Ruler of Dubai reveals seven key moments from his life in new autobiography

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid tells of surviving in the desert, negotiating with hijackers and his distaste for vanity

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The early years of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid were revealed firsthand in a new autobiography charting his journey from young royal to Prime Minister, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed tells of witnessing the 1971 signing of the Union, and of the moment his father, Sheikh Rashid, turned down the opportunity to be the first President of the UAE, insisting that Sheikh Zayed lead the newly formed nation.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's new book. Courtesy @MohamedBinZayed / Twitter
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's new book. Courtesy @MohamedBinZayed / Twitter

He also tells of negotiating with the hijackers of Japan Airlines Flight 404 when it landed at Dubai International Airport in 1973.

In the final days of 2018, Sheikh Mohammed marked 50 years of public service and half a century since, at the formative age of 19, he was entrusted with setting up the country's military.

He describes in candid terms the day the British Royal Air Force left Sharjah, two weeks before the Union was formed on December 2, 1971 and the moment he became the most senior military official.

"Their 150-year heavy presence was a burden in our region because they did not tend to the development needs of the people," he writes.

“I felt ultimate freedom when the last military jet departed. Troops beamed and shouted in excitement. In addition to joy, I felt an overwhelming sensation of absolute responsibility."

Here are some excerpts from the new book, My Story: 50 Stories in 50 years.

1. The day his father turned down the presidency

Sheikh Mohammed describes the moment that Sheikh Zayed, who would become the Founding Father of the UAE, met Sheikh Rashid in a tent in Al Sameeh on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border in 1968.

"In the tent, something happened that usually never happens in Arab countries and won't happen again in decades: Sheikh Zayed asked Sheikh Rashid to be the President of the Union," he writes in the book.

"However, Sheikh Rashid smiled, moved the rosary in his hand and said: 'You are the President'."

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at the Union House. National Day, December 2, 1971. (Courtesy Al Ittihad)
The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan at Union House on December 2, 1971, three years after the meeting in the desert. Courtesy: Al Ittihad

The Ruler of Dubai has spoken of the same meeting before, including on February 18 last year, 50 years to the day.

"Give me your hand, Zayed," Sheikh Mohammed recalled his father replying. "Let us shake upon the agreement. You will be President."

The two leaders reached a formal agreement that would bind them together and lead to the formation, three years later, of the United Arab Emirates on December 2, 1971.

2. 'We have weapons, and we are going to kill all the passengers'

The 1970s saw dozens of airplane hijackings across the globe, carried out by liberation groups and terrorists. Dubai was the scene of one such stand-off when Japan Airlines Flight 404 was hijacked shortly after leaving Amsterdam and was diverted to the emirate.

Sheikh Mohammed led tense, days-long negotiations with the Japanese Red Army and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijackers.

Sheikh Mohammed, then the Minister of Defence, was allowed on board the Boeing 747 to negotiate.

Sheikh Mohammed negotiated with hijackers during the Japan Airlines hijacking in 1973 and the Lufthansa seizure in 1977
Sheikh Mohammed negotiated with hijackers during the Japan Airlines hijacking in 1973 and the Lufthansa seizure in 1977

"I filled in Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Zayed with the details and went straight to the airport to take the necessary measures before the hijacked plane landed," he writes.

"Osamu Maruoka [who led the terrorists] told me: 'Do not change the subject, we have explosiveswe have weapons, and we are going to kill all the passengers'.

“One of the hijackers said to me: “So you are an Arab, you must support the Palestinian crisis, it is your crisis.”

“The hijacker wanted the seek refuge in Dubai.

“After three days negotiating with the hijacker, he felt exhausted. We have agreed to fuel the plane to [let him] go wherever he wanted but would not allow the hijackers to seek refuge in our country."

It eventually flew on to Damascus then Benghazi in Libya, before all of the passengers were released, 89 hours after the drama began. Hijackers blew up the plane once it was evacuated.

Sheikh Mohammed also negotiated when Lufthansa Flight 181, from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, was hijacked on October 13, 1977 and diverted to a series of airports, including Dubai. It was eventually flown to Somalia, where special forces killed the hijackers and the passengers were saved.

3. Surviving in the desert

Sheikh Mohammed has often spoken of his love of nature and of the simplicity of desert life. He says his father taught him how to survive and protect himself.

"Before I turned 18, my father taught me how to live in the desert and how to deal with its animals, gazelles and wolves, its cold weather and its volatility," he wrote.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (C), Crown Prince of Dubai and Defence Minister of the United Arab Emirates, moves with other compatriots in the first stages of the 100-kilometer endurance race in Saqqara, south of Cairo, 19 May 2000. Sheikh Mohammed won the first endurance horse race organized in Egypt while his sons Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Hamdan came second and third. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo by MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP)
Sheikh Mohammed pictured during a 100-kilometre endurance race in Saqqara, south of Cairo in May 2000. AFP

"After I turned 18, he taught me how to live in the city with humans. How hard-hearted are humans! And how beautiful is the desert!"

He has sought to promote and preserve desert life and its traditions, including falconry and endurance racing.

4. Burying his grandfather

Sheikh Mohammed describes the funeral of Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum, who is believed to have been born in the late 1870s and ruled Dubai until his death in 1958, when the current Ruler was aged nine.

“My childhood memory of Sheikh Saeed was that he was the most benevolent person I have ever known," writes Sheikh Mohammed, who was born in Shindagha on the banks of the Creek.

“Sheikh Saeed was known for his steadfastness and clemency, patience and soberness despite all odds when he was in power. He succeeded in maintaining Dubai status as a vibrant Emirate, and a crucial trade hub of those around.”

Describing the funeral, he said: "When they carried the body of my grandfather from the house, my father held my hand tightly while we were walking among the people behind the coffin," he says of that day.

"I do not know why he was holding my hand so tightly. Was it due to sorrow or did he want me to remember that moment forever?"

5. The day Tripoli welcomed the Maktoums

Sheikh Mohammed describes a frantic trip to Tripoli, and a warm – if startling – reception by the local community.

"We went to Tripoli's squares that were filled with crowds. Surprisingly, someone told the people that we were there," he wrote.

"They hysterically surrounded our car, and all of them welcomed us warmly. The car started to lose its stability and moments later, I felt it lift off the ground."

In Tripoli, the Maktoums were immediately recognised but, on other journeys, their entourages were more low key.

Sheikh Mohammed, centre, with the late Sheikh Rashid, third from right, at the Empire State Building in the 1960s
Sheikh Mohammed, centre, with the late Sheikh Rashid, third from right, at the Empire State Building in the 1960s

Sheikh Mohammed has written about his early travels in the past, including to New York and the Empire State Building.

"This is a photo of me and my late father in the 1960s at the Empire State, the tallest skyscraper worldwide," he wrote in 2016.

"It was a beginning of a dream that turned into a reality in Dubai.”

6. Embracing tourism

In 1990, Dubai International Airport handled 4.3 million passengers. Last year, almost 90 million people passed through the transport hub.

But, ever ambitious, Sheikh Mohammed wonders whether the city could have got a bigger head start in the 1980s, when it began to host golf tournaments and the famous 1986 Chess Olympiad.

Passengers shop at a duty-free store in Dubai International Airport in 1987. Thomas Hartwell / Getty 
Passengers shop at a duty-free store in Dubai International Airport in 1987. Thomas Hartwell / Getty 

"Sometimes I wonder, what would have happened if we co-operated with our brothers in the tourism sector since the 80s? Would we have had better success?" he writes.

"Or we would have continued to study the effectiveness of projects until today? Just a question I raise to their excellencies," he says, referring to ministers.

7. On humility and vanity

"The worst things to affect a human being are vanity, megalomania, the belief in one's own power and his dependence on his limited mortal strength," Sheikh Mohammed writes.

Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, visited today the headquarters of the General Women’s Union, GWU, and attended the launch of national initiatives honouring and documenting the achievements of Emirati women.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid was accompanied by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance; Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior; Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs; and Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, and several ministers. Dubai Media Office / Wam
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed. Dubai Media Office / Wam

"We work, but success is from Allah; we move, but the Almighty guides us; we serve our people with sincerity, but God grants us success based on our intentions. Guidance is from Allah, care is from Allah and protection is from Allah."