Dubai: Prominent Emirati citizen Mirza Al Sayegh is widely known as the close confidant of the late Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
He is also well-known as a promoter of horse racing in the UAE and abroad.
However, he has worn many hats — from being one of the first diplomats of the country to a champion of charity, education and horse racing.
He has held different diplomatic positions, including that of the consul-general of the UAE in Bombay (now Mumbai) in India in the early years of the country and has been appointed to the boards of numerous companies, as chairman or deputy chairman, both in the UAE and overseas. The companies under his charge cover a wide spectrum of commercial, financial and charitable organisations.
Ahead of the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, the veteran Emirati took a stroll down memory lane and shared many untold stories with Gulf News.
Early memories of school
Second among the ten children of Hassan Mirza Al Sayegh, he was born on October 1, 1949. The earliest memories that he shared were about a school, one of the first in Dubai, that was founded by his father.
He could not recollect when exactly his father started Al Ahalia School, but was sure that it was a couple of years before he was born as one of the senior students had once told him that “the teacher took leave one day because he had a baby boy,” referring to Mirza himself.
Al Sayegh said what prompted his father to start the school was the education that he received in India’s Bombay (now Mumbai). The Al Sayegh family had strong connections with Bombay since the 1930s. They had a house and other properties there, he recollected.
“My father stayed in that house in Byculla when he went there for some treatment. He also managed to study with the Farsi community at the same time.”
When Hassan Al Sayegh returned home to the Trucial States, armed with a good command over English, Urdu and Farsi, he decided to start the school. “Sheikh Hamdan studied there. Many notable people of the community also studied there. I remember Sheikh Hamdan and Juma Al Majid were my father’s top students,” said Al Sayegh.
Among the pictures from the informal school, he cherishes the one in which he is seen sitting next to Sheikh Hamdan and his father.
First regular school
When the first regular school in Dubai was opened by the Kuwaiti government, Al Sayegh joined there. He recollected the late Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum offering his house to be transformed into another school, which was named Al Saeediya School, and the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum building a school in Bur Dubai with contributions from Emirati community members.
“Sheikh Rashid wanted the community also to be a part of the school. So, people from the community contributed some money to build that school. The concept of cooperation between the government and the public was alive back then itself.”
Then another school was built in Deira. “The whole thing went on until 1971. When the Union was announced, lots of schools were built. Sheikh Hamadn was part of the development because he was the chairman of Dubai Municipality and granted land for the establishment of schools.”
Today, the country’s education landscape has evolved just like its rising skyline.
Having been associated with Sheikh Hamdan’s charity school projects, Al Sayegh gives education prime importance and has been instrumental in making changes through those schools in various countries. “Education is very important everywhere because education means civilisation and modernisation. It means being away from arms and violence, trafficking and prostitution.”
Joining future diplomatic corps
After completing his secondary education from Dubai Secondary School, in 1967, Mirza was enrolled in the University of Jordan and graduated with a BA in Business Administration in 1971.
Being one of the bright Emirati youngsters, Al Sayegh then joined what was called the “future diplomatic corps” in the UAE. “It was three months before the formation of the country. Officials called us and said, Sheikh Zayed wants you to become diplomats and don’t look for any other job. You are going to be part of the new government.”
After completing a course in diplomacy, he was appointed as third secretary and the head of the Information and Translation Section, Political Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abu Dhabi. In 1973, Mirza was appointed as the first secretary at the UAE Embassy in New Delhi, India.
“I was number 2 in Delhi. In 1974, I went to Mumbai because Sheikh Rashid asked me to go there. This was when we were sitting at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace in India, during his official visit to Delhi. He asked who is there to receive him in Bombay. I said we only had our staff at that time. Then he said, you go and receive us and you if you like it you stay there. I said Mumbai was my dream, I will go. Even when I was in Delhi, I used to fly every week to Bombay and spend the weekend with my uncle there.”
Thus, he became the consul-general of the UAE in Bombay, responsible for six states namely, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka.
During his stay in India, Al Sayegh enrolled in the University of Delhi’s Master’s Degree programme in Political Science. “But I couldn’t complete it after I was moved to Bombay. I managed to do it in London, where I was posted next.”
Representing UAE at UN
It was in 1976 that Al Sayegh was appointed as counsellor and minister plenipotentiary (Charge d’affairs) at the UAE Embassy, London.
In 1979, he represented the UAE on the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly session. “Representing my country at the UN was an honour,” he said.
In 1980, he spent two years studying for a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (UK Programme) in London.
“After I finished my master’s, I tried to pursue PhD. But again I had to move back to Abu Dhabi. I spent about two months waiting for a new posting. Meanwhile, I had some personal issues also. My father passed away and I wanted to look after my young sisters and brothers. So I resigned and joined Middle East Bank in Dubai.”
The bank assigned him to take care of the account of Sheikh Hamdan.
Serving the world through Sheikh Hamdan
“That is when I started visiting Sheikh Hamdan regularly. By the end of 1983, he asked me to leave the job in the bank and join his office. On December 4, 1983, I joined Sheikh Hamdan and I devoted my entire life to serve him from that day onwards.”
Today, he also represents the government in five charity organisations and two banks. Al Sayegh has also been at the helm of affairs related to several horse racing events in the UAE and abroad. “Horse racing brings friends and business to the country,” he said.
Father of five and grandfather of four, his only remaining wish is to complete his PhD. “I hope I can still make it,” he said.
As the country gears up for its 50th National Day celebrations, Al Sayegh takes pride in being the citizen of a country that has witnessed phenomenal growth in all sectors.
“Just a week before the formation of the Union, we were only hoping it would happen. We were still not sure. But, our leaders, late Sheikh Zayed and late Sheikh Rashid, had it in them. They made it possible. Their sons are now carrying on with that vision and legacy and making us proud about this great nation. I take my grandchildren to old Dubai areas and tell them all those stories. As we celebrate our Golden Jubilee, I miss Sheikh Hamdan. This is our first National Day without him,” he said.