TThree or four times each night, the child would get out of bed in severe pain. Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the future ruler of Dubai, appeared to be the only one in the desert camp woken up so frequently by scorpion stings.
He soon learned that it was not a coincidence. An elder of the tribe had been spreading the arachnids on the eight-year-old boy’s bed. It was both a desert survival lesson (check your bedrooms for insects every night) and a vaccination. To this day, Sheikh Mohammed claims that he is immune to scorpion venom.
“Not everything that hurts you is evil,” he wrote about the episode. “Sometimes pain teaches us and protects us.”
It is one of the origin myths of a man who would transform the modest port city that his family ruled into the glittering, ultra-modern metropolis of Dubai, a city whose great spectacles, an indoor ski resort, the tallest building in the world, never before. had been seen. it greatly obscured their controversies. Over the past three years, Sheikh Mohammed himself has become one of them.
Secret images recorded by her daughter, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, and released this week by multiple media outlets, have rekindled concern for the fate of the 36-year-old princess, who said she was living a prisoner in a guarded villa. The messages abruptly stopped last year.
The harrowing videos contain the image that Sheikh Mohammed has cultivated as a progressive Arab business visionary, poet, horseman and leader. Although he is one of the richest royals in the world, with an estimated fortune of $ 4 billion (£ 2.86 billion), and oversees a city at the heart of global capitalism, surprisingly little is known of a figure. described by a British judge last year as “An intensely private individual.”
Most of the public information about Sheikh Mohammed has been created by himself: three memoirs, extensive collections of poetry, and a 2017 guide to cultivating happiness and positivity.
Then there are the darkest flashes of man. They first emerged two decades ago in a desperate phone call to a British lawyer by a young woman, Shamsa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, who claimed to be separated from her father, the Sheikh. A few weeks later, she was abducted from a Cambridge street and disappeared from public view. In early 2018, images were posted of a second daughter, Latifa, telling the camera that she was planning her own escape attempt. “If you are watching this video, it is not that good. Either I’m dead or I’m in a very, very, very bad situation, ”he said.
In the three years since then, with the emergence of more disturbing videos and convicting court sentences, this grim biography of Sheikh Mohammed has become clearer.
Dubai was not always a motto for wealth. Sheikh Mohammed, 71, was born before the emirate established its first hospital, public school or airport, and had not yet freed himself from British colonial chains. “There was no electricity at that time, when I was born … and there was no water,” he told the BBC in a 2014 interview.
He tells of a childhood he spent learning to survive in the harsh desert landscape, tracking deer, Houbara bustards, curlews and camels, whose hoof marks he learned could be as unique as a fingerprint. “It takes a strategy to access food in the desert,” she said her father had taught her.
The emirate that Sheikh Mohammed would inherit had yet to discover oil, but Dubai’s own strategy for survival in the desert was already taking shape. When nearby port cities raised trade tariffs, Dubai’s rulers of the early 20th century abolished theirs, attracting merchants from Iran and India who made the city synonymous with pearls and gold.
Sheikh Mohammed said he learned an important lesson: “Today’s leaders are the silent giants who own the money, not the politicians who make noise.”
Wooing those giants required learning their ways, and in 1966 his father sent him to college in Cambridge. He recalled the “strange but interesting smells” of his first dinner – lamb, peas and mashed potatoes – and novelties like the leftover meat that he put in the refrigerator. It was heated and served again for dinner the next night. “I ate … suspiciously,” he said. “In Dubai we always ate fresh food, there were enough mouths to feed at every meal and finish what was there.”
When Dubai joined the surrounding sheiks to form the United Arab Emirates, the young prince was tasked with establishing the country’s first military and defense ministry. But he was irresistibly drawn to aviation, unable to shake an idea that had been creeping into his mind since he was a child, standing in a bustling Heathrow terminal. “Our future was in making Dubai a global destination,” he wrote.
Against the objections of consultants and the machinations of the airline industry, for the next four decades, Sheikh Mohammed did just that, leading the transformation of Dubai into the world’s busiest aviation hub and establishing a professional and professional services industry. multi-million dollar tourism.
Along with this healthy success story through thick and thin, the UAE vice president dedicates three chapters of his most recent book to another Latifa: her mother. She is idealized as his “first love”, “my heart and my soul”, “the most wonderful, supportive, gentle, kind and extraordinary person in my life”. His death in 1983 devastated him.
His wives receive comparatively less coverage in the official narrative, and the story of only one, his sixth and youngest wife, Princess Haya, has been extensively documented. After her marriage failed, Haya, 46, said she worried about the fate of Shamsa and Latifa. Soon, he said, he began to find weapons in his home and a note that warned: “We will take your son, your daughter is ours, her life is over.”
A UK court ruled last year that these and other allegations of threats and harassment, along with the allegations Sheikh Mohammed had staged for Latifa and Shamsa’s forced returns, were in fact in the balance of probabilities. The trial and the publicity appear to have had little impact so far on the UAE’s commercial and defense ties with London, nor on Sheikh Mohammed’s extensive personal relationships in the UK.
“He’s tightly integrated into the highest echelon of society through horse racing,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Associate Fellow for the Gulf at Chatham House. “He moves in the highest circles with members of the UK royal family, and to some extent that could give him respectability.”
In Sheikh Mohammed’s latest memoir, released in 2019, between tributes to his parents and ancestors and an account of Dubai’s history, there is an unusual glimpse of a harsher side. The sheikh might be immune to desert scorpions, he said, but they weren’t the only ones.
“Human scorpions are said to inhabit the land as gossipers and conspirators, disturbing souls, destroying relationships and subverting the spirit of communities and teams,” he wrote. “Sleeping with desert scorpions is sometimes easier than living with humans.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism