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13 April 2024

Citizen is our top priority: Mohammed

By Eudore R Chand

It was pure poetry in motion, unique sportsmanship and unrivalled leadership – all combined into one forceful lesson in great governance and cutting-edge leadership – that was delivered by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to the people of the UAE, the Gulf and beyond.

In an effortless interactive question-and-answer session at the first Government Summit in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed’s vast love for the country was highly evident.

“We want to achieve happiness for our nation. The government’s role is to make the nation happy, to make the people happy, to ensure justice and equality for our people. That is our goal.

“My brother, the President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has said the citizen is the first priority. The citizen is the second priority. The citizen is the third priority.”

He advised government leadership and all staff: “If each person in-charge puts this as a goal, he will perform differently. You have to bear in mind that authority is given to serve the people, not to control the people; to help them from a less fortunate life to a better life.”

Sheikh Mohammed pointed out that 105 bright and eminent personalities and experts have come from 30 countries for the summit that is being attended by some 2,500 delegates.

“Why do we have to learn from their experiences? The idea is to be on par with the developed world. From this summit, you will go back with more knowledge.

“We will achieve the goal to be on par with developed countries. I wish Allah will help us and shed light on our road to happiness.”

Q&A Session

More than 10,000 questions for Sheikh Mohammed were received from people from all walks of life, from across the GCC and the Arab World; from visitors, men and women and from little children.

His answers drew regular applause and admiration.

Sheikh Mohammed preferred to stand and openly and frankly answer questions – some personal - for almost two hours, saying: Even as a child I had a problem with sitting down for long in school.”

Number 1?

“I am proud of you. You all deserve to be Number 1. Whether you are in the middle or end of the road, all aspire to be Number 1. Why not? I have the possibility to be Number 1 – all did – Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Khalifa… I want all of us to try to be Number 1.

“Each of us has challenges. There will always be challenges – but always try to be Number 1. We all like to be Number 1,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

He asked if anyone remembered who was the second man to climb the Everest or walk on the moon? “All remember the first.”

Immediate effect

“Why not?” Sheikh Mohammed replied to a lady questioner from Kuwait. “Maybe tomorrow will never come? Why not do what we can today. To develop our economy we have to do things with immediate effect. An economically strong nation is politically strong.”

Sheikh Mohammed told of a media gathering Ramadan two years ago during which one lady journalist asked him how much of his vision had been achieved. “I replied 10 per cent.

“Two years later when Burj Khalifa had been built and Metro was almost done and the face of Dubai had changed, the same lady asked me the same question, and this time I replied 7 per cent.

“She was shocked, but I explained that if you have a vision, you learn from the mistakes of the projects as they progress and your vision broadens further.”

Government of Future

“The government of the future needs to be hospitable like hotels and run 24|7 like airlines. All services need to be in one-stop shop.

"Government needs to be close to people, make life easy, so people can do all transactions from one place.

"I would go even further - why can’t people do all their transactions from the mobile without having to go to a government department? That is my hope,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Even though there is good cooperation between federal and local departments, the future is to work according to an integrated vision.

How Burj Khalifa was built

A child asked the question via video and Sheikh Mohammed recounted the story.

“I must explain that a master plan was brought to me, but it was not up to my expectations. One month later, they brought another master plan. That is when I told them that I need to create the world’s tallest building, water parks, hotels etc. I wanted to create a city within a city.

"Now it is one of the most beautiful parts of Dubai. For something that great it had to have the name of great people and that is why I called it Burj Khalifa.”

Risk appetite

Sheikh Mohammed said you cannot embark on any business without risk.

“Should we stand still because of risk? No. Life is all about challenges. How can we build our economy, create welfare of our people? You don’t stop flying because of a risk of crash? Challenge will always be there – they will never stop us. We stay positive and upbeat. Those who are determined can reach their goal.

Leadership inherited or learned?

Leadership is about innovation and sophisticated thinking and most leaders are born with this talent.

“However leadership should be polished and refined – and that needs education, communication and practice. Some people have the capability to tap their potential and become a leader, some fall short.”

Positive energy

In life there are two paths – one creates success and the other creates a loser. During my life time I have met many people with negative energy who make excuses and alibis. To a sunny day they will say, no it is cloudy or foggy without even opening the curtains to have a peek.

“If you are upbeat and positive, friendly and joyful, life is nicer, more sweet. I have come across countless challenges and in 41 years of leadership, I never gave up. You are the future generation. You should have the will and resolve and positive energy and spirit. You are the new leaders of the country.

“You are the power, the engine behind all these achievements. You are on the right path. Achieve your mission and serve your country,” Sheikh Mohammed told government employees.

“You all are leaders. You have to stimulate your staff. Government needs to empower, reward winners to instill competition.

Special sign

Asked what did the sign that His Highness gives after a victorious event mean, Sheikh Mohammed said he preferred to have his own symbol of victory that is the thumb and two adjacent fingers raised.

“Why do we have to follow the [Western] victory sign? We Arabs have a long and great history, and why can’t we be ground-breakers and innovators?”

To thunderous applause, Sheikh Mohammed explained that the three digit signal stood for ‘Victory’, ‘Triumph’ and ‘I love you’.

Care of elderly

Faced with a question from an old Emirati lady on why does she have to go to an office every six months to submit papers, Sheikh Mohammed instructed the Social and Welfare Minister to ensure old and handicapped need not make that effort. “Take care of old people,” he told the minister.

In response to another question, he ordered the Health Minister to have hospitals internationally accredited by the end of the year.

He also ordered the Education Minister to speed up the training of teachers.

The minister explained that 16 schools will start iPad classes this year and 100 schools next year. In four years all schools will be linked.

Meera’s school

Meera, a little school girl invited ‘Father Mohammed’ to her school.

Sheikh Mohammed instructed his staff to find out which school Meera went to and promised her that he is busy this week, but will visit her school on the first day of the next week.

Manage time

Asked how did he manage time, Sheikh Mohammed replied: You have 24 hours in a day. Older leaders know how to manage time, newer ones need to learn. “You cannot save or store time, it is like a river. You have to use it quickly, to act quickly to carry out your mission to your country, your people. But have time for your family, your hobbies. Be positive.

Targets achieved?

“We cannot stay still and do nothing. Achieving targets is an obligation of life. There is no finish line in the race for excellence and innovation. We want to be one of the best countries in the world. I sometimes feel uncomfortable while resting,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Endless energy

Asked how did he manage all he does and where does he get his energy from, Shiekh Mohammed said he believed in staying fit.

“Sport is very important. I walk 3km a day, once a week I do 10km and every 2 to 3 weeks I walk 20km. Sometimes I work while walking or horse-riding. You have to be active.

A leader has to be athletic. You cannot be laid-back or lazy.”


Asked about a possible reshuffle, His Highness said it will be done when there is need for it for the benefit of the country and the citizens. “I never hesitate to do what is needed.”

Role of women

“Starting from the President, this is a priority. Some 70 per cent of graduates are women; 65 per cent work in government; 30 per cent in leadership positions.

"In my office 85 per cent staff is women,” Sheikh Mohammed said while, in a lighter vein, pointing out that as women learn more and as the government has plans to promote women, men have to be very careful.

Ideas oasis

Sheikh Mohammed said not all ideas came from him alone.

“Many are brought to me by staff and people whom I meet. I go to locations and I listen. Ideas can come from anybody and everybody.

Arab Spring

On a question over Arab Spring, Sheikh Mohammed said he told Arab leaders during a lecture in Bahrain in 2004 that radical reform that would benefit citizens was needed. “I said change or be changed. I saw certain indicators that this would be coming. Citizens have to receive something. World will change. The people need dignity. I hope that the Arab nation could have prosperity, security, stability and progress.

Asked if UAE benefited from Arab Spring, Sheikh Mohammed said the UAE has invested far more in Arab Spring countries. “We in the UAE receive almost 10 million tourists. We have 10 strategic economic partners and none are from Arab Spring countries.

“We received some Dh30 billion from Arab Spring countries, but if there was peace and stability in those countries, we would have received more. Investment of UAE in those countries is much, much higher.”

UAE targets

Sheikh Mohammed said there are three key pillars to UAE policy – enabling people, education and emiratisation.

He asked the private sector – which has benefitted hugely from this country - to extend a helping hand; to make a contribution towards emiratisation.

A day in life

Answering a lady from Kuwait, Sheikh Mohammed said his life was very simple.

He likes to get up early at around 6am and after shower and prayers, he has breakfast with the family. After the family time, he likes to indulge in his hobbies such as motorbike or horse-riding or watch rabbits and gazelles. He then goes and visits friends, and sometimes goes with them to malls, restaurants or the beach or fishing.

“It’s a very simple life, but I’m quite happy with it.

Gulf Cup victory

Sheikh Mohammed explained how he watched the Gulf Cup final with his friends in a rest house. He was glued to the edge of his seat and was unhappy when the national team made mistakes.

But when they won, he jumped up with joy and hit a table. The national team, when they visited him, saw a bandaged finger.

Horseman, Poet, Leader

Sheikh Mohammed said he learnt a lot from horse-riding and advised a young boy to respect and obey his parents as a first step to becoming a disciplined horse-rider.

“If you love your horse, they reciprocate.”

His Highness said a poet is a sensitive soul who thinks through the heart and has the power to see what other people fail to see.

“Both horses and poetry have helped polish my sense of leadership.”

Role model

Sheikh Mohammed said “my model in life is Prophet Mohammed [PBUH].”

He said he learned a lot from late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

“When I was 6-year old, my father Sheikh Rashid used to take me to Europe and USA. He used to teach me when I was growing up.

“When the UAE was established, Sheikh Zayed used to take me when he visited overseas. I learned a lot from him. He would ask me questions. I would see how he dealt with other leaders and what he did. Sheikh Zayed was the best leader - I learned much more from him than from school. He advised me how to face challenges, meet people and politicians.

For example, when there was an Arab embargo on Egypt because of Camp David agreement, Sheikh Zayed told an angry Hafez Al Assad that Egypt had to be part of the Arab family. He insisted Egypt be re-integrated. Al Assad was angry, but Egypt was re-integrated.”

His Highness also recalled how during a GCC Heads of State meeting, it was very late; but he and General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, were kept back by Sheikh Zayed. They finally managed to ‘sneak’ away.

Next morning at breakfast, Sheikh Zayed spoke a poem on how one young Mohammed sneaked away with another Mohammed to a better company than that of an older man’s.

“By the time the breakfast was over, I spoke an answer poem to Sheikh Zayed that, the two Mohammeds had sneaked away to let him enjoy a better company than theirs.

“Sheikh Zayed was my leader, my model,” Sheikh Mohammed said to rapturous applause.


Asked how did he keep track of the government work, His Highness said there were several tools. Minister can track electronically the work, then there is the mystery shopper who keeps an eye on government, then audits are there and the Federal National Council is an effective control mechanism.

Spirit of the Union

His love for the nation was obvious when he was asked to explain what the Spirit of the Union meant to him.

“It is the ‘Soil of the Union’, the ‘Spirit of the Place and the Place of the Spirit’. Spirit of the Union means the team, Khalifa bin Zayed, the Flag of the UAE and the Community of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mohammed.