'Sheikh Mohammed always had my back': GDRFA chief talks about Dubai in inaugural Emirates Lit Fest session

The true beauty of the emirate isn't in how the city looks but in how its people behave, said General Lt Al Marri


Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Wed 1 Feb 2023, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Feb 2023, 6:59 PM

A barren city with no electricity and no greenery — that is how General Lieutenant Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri, Director General of GDRFA, remembers the Dubai where he grew up. “Turning that city into the glamorous Dubai of today has been the untiring work of our visionary leaders,” he said.

General Lt Al Marri then spoke of how His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has been a leader par excellence. “When I was first appointed as the head of GDRFA in 2006, Sheikh Mohammed came to tour the facility,” he said. “After the tour, he asked me if I had his personal number. I said that I did. He told me, ‘If ever you have a problem, no matter what time of the day, call me’.”

While beginning a new role and taking on new responsibilities, this was of great relief to General Lt Al Marri, who called Sheikh Mohammed on several occasions for his advice and opinions during the 17 years he has been in his role. However, one instance stays etched in his mind.

“I was in a bad situation,” he said. “I called him and explained the whole thing. After listening, he said, ‘what you did was a just decision. If anyone questions you about it, tell them it was my directive’. That is when I knew that no matter how bad the situation was, Sheikh Mohammed would always have my back. He will always support me.”

Warmth and hospitality

According to General Lt. Al Marri, the soul of Dubai lies in its people. “The true beauty of Dubai isn’t in how the city looks but in how its people behave,” he said. “When we train the staff at Dubai airports and ports, we emphasize to them how to give visitors warmth and hospitality. That is precisely why we cannot put robots at airports to receive people. We want our visitors to know the true Emirati hospitality right from their entry points.”

The GDRFA chief was speaking at the inaugural session of the Emirates Literature Festival 2023 titled Dubai, A Friend - Past, Present and Future. The session kicked off with a video showing the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum spearheading the building of Dubai ports and how the city has grown from strength to strength in the last five decades.

General Lt. Al Marri also called on the audience to diligently work to preserve the dignity of Dubai. “This is not a regular city,” he said. “Our leaders were devoted to this gem. We need to appreciate it, respect it and give back to the city for all that it has given us.”

Fond memories

Describing the early days of Dubai, General Lt. Al Marri recalled how everyone was shocked when the first ice rink was opened at the Hyatt Regency. “Everyone used to travel to the hotel to see if the ice rink was real or if it was just rumors,” he said. “It was such a novelty. Now, we have a mountain of ice at Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates.”

According to him, the changes in Dubai happened so quickly that there was not much time to document it.

“The Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway was a two-way road,” he said. “And when people complained that the headlight of oncoming cars was too bright, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ordered trees to be planted in between the lanes. So many years later, those trees are still there as a testimony to the visionary leaders we have had.”


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