‘We want to be number one’
DUBAI — Erin Burnett, anchor of OutFront, an hour-long television news programme on CNN, has had the rare opportunity to spend a whole working day with His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
The interview, which took place at various sites in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, was characterised by frankness and transparency. A number of issues were discussed, with special focus on internal affairs.
“We want to be number one,” said Shaikh Mohammed talking about his aspirations for the UAE.
The exclusive interview began with a brief report on the 40th anniversary celebrations of the one of the youngest countries in the world, the United Arab Emirates. And the man who built its crown jewel, Dubai, is still at the helm.
Diversity and stability
The report mentioned that Shaikh Mohammed dreamt of skyscrapers. Forty years ago, there were just sand dunes, tents and small forts in this country. Now, the world’s tallest building rises from the desert, a backdrop for the rich and famous including Tom Cruise for his latest movie “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, where he dangles from the 153th floor.
Dubai is a haven for people seeking escape, especially in the light of the Arab Spring. Jodi Essa, a student from Syria, said: “I’m living here alone; I’ve never felt unsafe; I’ve never felt uncomfortable living here.” And the report added, “Even the Ruler still walks without any security details.”
Dubai is a diverse city. Eighty five per cent of the people living here are expats, and people from over 200 countries pass through the city. “They have not made any problems for us, you know, they’re living together and they have an interest to come here, so they work and they send home some money from here,” said Shaikh Mohammed.
A video footage indicated that Shaikh Mohammed starts his day at his stables in the outskirts of Dubai. Commenting on this footage, Shaikh Mohammed said: “Horses, falcons and dogs are part of our life.”
The interview also touched up on the means of communication between the people and the Ruler. The TV crew captured how the emirate’s government works at the Majlis where citizens can directly talk to their leaders about their needs.
“We have the Majlis where everybody can come to the ruler and say ‘I didn’t get this or that’; or this department, or that ministry did not give me my right,” said Shaikh Mohammed.
“Do they directly come to you and ask for what they want directly?” asked Burnett.
“Yes, they might complain about a ministry, so I get hold of the minister and say, ‘why didn’t you do your job’?” came the reply.
Burnett went on to narrate how Shaikh Mohammed preferred to spend a night in the desert every 10 days to experience the life of a Bedouin, despite belonging to the ruling family and living in a country that sits on 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves.
Another video footage pointed out to the meetings of the UAE Cabinet in Abu Dhabi. Burnett got the chance to attend one such meeting where the budget was discussed and its details were to be published online. Burnett viewed this as a step towards transparency, a step also welcomed by students from Arab Spring countries. In this regard, the anchor cited a point of view of Monica Ishak an Egyptian student at the American University, Dubai, who said: “UAE must be a role model for all Arab countries with the way it is ruled.”
“Dubai has really been the fore runner in terms of freedom of the press,” said Saud Masud an expat in Dubai.
“Some people say the press is not totally free?” asked Burnett to which Shaikh Mohammed plainly replied: “As long as they do not say something wrong about a person or whatever it is, they can say things they want, and as I told you, we are not perfect; we are still learning.”
Answering a question about democracy, Shaikh Mohammed said: “We have our own democracy; you cannot transport your democracy to us.”
“Your son, Hamdan, will rule after you, father to son, will that continue forever?” came a question and Shaikh Mohammed answered, “As long as people want that.”
Keenness on development
Referring to the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Burnett said: “Some say Dubai’s Shaikh and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi are using money to prevent unrest. The salaries for government workers, you recently doubled that. Some said that you did it because you were worried about unrest in the UAE from the Arab Spring. Is there any truth in that?”
“No, it is not because of the Arab Spring,” said Shaikh Mohammed. “We did it before the Arab Spring started and we did it many times before, if you look in the past 10 years, you will see we have doubled salaries several times.”
Burnett, however, did not fail to point out that most youth and expats in the UAE are pro-government. “I would like to thank His Highness for what he has done for us, for everything,” said a young Emirati female. “Shaikh Mohammed is a true visionary,” said an expat.
Burnett then moved on to the punishment faced by those who failed to pay their mortgage. “Some laws may be strict; but we don’t put in jail everybody who comes here,” said Shaikh Mohammed.
Erin Burnett concluded the interview by stressing that Shaikh Mohammed’s main focus is on one thing — building a city on a hill in a part of the world where the hills are few and far between. And, when she asked him: “How much further do you want to go?” Shaikh Mohammed answered: “To be number one.”
It is worth mentioning that the CNN aired snapshots of the interview on December 6 concurrently with the UAE’s 40th National Day. The interview had widely attracted regional and international attention, with various world media agencies and outlets publishing highlights of Shaikh Mohammed’s statement, especially those dealing with regional issues.—