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Recalling Dubai of yore

By Lina Adbul Rahman / 1 October 2005

DUBAI — Mohamed Yehia Zakaria is a man who has seen Dubai rise from the sands. He came to the emirate when roads in the UAE were not even paved, when there was no illumination on any of them and when the four-wheel drive was the only means of transportation available to negotiate the desert roads. Apart from the ship of the desert, that is.

Egyptian national Zakaria, who is the managing director of Jeema Mineral Water of the Sultan Owais Group and Pepsi Co., came to Dubai 40 years ago.

"I came to Dubai in 1962 when the roads in Dubai and the other emirates were not even paved. Dubai Airport, which is today one of the best airports in the world, was those days just a small room. There was no piped water available. Men carried water from place to place, house to house. We lived in harsh and humid conditions. There was no air-conditioners those days. The electricity network was very weak, and most parts of Dubai had no power."

But then if life was hard, it was also that much simpler. "Those days there was no difference between the rich and the poor. Those of us who were rich would not show off our wealth. There were only 12 policemen for the entire emirate for there was hardly any crime."

Zakaria says UAE nationals were very kind, humble and generous. "They made you feel as if you were in your own country. They never looked on us as foreigners."

Recalling those early days, Zakaria says the Dubai Creek, one of the main attractions of Dubai, of then was always flooded with high and low tides.

"There was no seaport and vessels coming to the emirate loaded with goods would anchor out at sea and small vessels would sail up to them to unload the cargo and bring it to the shore. People at that time lived in houses made of wood and randomly scattered along the seashore."

Then Dubai changed and with that life, he said, adding that significant changes were being seen even as early as 1965.

"Things changed fast after the late Shaikh Rashid Saeed Al Maktoum issued directives to construct the Rashid Port. Improvements were also visible at Dubai Airport."

Talking about why he decided to come to Dubai, Zakaria says it was not an easy decision. "Life in Egypt was good but I am a man who loves challenges. At that time I didn't have any commitments, so I accepted this challenge and decided to make a success of life here. I started as an accountant in the Pepsi Company. After four years I was promoted to chairman of the company. In 1970, I became the managing director of Pepsi, Jeema Water and Oman Drinks."

And with Zakaria, Dubai was also on the rise. By the year 1967, Dubai had witnessed enormous changes.

"Trade had picked up, with the trade in electronic goods outpacing the trade in gold. By then there was a road network in place, and the roads were paved. Government departments were supplying electricity and water, and more and more expatriates were coming to Dubai," he recalls.

Comparing the development of Dubai to a 50-storey building, Zakaria says: "Dubai's development was like that of an ambitious person going up from the ground floor to the 50th floor. This person moves to the first few floors slowly but steadily by taking the stairs but after those first few floors moves up to the higher floors using a high speed elevator."

Zakaria points to the high-rises spread all over Dubai today, the bumper-to-bumper traffic, and says: "Dubai has achieved in 20 years what many other countries would, perhaps in a 100 years."

He attributes the success of Dubai to the profound vision of late Shaikh Rashid who said that Dubai would one day scale heights of development.

"When we were planning to relocate our factory, Shaikh Rashid suggested we relocate to Shaikh Zayed Road which only a decade ago was unpaved and on the outskirts of Dubai. Today, it is the heart of Dubai, thanks to General Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister, who has followed the same successful path of Shaikh Rashid."

Advising Gen-Next not to be in a hurry to achieve success, Zakaria says: "I strongly believe that where there is a will there is a way. Success that comes very fast withers away quickly. So be patient and have the will and determination to succeed in life. The younger generation should work hard to achieve success. Living in harsh conditions makes a person learn a lot, and cherish in life."

Mohamed Yehia Zakaria is a living example of a man who has graduated from the harshest of harsh schools — the school of life! With 'Honours'.


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