Interview with Al Seyassah
Saturday, October 25, 2003
The following is a translation of Sheikh Mohammed's interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Seyassah, as it appeared in Al Bayan.
Question: Your Highness, I'd like to start by asking you about your great appetite for work. Does it not impinge upon your appetite for other things?
Sheikh Mohammed: I can tell you without exaggeration that my appetite for work enhances and sustains my appetite for other things - my hobbies - such as writing poetry, and life's other beautiful pastimes. I love working, I love success and I despise failure. So I am happy to feel this wonderful tiredness - the fatigue that comes from working hard.
One morning I was inspecting the potential site of a racecourse when someone asked, "When did you sleep? What time did you get up? Yesterday we saw you doing dozens of interviews, attending numerous meetings, and now here you are, in the early hours of the morning, inspecting this site yourself. Why don't you leave these jobs to others?" I laughed and replied, "Don't worry. Everything in my life is scheduled."
Q: I would like to ask you that myself. When do you find time to sleep or rest?
SM: Don't worry, I will sleep peacefully once I have realized all my dreams for the UAE and for Dubai. I constantly set myself new challenges and I will see them through to the end.
One day, when I was a young man, I was at a meeting of Gulf ministers in a Kuwaiti hotel. The Kuwaiti Foreign Minister was one of those present. The only topic of discussion in those days was politics. Nothing but politics in all Arab countries - nothing but political discussion. When it came to my turn to talk, I said to the ministers, "Why don't we try to develop this region, and particularly Dubai, as a tourist destination to attract people from all over the world?"
Nobody seemed to be listening. I thought that perhaps they hadn't heard me. I repeated my question, adding that I planned to establish Dubai as one of the world's leading tourism destinations. The ministers laughed and asked, "What is there in Dubai to make it a tourist attraction? You have nothing but humidity, red-hot sun, burning sand and barren desert."
At that moment, I was sorry to have asked the question. They had the opportunity to help me realize my dreams, but they merely tried to discourage me. From that day on, my ambition became more urgent... and here is Dubai today, as I dreamt. 5 million tourists annually, and we plan to increase that to 15 million by 2010.
Our projects are there for you to see. The whole world talks about the dreams we have realized, they see a miracle of tourism and economics. Dubai is now a major venue for international exhibitions and the most important port in the region for the re-export of goods. Thanks to our projects, oil revenues make up just 8 percent of our income. The rest comes from tourism and commerce, illustrating the benefits of our economic freedom and quick decision making. Today, Dubai receives capital and does not export it. I'm talking about international capital, which has been invested here and has accrued impressive returns, attracting banks and other investors, local and foreign.
Dubai has become an important financial centre. It has established a 'Silk Road' of the air, connecting the five continents. I have to tell you, when Emirates Airline began, it had two aircraft and 12 million dollars. Today, it has a fleet of 60 aircraft, which, within two or three years, we plan to increase to more than 120 aircraft. We adopted an 'open skies' policy whilst others closed their airspace, and economic studies show that their decision was unwise.
Our airport, currently one of the biggest in the region, will be merely a back up in a few years, when our new airport has been constructed. Dubai port originally covered 15 square kilometres, but is now being expanded to cover 30 square kilometres.
Q: Do you anticipate that you may face a catastrophe one day? What precautions have you taken to guard against this possibility, and what are the signs that would indicate to you that a catastrophe was about to befall Dubai?
SM: Whilst others were engaged in political rhetoric, giving politics priority over the economy and over development programs, creating slogans like 'No voice should speak louder than the voice of war' Dubai was working, distancing itself from the shouting.
Progress provides power to politics. Without power, politics is a wretched business. By power, I mean economic power, the strength of economic development. For our part, when we launch our projects, we guarantee that they will not depreciate and that not a single investor will lose anything.
Remember, the situation in the Arab world and the region around Dubai has been terrible. Could there be a greater catastrophe than those already faced? There was the Iran-Iraq war, then the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, followed by the American war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation. Add to these events the pockets of tension that flare up in Arab countries, because of inept political administration or just by chance.
All these events, which represent the worst we have seen, passed. And whilst their influence may have been felt in Dubai, they did not affect Dubai, because Dubai offers the possibility of progress, of development, and because we have applied an economic strategy. Doesn't the fact that Dubai has come through the worst situations make it even more reliable?
My father, God rest his soul, always told us, "Do not begrudge those who work hard. Help those who encounter obstacles in their work, and help anyone who comes to you for work. Make sure they profit and make sure they are content." This is what Sheikh Rashid told his sons. 'Make sure they profit and make sure they are content.' And we follow his recommendations, which, although rare, were always very significant. Have you ever heard of anyone going bankrupt in Dubai? We want those who work hard to succeed. To this end, we need to avoid covetousness, for that does not build countries. The worst situation for a country is for its leader to covet or begrudge the success of others. Such feelings contribute nothing to a country's development. If any business faces difficulties, we are always eager to help and ensure that its owner and staff do not feel that they have been treated unfairly.
It is 30 years since our journey began and we still have a lot to do. In the beginning they said that Dubai was crazy. 30 years later they can see that we progressed sensibly and that those who thought us crazy were crazy to do so.
Now we have launched Dubailand, which will be the greatest leisure complex in the world. It will attract visitors from all over the world. You may ask how and when did we conceive this idea. I know every grain of sand in my country. As soon as I saw this site, I selected it as the location of Dubailand. I told my aides, "This is the place. You have six months to present the feasibility studies and construction plans." Once you have seen the blueprints and details you will see that it will become world-famous. It will be completed in 3 years. It will cost 18 billion dirhams and we expect it to attract 15 million tourists. We have begun work on the infrastructure, which will cost 3 billion dirhams.
Q: How do you plan to attract investors to Dubailand, given that you do not plan to cover any of the costs?
SM: Dubai is a city that attracts money. As my father advised us, so I advise others: invest your money in our country instead of depositing it in banks where it will evaporate like still water in a stagnant reservoir due to inflation and exchange problems.
Each investor in Dubailand will receive returns of 18 percent on their investment. Where else could you find such a rate? There is no tax in our country. It is very safe; people are busy with economic development, not political agitation. Every citizen here is a safeguard for the country. No one needs to ask for their piece of cake because it is offered to everyone.
I told you already that we never let anyone lose their money, and please take down what I tell you now: if anyone loses their investment in Dubai, the government will recompense them and buy their investment off them.
Q: You mentioned in your speech announcing Dubailand that you are willing to help other Arab countries with their development. If we handed this mission over to you, what would you do?
SM: First of all, I would abolish the ancient system of taxes and tolls inherited from the Ottoman era. I would develop performance by establishing laws of transparency, giving people the opportunity to progress. I would appoint leaders with an economist's, rather than a politician's, mentality, because politicians do not produce economic progress, but economists can produce rational and successful political programs. That is what I would do.
Let me tell you, economists could solve the political crises in Arab countries, but politicians cannot deal with economic crises. Believe me, all the crises in the Arab world can be attributed to economic factors if you examine them closely - even seemingly political problems.
Q: Your words beg the question then, what is really happening in the Arab world today? Should economics take precedence over politics or vice-versa, in your opinion?
SM: I don't want to enter into theoretical debate. I understand things through practice, not theory. I like to address a subject directly without beating around the bush. I ask you, who introduced 'Perestroika' to the Soviet Union, a process which led to its collapse? I will tell you, it was a politician, Mikhail Gorbachev, who thought he could turn his country upside-down.
The right thing to do, the thing that benefits people, is to talk about development programs, about transparency and about what is needed for economic prosperity and ways to make such things available. Words may attract people temporarily, but if there are no tangible results from the words, people soon forget the speakers when they see their lives have been made worse and their countries made barren.
What was Dubai's revenue in the past? And what is the value of the projects being run there now? How much revenue do they generate? National output has jumped 45 billion dirhams to 60 billion dirhams. Where has this progress come from? If we fed our people hollow words or expected them to live off classical and modern poetry, we would never see Dubailand, the airports, the movement of people and commodities and all the other signs of progress. If you visited Dubai today and came back in 3 months you would see the foundations of several new hotels and projects. There are always new things happening.
Everything we have already announced is now in the past; all that remains is the execution of the ideas. We are already thinking about new projects.
Q: What do you think of our economic policies in Kuwait?
SM: There is no doubt that Kuwait was a great example to us in the beginning. Your country boasts outstanding human resources and knowledge of international markets. Your investments were excellent, but I have to tell you, frankly, that covetousness spread amongst you. Covetousness is the most serious obstacle for development. I really wish that Kuwait, an important centre of investment and finance, could stamp it out. It is obvious from a distance that it has become widespread in Kuwaiti society.
Kuwait is a rich country, and an important one for its neighbours, especially with the current reconstruction of Iraq, to which Kuwait is the closest country.
Our ability to act quickly and decisively helped us to come here. We now run the Iraqi side of Umm Qasr port - we are very close to you. Our presence there shows a desire to benefit from our experience in this field.
I would also like to point out that we, in Dubai, pay great attention to the development of human resources in addition to economic development and investment. Whenever we conceive a project, the first thing we do is prepare the human resources for that project. We select and train a team, and ensure that they understand the ideas behind the project. We make them feel like partners in the project, not workers.
Anyone who takes part in one of these projects will profit. There is no loss. Anyone who loses money or is unlucky... we will cover his losses. Any pioneering project that makes a loss, we take care of it. We do not allow our citizens to make a loss; we encourage them to make a profit. All the capital in the UAE, public and private, is invested in the UAE - not abroad - and especially in Dubai, where it is protected. We don't just say that we will make people's lives easier, we do make their lives easier.
Now we have Dubailand. Its infrastructure will cost 3 billion dirhams, and the whole project is expected to cost 18 billion dirhams. It will be ready in 3 years, using money from the private sector and foreign investors. Like The Palm and our other projects, Dubailand has attracted many investors.
I am happy to say that Kuwait helped our country a great deal in the beginning. There is no denying that. Your country took quick decisions, established development schemes and took a different approach to the one it takes today. When I speak about the problem of covetousness in Kuwait, I do so out of my love for your country and my desire that all should be well there.
Q: According to the statistics, Dubai receives 5 million tourists every year. What is the total revenue generated by this, in terms of the national income?
SM: I know that tourism makes up 26 percent of our national income, which is a large amount if you compare it to other countries. One can only imagine the revenues when we are receiving 15 million tourists a year.
Oil revenues only make up 8 percent of our revenues, and, in anticipation of your next question, I can tell you that 70 percent of our imports are re-exported. If you review the figures they are astonishing. For example, Dubai has imported 50 million watches. 70 percent of those have been re-exported, and 30 percent have been sold here in Dubai. 50 million watches for a city of 900,000 people really is extraordinary, isn't it?
Q: In your speech announcing Dubailand, you said that Dubai did not need investors, investors needed Dubai. Isn't this vanity? Where did this vanity come from?
SM: Can't you see that I was expressing confidence in myself and my country's economy? Out of everyone who has come to Dubai since the start of its development, no one has gone bankrupt. Yet we have seen entire countries - citizens, companies and employees - go bankrupt. Here is Dubai - try and find a company or person that has declared bankruptcy.
So, I hope you will see that there was no conceit in my words, just confidence in what we offer our investors. We aim to provide them with the means to profit from investment in our country. This is our motto. I say the investor needs us because we offer a profitable secure business, with well-planned prospects, and we bear the overall responsibility. What more could you ask for?