

They are a reminder that, at heart, Sheikh Mohamed is a true son of the desert.

Updated: March 11, 2021 04:23 PM

The National Archives, Abu Dhabi

Founded over 50 years ago, the National Archives collects valuable historical material relating to the UAE, and is the oldest and richest archive relating to the Arabian Gulf.

Much of the material can be viewed on line at the Arabian Gulf Digital Archive -

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