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Thursday, April 09, 2009

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I have visited labor camps in Dubai on several occasions. I figured out that this would the most appropriate way to separate the facts from the fiction in the stories I have been reading. In short, the living conditions in the camps were adequate. All of them were equipped to allow a decent stay for laborers and they all were in a far better condition than the ones I visited in other countries. The main issue was the lack of space where for example a room for 6 had 10 workers or even more. This however was a temporary condition due to lack of availability and it was always a matter of weeks before you could see these laborers moving to new bigger camps. The issue of availability was common for all expats: When I first moved to Dubai, apartments were thin so I had to share a villa with others and wait 6 months till new apartments were ready for rent. That's the situation from my perspective. If you, however ask the workers about how they feel, their answer would be different: they consider their living conditions to be quite good as most of them come from the poorest parts in Asia where as you know, the most basic living requirements are not available due to extreme poverty. In these camps, you will find proper sanitation and the laborers do get 3 meals a day and are paid 10 times higher than what they get back home. You need to keep in mind however that unlike Sheikh Mohammed have been portrayed lately in the media, the man is not an emperor who owns Dubai. He is the ruler of Dubai and Dubai is a liberal city where many local and international companies operate, recruit and manage their own labor force. This means that there may be possible cases where the workers are abused by one of these companies without the government of the UAE being aware of it. In 2006, Sheikh Mohamed issued directives to penalize any company that exploits or abuses workers, yet, this will not exclude the possibility of such incidents taking place especially in camps owned by smaller companies. Earlier this year, Sheikh Mohamed issued new directives to accelerate the improvement of these camps and I have been hearing that the situation has in fact improved dramatically as strict regulations have been set.

On a separate note, I decided last year to volunteer with Dubai Cares, a very young organization conceived and launched by Sheikh Mohamed aiming at providing primary education to underprivileged children around the world and providing them with a sustainable and improved quality of life. Dubai Cares is the “baby” of Sheikh Mohammed and is managed very closely by him. This organization therefore is a true reflection of how this man thinks and acts. I first took part of 3 successive events to renovate a school for orphans in the Emirates. Since the first event I attended, I realized how uncommonly serious this organization was in delivering results and inflicting change. For perspective, I have worked previously with some of the foremost philanthropic organizations around the world. Dubai Cares was different. Like the rest of institutions in the UAE, it reflected how this country operates: first set a bold vision then work relentlessly and assiduously to achieve it by assigning the work to the best and the brightest. The achievements of Dubai cares have been phenomenal: launched in late 2007, Dubai Cares “has reached more than 4 million children in 20 countries. It is currently building and renovating 2,072 schools, training 22,370 teachers, helping establish 3,157 Parent Teacher Associations, creating 489 libraries and distributing 1.3 million books written in the local languages of the countries in which they are distributed”!! Just a couple of months ago Sheikh Mohamed asked Dubai Cares to react to the massacres in Gazaa. In less than a week, an event was organized during which 200,000 hygiene and school kits were assembled by 8,000 volunteers and sent to the children of Gazaa.

Dubai Cares is just one example of Sheikh Mohamed local and international honorable contributions to humanity such as the 10Bn $ endowment he created for promoting higher education in the Arab world, his resolution on a green energy city, his support to Arab and non-Arab small-business entrepreneurs, his unconditional support to organizations for autistic children and for the disabled, his work on improving the labor laws and cancelling the “ban” system and his truly exceptional role his in promoting the role of women in the Arab world. You will be amazed to see the very senior roles that women occupy in the UAE. Just recently, Reem Al Hashmi, a 29 year-old Harvard grad with an exceptional career track, was appointed as a minister of state in the UAE cabinet. Reem does not come from the royal family. She's a self-made woman who proved to be an exceptional talent and was then appointed a minister.

I can write many more pages about Sheikh Mohammed’s accomplishments. I only wrote about him because he’s the man being bashed lately by the British media. I can also write tens of pages about the virtues and the profound characters of Sheikh Zayed or Sheikh Mohamed ben Zayed or Sheikh Khalifa ben Zayed. And these leaders are no exception because as you live in the UAE you realize that these character traits belong to most Emirati men and women you meet: courageous, tolerant, good-hearted, generous and visionary. This is the heritage of the people of this nation.

When you visit Emirates Towers in Dubai, you will often see Sheikh Mohammed passing by, walking alone with no bodyguards around him. You can approach him, talk to him and entertain with him a casual discussion. You can also see him driving his own car in Dubai, alone, unattended. How much trust a man has to have in his people and in the people residing in his country not fear anyone for his life? Is it how a dictator or a righteous man would behave?

Finally, all of you reading the sleaze in the articles that were lately published please take some time to examine with a critical eye what’s been said. If my words are not enough, please buy the latest book published by Sheikh Mohamed, “Poems from the Desert” as it reveals the very essence of this man. The following is an excerpt of the foreword written by Paulo Coelho in the book. Paulo Coelho is one of the most accomplished thinkers and writers in modern literature, a man, I believe, is far more credible than fame-seekers and sleaze-sellers like J. Harry. Therefore, if you don’t find credibility in my words, please read his:

“Ortega and Gasset once wrote: “I am myself and my circumstances”. I knew the moment I laid my hands on the collection of poems by His Highness that I was in front of a testimony from a political, public figure but also in front of a human being – with all his passions and yearnings. [...]

What an act of courage – I said to myself while turning the pages of this book – to present his soul bare to the world. Poetry is a mirror that reveals, without concessions, the very essence of a human being. And here I am reading the words of a man that has to play in the political arena, of a man that – by the necessities of his position – has always to be temperate and to reconcile. […]

Writing is an act of courage. But it’s worth taking the risk, and His Highness’s poems help us to understand better the soul of a man and the heritage of the nation.”

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