Sheikh Mohammed advised Assad and Qaddafi on Dubai model of success before Arab uprisings

In his new autobiography, the Dubai Ruler reveals that the Syrian president and then leader of Libya sought to replicate the city, but failed to understand the hard work and determination involved

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister Mohamad ibn Rashid al-Maktoum (R) chats with Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (C) and Bashar al-Assad son of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad as they meet in a tent in the historic city of Palmyra north east of Damascus 05 May 1999. Al-Maktoum is taking part in a desert horse race, a part of a festival in this ancient city. (Photo by Louai Beshara / AFP)
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Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid advised dictators Bashar Al Assad and Muammar Qaddafi on the adoption of the Dubai model of success prior to their countries being wracked by conflict in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings.

The inside story of the UAE's desperate attempts to head off conflicts in the Middle East have been revealed in My Story, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai's new autobiography.

Before becoming president, Mr Al Assad spoke with Sheikh Mohammed about his hopes for Syria.

On a visit to Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed drove Mr Al Assad around the emirate and they eventually strolled around one of the city’s department stores.

“No one bothered us,” he writes. “We spoke of the future of technology and its role in development. He showed great interest in investing in technology for serving his country. “He assured me that he would make changes in Syria. I forged a good relationship with him after that day.

“A few years later he again visited Dubai, this time as President Bashar Assad. He asked me how the government of Dubai rules its city. He had a great desire to develop the administration and government in Syria.

“I spoke to him a lot about Dubai and its openness, and how our governance focuses on the private sector. He expressed his deep admiration for Dubai, saying that he wanted to replicate the experience in Syria.”

Picture released by Iraq's official news agency INA 07 January 2003 shows President Saddam Hussein (3rd L) speaking to senior officers at the Republican Guards headquarters in Baghdad, in the presence of their chief, his son Qusay (grey suit/4th R). UN arms experts hunting for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction used helicopters today for the first time since launching inspections last November 27 after a four-year break.  AFP PHOTO/INA/HO (Photo by INA / AFP)
Saddam Hussein, third left, in 2003 speaking to senior officers at the Republican Guards headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. AFP

Then, as the civil war deepened, Mr Al Assad “started living in a different world as he watched his country drown in blood and destruction that had befallen on Syria and oversteered thousands of years of history”, Sheikh Mohammed writes.

The result, he says is more than 400,000 dead, mostly civilians, more than 10 million refugees and up to $4 billion in destroyed infrastructure.

Sheikh Mohammed says it is his great wish that Syria will “regain its history and its culture”.

“I still have hope and I am certain that the Syrian people, who were able to build 40 civilisations on their land, would be able to build a new one,” he writes. “This is my conviction.”

Muammar Qaddafi of Libya was another dictator who believed he could adopt the Dubai model for success.

“I remember how he once called me to tell me that he wanted to build a new Dubai in Libya and for it to act as the economic capital of Africa,” Sheikh Mohammed writes.

“After the US invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction, which it alleged that Saddam possessed, Qaddafi came out before the world to declare that Libya had a nuclear programme.”

He asked that it be removed, paving the way for prosperity in his country.

“We were among those whom he approached,” Sheikh Mohammed writes. “He asked me to help him build a new Dubai in Libya as part of his drive to become open to the world.”

The then head of the Dubai Executive office, Mohammed Al Qarqawi, was sent to Tripoli.

“There, he saw the Libyan leader sitting in a large office and surfing the internet in a way that showed that he had little knowledge of what he was doing,” Sheikh Mohammed shows.

“After his little show, Qaddafi told him that he greatly admired what Sheikh Mohammed has done in Dubai. ‘I want to do the same thing in Libya. I am asking you to invest in Libya’.”

The reality, says Sheikh Mohammed, is that many leaders who seek to replicate the Dubai model do not understand what it involves.

“There’s a huge difference between what you wish for and what you do to fulfill your wishes and dreams. Wishes and reality are widely spread apart.

“The space between them needs to be filled with much determination, persistence and follow-up in addition to plans, money and men. It needs constant work.

“I kick off my day at 6am. I know what all my plans are. I follow my plans. We build, with projects, men and leaders who will lift their work up and drive it forward to become global.

“Each day, we delegate power to young men and women to enable them to lead their country and be engaged.

“This is how we build Dubai of today,” he writes.

The book also revealed that Sheikh Mohammed secretly met with Saddam Hussein, then the leader of Iraq, in the months before the US invasion and offered him asylum in Dubai in an attempt to head of a conflict.

Sheikh Mohammed’s memoir also includes his impressions of the massacres of Palestinians carried out by militia close to the right-wing Christian Kataeb party, in which the Israeli army was compliant by allowing the gunmen access to the Palestinians, then failing to intervene.


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The massacre, he says, was something he could see coming.

“I had kept in touch with all partners in the region,” Sheikh Mohammed says. “I knew that a massacre was going to happen. When I saw the images of the victims, especially the women and children, I realised that our efforts have been in vain.

“I managed personally the Emirati initiative following the directives of the supreme leader Sheikh Zayed. S130 jets were loaded with tonnes of humanitarian aid in one of the major organised operations in the Gulf.”