A portrait of Mohammed bin Rashid
▶ From learning to survive in the desert to talking down terrorists, the Vice President tells of events that made a mark,
A rarely seen photograph of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid as a child. Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, this year marks 50 years of service and has shared some of the defining moments of his life in a new autobiography,
The early years of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s life are revealed in an autobiography charting his journey from young Royal to Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai.
In excerpts on Twitter, Sheikh Mohammed tells of witnessing the 1971 signing of the Union, and of the moment his father, Sheikh Rashid, turned down the opportunity to be the first President of the UAE, insisting that Sheikh Zayed lead the newly formed nation.
He also tells of negotiating with the hijackers of Japan Airlines Flight 404 when it landed at Dubai International Airport in 1973. Here are some passages from the book,
Qissati or My Story.
The day his father turned down the presidency
Sheikh Mohammed describes the moment Sheikh Zayed, who would become the Founding Father of the UAE, met Sheikh Rashid in a tent in Al Sameeh on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border in 1968.
“In the tent, something happened that usually never happens in Arab countries and won’t happen again in decades – Sheikh Zayed asked Sheikh Rashid to be the President of the Union,” he writes in the book.
“However, Sheikh Rashid smiled, moved the rosary in his hand and said: ‘You are the President’.”
The Ruler of Dubai has spoken of the meeting before, including on February 18 last year, 50 years to the day that it took place.
“Give me your hand, Zayed,” Sheikh Mohammed recalled his father replying. “Let us shake upon the agreement. You will be President.”
The two leaders reached a formal agreement that would bind them together and lead to the formation, three years later, of the UAE on December 2, 1971.
‘We have weapons, and we are going to kill all the passengers’
There were dozens of aircraft hijackings across the world in the 1970s, carried out by liberation groups and terrorists.
Dubai was the scene of one such stand-off when Japan Airlines Flight 404 was hijacked shortly after leaving Amsterdam and diverted to the emirate.
Sheikh Mohammed led tense, days-long negotiations with the Japanese Red Army and the hijackers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Then the Minister of Defence, he was allowed on board the Boeing 747 to negotiate.
“I was at a military base when my phone rang and I was told that Japan Airlines Flight 404 was hijacked,” Sheikh Mohammed wrote.
“Osamu Maruoka [who led the terrorists] told me: ‘Do not change the subject, we have explosives, we have weapons and we are going to kill all the passengers’.”
The plane eventually flew on to Damascus then Benghazi in Libya, before all the passengers were released, 89 hours after the drama began.
Sheikh Mohammed also negotiated when Lufthansa Flight 181, from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, was hijacked on October 13, 1977, and diverted to a series of airports including Dubai.
It was eventually flown to Somalia, where special forces killed the hijackers and the passengers were rescued from the plane.
Surviving in the desert
Sheikh Mohammed has often spoken of his love of nature and of the simplicity of desert life. He says his father taught him how to survive and protect himself.
“Before I turned 18, my father taught me how to live in the desert and how to deal with its animals, gazelles and wolves, its cold weather and its volatility,” he wrote.
“After I turned 18, he taught me how to live in the city with humans. How hard-hearted are humans! And how beautiful is the desert!”
He has sought to promote and preserve desert life and its traditions, including falconry and endurance racing.
Burying his grandfather
Sheikh Mohammed described the funeral of Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, who is believed to have been born in the late 1870s and ruled Dubai until his death in 1958, when the current Ruler was aged nine.
“When they carried the body of my grandfather from the house, my father held my hand tightly while we were walking among the people behind the coffin,” he says of that day. “I do not know why he was holding my hand so tightly. Was it due to sorrow or did he want me to remember that moment forever?”
The day Tripoli welcomed the Maktoums
Sheikh Mohammed describes a frantic trip to Tripoli and a warm, if startling, reception by the local community.
“We went to Tripoli’s squares that were filled with crowds. Surprisingly, someone told the people that we were there,” he wrote.
“They hysterically surrounded our car and all of them welcomed us warmly. The car started to lose its stability and moments later, I felt it lift off the ground.”
In Tripoli, the Maktoums were immediately recognised but on other journeys, their entourages were more low-key.
Sheikh Mohammed has written about his early travels in the past, including to New York and the Empire State Building.
“This is a photo of me and my late father in the 1960s at the Empire State, the tallest skyscraper worldwide,” he wrote in 2016. “It was a beginning of a dream that turned into a reality in Dubai.”
In 1990, Dubai International Airport handled 4.3 million passengers. Last year, almost 90 million people passed through the terminals.
But Sheikh Mohammed wonders whether the city could have had an even bigger headstart in the 1980s, when it began to host golf tournaments and the famous 1986 Chess Olympiad.
“What would have happened if we co-operated with our brothers in the tourism sector since the ’80s? Would we have had better success?” he writes.
“Or would we have continued to study the effectiveness of projects until today? Just a
question I raise to their excellencies [members of the UAE Cabinet],” he says.
On humility and vanity
“The worst things to affect a human being are vanity, megalomania, the belief in one’s own power and his dependence on his limited mortal strength,” Sheikh Mohammed writes.
“We work, but success is from Allah; we move, but the Almighty guides us; we serve our people with sincerity, but God grants us success based on our intentions. Guidance is from Allah, care is from Allah and protection is from Allah.”
Sheikh Mohammed with Sheikh Rashid at the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest building, in New York in the 1960s
Above, Sheikh Mohammed as a young officer; left, riding with compatriots in the 100-kilometre endurance race south of Cairo in 2000; far left, young Sheikh Mohammed in uniform
A young Sheikh Mohammed during Umrah
The late Sheikh Zayed at Union House alongside the other Founding Fathers, including Sheikh Rashid of Dubai
Sheikh Mohammed has published an autobiography titled Qissati or My Story