UAE: Mirza Hussain Al Sayegh, the man who shared a profound bond with late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid

The career diplomat, who traded a promising career to manage the world’s longest-serving finance minister’s diverse commercial pursuits and charities, looks back in wonder about a symbiotic relationship that blossomed since their childhood days

By Joydeep Sen Gupta, Leslie Wilson Jr

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KT photos by Neeraj Murali
KT photos by Neeraj Murali

Published: Fri 9 Dec 2022, 6:49 PM

Last updated: Sat 10 Dec 2022, 2:26 PM

Mirza Hussain Al Sayegh, a diplomat-turned-member, Board of Trustees, Al Maktoum Foundation, was the alter ego of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the world’s longest-serving finance minister, since 1983, who passed away in March 2021.

Al Sayegh traded a promising diplomatic career that he had embarked upon during the foundation of the UAE on December 2, 1971, while paying heed to the call of the Founding Father of the country, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in nation building.

History shows that Al Sayegh was only one of the 25 Emirati graduates during the time of unification, and he had “an undergraduate degree from the University of Jordan in business administration”.

“The next few years were a breeze as I made steady progress in my diplomatic career,” reminisced Al Sayegh about his salad days while ensconced in his office on Sheikh Zayed Tower.

“In 1971, I joined the fledgling Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Abu Dhabi. In 1974, I was appointed Head of the UAE Consular Mission in Bombay — now Mumbai, India. In the same year, I became the Counsellor and Minister Plenipotentiary UAE Embassy in London,” he said.

“I was familiar with India from early childhood because my family members often went to Bombay for health check-ups, as medical facilities in Dubai weren’t that advanced as they are now. Besides, I had more than nodding acquaintance with Indian tradition and culture since our ancestral house was in the old quarters in Bur Dubai, which was and is a home-away-from-home for Indian expatriates,” he said.

“Perhaps, my bonding with the late Sheikh Hamdan was more than providence. You can call it divine intervention as we knew each other from the tender age of four-five years, when he attended my father’s school in the early days. Later, we attended the first government school in Dubai for our primary education,” he said.

The bond rekindled a few decades later, when the late Majid Al Futtaim encouraged him on to manage Sheikh Hamdan’s numerous companies and organisations that covered a gamut of commercial and charitable causes both in the UAE and overseas.

“I have travelled the world with Sheikh Hamdan and often it would be at a short notice. That was the beauty of our abiding love and mutual admiration, as I never questioned his decision because I had unflinching faith in him,” said an affable Al Sayegh, a raconteur par excellence, who rattled off anecdotes about his “mentor” with consummate ease.

KT file photo
KT file photo

However, the inveterate Dubaian excelled in his job under Sheikh Hamdan’s watch largely because of his incessant quest for knowledge and love for academics.

For instance, during his diplomatic stint in India, he got himself enrolled at the prestigious University of Delhi to pursue a postgraduate degree in Political Science.

The degree stood him in good stead, when in 1976, he was appointed as Counsellor and Minister Plenipotentiary (Charge d'affaires) UAE Embassy, London. In 1979, he represented the UAE on the Political Committee of the United National General Assembly (UNGA) session.

In 1980, he spent two years studying for another postgraduate degree in International Relations at the University of Southern California (UK Programme) in London.

Initially, Al Sayegh took charge of investment affairs of Sheikh Hamdan, and through the close to four decades of that association, the bond deepened, and his sphere of activities expanded to cover a wide spectrum of banks, commercial, charitable, educational and civil society organisations.

Al Sayegh’s eyes welled up while remembering the benevolence of Sheikh Hamdan. He recounted an incident that summed up the “great man, whose loss I’m still reeling under”.

He said: “A few years ago, we were flying to Kentucky, USA, on a jumbo jet. Half-way, over the Atlantic Ocean, one of the two engines of the aircraft stopped, which was informed to the Sheikh by the captain. He listened to the captain while I was sitting next to him. He told him ‘you are the captain. You should take the right decision, not me. But remember one thing. Everybody on board is my responsibility. So, whatever decision you take, think about these people behind me.’ I was surprised because he cared for his people more than himself. Nobody does that,” he said.

There is another similar incident that’s etched in Al Sayegh’s memory.

“We arrived from London on a Friday in October 2009. Normally, on the day we arrived, I didn't attend the majlis. But when I went to the majlis on a Saturday night, he told me that we’d be going to London tomorrow. I didn't ask him anything because my bag was always packed. This time around he was going to London for a checkup and from there to Ohio, Cleveland, because of his failing health,” he added.

Al Sayegh is full of fascinating anecdotes about Sheikh Hamdan that he can “write a book about him”.

His generosity struck a big chord, not only with Al Sayegh, but whoever came in contact with him.

“His loss is irreparable as I come to terms by immersing myself in my hobbies such as horse racing, swimming, reading and hunting. I also draw comfort from my five children and four grandchildren,” he added.

On His Majesty’s service

Al Sayegh played a pivotal role in helping the late Sheikh Hamdan realise his sporting interests through the racing and breeding of high-class horses for close to four decades.

He was the Director of Shadwell Stud, the powerful and influential breeding empire that Sheikh Hamdan owned, championed, and held close to his heart.

He was the driving force behind the popular Dubai International Arabian Races (DIAR), one of the best and most prestigious full days of Purebred Arabian racing anywhere in the world, and staged at Newbury Racecourse in Berkshire, England.

The race day was created by Sheikh Hamdan to educate more people about the Arabian breed and the Arabic culture that underpins it.

Sheikh Hamdan was a keen and generous supporter of the Police Treatment Centres in the United Kingdom (UK) for several years. He funded the construction of fitness facilities at Castlebrae in Edinburgh, and then funded the first of two Alter G treadmills at Castlebrae. He also created the Al Maktoum Library, a room for quiet reading, learning, and relaxation as injured officers recovered.

He travelled extensively around the world to realise the cherished dreams of Sheikh Hamdan such as promoting education by building secondary schools in Africa, cultural centres in Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, China, Australia and the United States of America (USA).

He also holds membership in reputed local universities such as British University in Dubai, American University in the UAE, Abu Dhabi University, Fujairah University, Gulf Medical University and also Al Maktoum College of Higher Education in Scotland and member of cultural centre at Australia National University, Canberra.;

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