His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: In an exclusive interview with CNN, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: "We want to be number one", answering a question by anchor Erin Burnett about his aspirations for the UAE.

Erin Burnett has had the rare chance of spending a whole work day with Shaikh Mohammad. The interview, which took place at various locations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, was characterised by full frankness and transparency. A number of issues were discussed, with special focus given to internal affairs.

The interview began with a brief report on the UAE's celebrations of the 40th anniversary of one of the youngest countries in the world; this is the United Arab Emirates, and the man who built its crown jewel is still on the helm.

Dreams of skyscrapers

The report mentioned that Shaikh Mohammad dreamt of skyscrapers. Forty years ago, there were literally sand dunes, tents and small forts; now the world's tallest buildings rise from the desert. The centre of the city and a backdrop for the rich and famous, including Tom Cruise and his stunt for his latest movie Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where he dangled from 153 storeys in the air from the Burj Khalifa.

In the light of the Arab Spring, Dubai is a haven for people seeking escape. In this context, Jodi Essa, a student from Syria, said: "I'm living here alone; I've never felt unsafe; I've never felt uncomfortable living here." The report added: "Even the Ruler still walks without any security details."

Dubai is a diverse city. Eighty-five per cent of the people living here are expatriates, and people from over 200 countries pass through the city.

Answering a question about His Highness' fears of extremists who may target Dubai, Shaikh Mohammad said: "They have not made any problems for us, you know, they're living together and they have an interest to come here, so they work and they send home some money from here, so they don't want to spoil that."

A video footage in the report indicated that Shaikh Mohammad starts his day on his horse farm in the outskirts of Dubai. Commenting on this footage, Shaikh Mohammad said: "Horses, falcons and dogs are part of our life."

Direct communication

The interview also touched on bridges of communications between the people and the Ruler. A video footage that was included in the interview showed that the temperatures may reach 49 degrees Celsius during summer: in December, during the TV team's visit to record the interview, the temperature was 26 degrees. That day was a good day to follow up how the emirate's government works at the majlis where citizens can directly talk to their leaders about their needs.

Shaikh Mohammad said: "We have the majlis where everybody can come to the Ruler and say ‘I didn't get this or that'; or this department, or that ministry did not give me my right."

Burnett asked, "Do they directly come to you and ask for what they want directly?"

Shaikh Mohammad replied: "Yes, they might complain about a ministry, so I get hold of the minister and ask him why he didn't do his job."

Burnett went on to tell how Shaikh Mohammad preferred to spend a night in the desert every 10 days to experience the life of a bedouin, despite belonging to the ruling family and living in a country that sits on 10 per cent of world oil reserves.

In another video footage, the report pointed to the meetings of the UAE Cabinet in Abu Dhabi, where Burnett had the chance to attend one, at which the budget was discussed and its details to be published online in a move that Brunett viewed a step towards transparency. This step is also welcomed by students from Arab Spring countries. Burnett, in this regard, cited the point view of an Egyptian student who said: "The UAE must be a role model for all Arab countries with the way it is ruled."

Press freedom

Regarding this issue, Burnett asked: "Some people are saying press is not totally free?" Shaikh Mohammad plainly replied: "As long as they do not say something wrong about a person or whatever it is, they can say things they want, and as I told you, we are not perfect; we are still learning."

Answering a question about democracy, Shaikh Mohammad said: "We have our own democracy; you cannot transport your democracy to us."

Burnett asked: "Your son Hamdan will rule after you, father to son, will that continue forever?" His Highness answered: "As long as people want that." Referring to the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Burnett pointed out that: "Some say Dubai's Shaikh and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi are using money to prevent unrest."

She further asked: "The salaries for government workers, and you recently doubled that, and some people said that you did it because you were worried about unrest in the UAE from the Arab Spring. Is there any truth in that?" Shaikh Mohammad answered: "No, it is not because of the Arab Spring, we did it before the Arab Spring started and we did it many times before. If you look in the past 10 years, you will see we have doubled salaries several times."

Burnett mentioned that most youth and expats are pro-government. A young Emirati woman said: "I would like to thank His Highness for what he has done for us, for everything." Another expat said: "Shaikh Mohammad is a true visionary."

The ‘OutFront' anchor touched on the punishment facing those who failed to pay their mortgage. His Highness clarified: "Some laws may be strict; but we don't put in jail everybody who comes here."

Erin Burnett concluded the interview by stressing on the point that Shaikh Mohammad focuses on one thing, that is building Dubai on the hill in a part of the world where hills are few and far between. And, when she asked him: "How much further do you want to go?" Shaikh Mohammed answered: "To be number one."

It is worth mentioning that the CNN aired snapshots of the interview on December 6 concurrently with the UAE's 40th National Day. The interview has widely attracted regional and international attention; various world media agencies and outlets have published highlights of Shaikh Mohammad's statement, especially those dealing with regional issues.

‘Crisis a challenge'

This is the second interview of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai with CNN, in a year and a half.

Erin Burnett, the anchor of CNN's OutFront, interviewed Shaikh Mohammad recently, in which he talked about issues affecting the region and the Arab world.

In the interview, Shaikh Mohammad said that the Arab Spring is [about] the people who have waited for a long time for change to happen.

Touching on the crisis affecting the world, Sheikh Mohammad said, "I don't call it crisis, it is a challenge. This is a challenge, you know. All good leaders are there when things are alright. But it takes a good leader in a crisis like that."