In 1999, UAE-based journalist Raed Barqawi received the phone call most people can only dream of – an invitation to visit Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai. At the end of this event, as the guests were being escorted out, an aide to the ruler of Dubai took Barqawi aside and asked him to stay behind – Sheikh Mohammed wanted to meet him one-on-one. “His Highness took me in his car and we drove around Dubai for two hours. He explained his vision for Dubai. He also talked about his overall view of the economy and how he wanted to place the country on the world map for business, tourism and infrastructure.He also wanted to know my point of view on the media.
During that conversation, Barqawi asked Sheikh Mohammed a question he had been nurturing for almost a decade. In August 1990, while Barqawi was working as a journalist for Al Khaleej newspaper, Iraq invaded Kuwait. As disturbing coverage of this invasion led to unfounded speculation that the region was to be incinerated in a deadly conflict, his newspaper office received a message from the local UAE news agency stating that the Minister of Defense, Sheikh Mohammed, announced plans to build the second golf course, the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.
Baffled by the timing of this announcement, Barqawi broached the subject with Sheikh Mohammed. “His Highness said to me, ‘At that time everyone was in a negative state of mind. I wanted to send a positive message to those who thought we were finished in Dubai and the UAE. We wanted to show that we were, in fact, at the beginning of what we could achieve and that we were going to continue to build our country.”
The conversation Barqawi had with Sheikh Mohammed that day was serendipitous, with the journalist deciding more than two decades later to write his first book. The idea came to him at the start of the pandemic confinement. In February this year, he launched Dare to Dream: How Mohammed bin Rashid Made His Dream Come True, at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai.
More than three decades ago, after graduating from university, Barqawi began his career as a business journalist at Al Khaleej. He rose through the ranks to become economics editor of the paper, followed by managing director of the editorial team leading to the post of editor, which he remains until today. He says it took deliberate effort to go from a “journal style” of writing to that required of an author.
The book, originally published in Arabic, has three chapters titled: Working Wonders, A Man Destined to Lead and The Oasis of Imagination. Barqawi cites several examples that shaped his approach to compiling these chapters and which indeed informed Sheikh Mohammed’s formative years.
He cites the example of Sheikh Mohammed’s visit to the top of the Empire State Building with his father Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in the sixties. The future ruler of Dubai gazed at the skyline of New York’s skyscrapers, dreaming of one day building the world’s tallest building in his hometown. Then there was that moment decades ago when Sheikh Mohammed accompanied his father to London and, after landing at Heathrow, envisioned creating a mega airport in Dubai that could rival the best in the world. Also, very early on, Sheikh Rashid appointed Sheikh Mohammed as the head of the Dubai Police and sent his son on a trip to the United States and the United Kingdom to study best practices and learn how the police were exercised in these country. The Burj Khalifa, Dubai Airport and Dubai, regularly touted today as one of the safest cities in the world, are all examples of Sheikh Mohammed’s dream for his city.
“I once asked His Highness why he was continually building the infrastructure of the city much more than was needed at the time? Sheikh Mohammed said: “If I aim to be a tourist or commercial destination, I cannot invite people to my house when my food is not yet ready. We have to be ready, and after that we invite people to our country. That’s why I’m building even bigger…to be ready when needed”.
Dubai alone welcomed 7.28 million international overnight visitors last year, a 32% year-on-year growth showing how a long-term view can have ramifications from decades after the foundations were laid.
The book was published by Dubai-headquartered Motivate Media Group, whose managing partner and group editor is Ian Fairservice. “I’ve known Ian for several decades now, and it’s been a success. He became a publisher and is highly respected in this city. It delivers what it promises. Motivate is well-established and professional, which is why I chose them for this book,” says Barqawi.
Fairservice notes why he was so excited to publish the book. “Raed is one of the most distinguished voices in journalism and this will be fascinating reading for anyone who has marveled at the incredible growth story of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. We are proud to have published this phenomenal book on His Highness. He talks about the wisdom and foresight of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and the impressive development of the United Arab Emirates.
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline and Group, was present at the launch on February 6 at the Emirates LitFest. That night, Barqawi also flew to the Cairo International Book Fair, where he says the book was also well received.
Barqawi has decided to donate all royalties from the book to the Al Noor Training Center for People with Disabilities. He explains that since he is still working with the newspaper, the book was not meant to be used as a source of income. “I wrote the book to tell a story of His Highness, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. It is a story that should be known for generations to come. How a leader transformed a desert from nothing into something? Understanding that is the goal of my book,” he says.
At the moment, Barqawi is working on the English edition of the book which should be out this month. And after? Barqawi says he is closely monitoring reactions to his book and may consider writing another – the subject of which he has not yet decided. With over three decades of observing the region, there is likely to be no shortage of first-hand information on fascinating subjects.
To order your copy of Dare to Dream: How Mohammed bin Rashid Made His Dream Come True, go to booksarabia.com