In 1999, UAE-based veteran journalist Raed Barqawi went on a two-hour drive around Dubai with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Inspired by the Ruler's vision and direction at the time, Barqawi questioned the reason behind his increased focus on making Dubai a tourist destination.
Sheikh Mohammed replied by recalling an encounter he had with a German family sitting by Jumeirah beach in the middle of August. He had pulled over and chatted with the family over coffee about why they chose to visit the UAE.
The family, having come from Germany to enjoy Dubai’s facilities, expressed their admiration of the convenient hotels and year-round sunlight. That was the moment the leader became inspired to utilise the best qualities of Dubai.
“It is courage that defines Dubai's development experience,” said Barqawi about the journey he documented in his recent book Dare to Dream: How Mohammed bin Rashid Made His Dream Come True, which was launched last week as part the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Through the book, the executive editor-in-chief of Al Khaleej newspaper shares personal anecdotes and encounters with the leader, and captures the UAE’s unprecedented and rapid growth from a first-hand perspective as a business journalist based in the country for over 30 years.
He also describes the Sheikh Mohammed's humanity, analysing the factors that helped shape his personality.
"Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid had been inspired by his childhood and the world around him. Using his analytical mind, intelligence and sense of wonder, he succeeded in establishing a successful model for the Arab region,” said Barqawi.
Having just returned to Dubai from Egypt for his book signing, Barqawi noted that “we have witnessed high demand over the book in Egypt, because Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s journey has equally impacted people beyond the UAE.”
Through the series of unprecedented achievements, Barqawi said the Ruler has raised the level of aspirations and ambitions for young Arabs and presented a global model emerging from the Arab world.
“Today, a country in a conflicted region is providing stable jobs, secure life, social stability, economic prosperity and a promising future for Arabs and people from all over the world."
"In that sense, the UAE has made the Arab dream come true,” said Barqawi, a UAE resident since 1985.
The book details the journey of a young leader at a time when he was left with an inspirational product: the union. He was adamant on seizing and building on this historical opportunity to make a larger contribution to the UAE, the Arab region and the rest of world.
“The UAE was established on a miracle, which is the union led by the UAE founders. Amid all the challenges, the UAE was founded on the concept of human empowerment and unity, and that is rare to find. This is why it was a moment of pride for the entire region.”
Stemming from the union, a young Sheikh Mohammed started asking questions. As a child going on diplomatic visits with his father in the late 1960s, he was mesmerised by the United States’ Empire State Building, the world's tallest at the time, and London’s Heathrow Airport, the world’s busiest at the time.
He wondered why the Arab region, once home to Baghdad’s House of Wisdom and a contributor to humanities, science, literature, arts and culture, couldn't boast similar achievements.
With great ideas come great courage to implement, and the leader had both.
“His dream transformed into a vision, a plan, work teams and construction resources until he reached Mars,” said Barqawi.
Sheikh Mohammed started leading an economic boom in Dubai starting from the early 1990s. He was faced with two challenges: time and geographic location of the region.
“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's decisions were always tied to a timeline and deadlines to reach goals,” said Barqawi. To overcome this challenge, he formed large-scale work teams and established specialised government entities to develop economic, social, health and educational sectors.
Located in the Middle East, which has long been impacted by political unrest and conflict, the leader had to explore ways to attract foreign investors.
Therefore, the focus was directed towards establishing an advanced and integrated infrastructure that connects sea, land and air. Jebel Ali Port was established in 1979 and intense efforts began to advance Dubai International Airport.
The desert, long viewed as a challenging and dry environment, was transformed into islands, marinas, beaches and sea ports, placing the UAE as among the top tourist destinations. In it, the leader saw an opportunity.
Today, Dubai is home to the world's busiest airport and the world's tallest building.
“It was a very smart and strategic game. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid painted Dubai like a piece of art,” said Barqawi. "His dream was essentially an inspiration, which has brought innovation."
The book documents the emirate's development journey, led by the inspirational leader, as a roadmap for present and future generations.
Adopting a visionary mindset, "Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid does not like the word 'adapt', he always likes to lead and chart the way forward," said Barqawi.
Closely tracking the progress of Dubai, the author said he had never expected to see the level of achievement as it is today.
“The UAE has outpaced itself, and this would have never happened without a visionary leadership. The union represented a turning chapter for the country and the rest of the Arab world,” he said.
On the future of UAE, Barqawi said: “I don’t know when I wake up what this nation would have achieved."
“I do not live in the Emirates, the Emirates lives in me. Indeed, I want to die here.”
The book’s proceeds are being donated to Al Noor Training Centre for Persons with Disabilities. It will be available in English in April.
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