Different Dialogues : Interview 2017 with Extended & Enlarged Interviews of H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh – Director at the Office of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

During all my meetings with H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh, I make it a point to include in our discussion, topics of peace and tolerance.  Of course, education has always been on our agenda – even more so now, due to the generosity of Al Maktoum Foundation-Dubai sponsoring schools for the under-privileged children in India. I widely share with Mirza ji, the journeys – my Vanyatras which I undertake to the forest regions and other rural parts of India to see the functioning of EKAL schools located in remote places.  In fact, I had the privilege of presenting a photo album to him and to H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum at Zabeel Palace-Dubai on 8th March 2017.  The photos display kids with teachers at the various schools that are being sponsored by Al Maktoum Foundation-Dubai.  The founder of Al Maktoum Foundation is Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, himself, who started social projects, worldwide in the year 1997.     

I am ushered to the office in no time, to begin our interview at Mankhool, Dubai. H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh’s tentative smile to respond to my questions, encourages me to draw sensitive answers from him – regarding the tumultuous world of today which is riddled by poverty, divisions and conflict. I want to explore the realms of his wide experiences which have enriched his life through the extensive work being carried out by Al Maktoum Foundation.


In response to my queries, Mirza ji explains, ‘Al Maktoum Foundation is very dear to me. The Chairman of Al Maktoum Foundation, H.H Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum is a very dear boss. It is his organization, and he has trusted me to run it. Therefore, I must always rise up to his standards and hopes – whatever time it takes – day or night.’ He continues, ‘My trips abroad involve travelling longer distances and in distant and hard areas. But I know that these efforts pour in the heart and pockets of poor people, and my boss is happy to see this.’


On a level that is always optimistic each time I have had the opportunity to converse with H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh, what I derive are: multilayered lessons. These meetings coach me to widen my own horizon.  I see abundant loyalty and devotion of the best kind of a human – the kind who makes the world a better place through the commands of his ‘boss.’ Wow!


Here I must mention that it is by sheer virtue of my association with H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh, (who is Director at Ruler’s Office) that I nurture recollections of my memorable visits to Zabeel Palace in Dubai. It is here, I have witnessed social events which have repeatedly taught me the multilayered lessons. As a commoner, I have been privileged to see a leader from royalty showing to the general public the true role of a leader.  At these junctures, I have realized more and more the dynamic qualities of H.H Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  He continues to perform his duties according to his own convictions: intelligently and willingly.   There is no doubt that he is admired and loved by one and all.  I have felt the wave of gratitude leaping from the hearts of many students to whom I have spoken.

For example, Afra Mohammed Al Mulla and Sarah Al Hashimi were both telling me how the programs of Al Maktoum Foundation have touched their lives.  Afra Mohammed Al Mulla had just returned after visiting schools in Kenya where Al Maktoum Foundation is changing the lives of people in Africa.  She travelled with her batch of 10 girl students and 3 teachers to see how the kids from Nairobi, Sudan and other places were benefitting in those high schools.


Afra Mohammed Al Mulla says, ‘Sheikh Hamdan is giving opportunity to the under-privileged kids in those schools in Kenya.  The one week trip taught me not to take things for granted, appreciate the things I already have.’


I asked Afra Mohammed Al Mulla, ‘How do you hold the image of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum in your mind?’  Prompt came the reply, ‘Sheikh Hamdan empowers women.  He is unique and very strong in it.  He believes in us.  He is like a father figure – who we respect and thank.’    


Sarah Al Hashimi, too, is also all praise for H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.  I am meeting Sarah, perhaps, for the third time, over the last few years.  She is excited to tell what she has gained from Al Maktoum Foundation.  She beams, saying, ‘As a student, I enrolled for the winter and summer school Dundee program in 2013 and 2014.  As a Chaperon, I got the chance of leading the students.  Travelling to Scotland gave us a different experience, and the gains in Dundee were that I gained confidence in public-speaking.  I also gained fluency in English.  I am lucky to be born here in the UAE.’ 


Those are the happy remembrances originating from Zabeel Palace – which brings me joy to retain.  But, what about the rest of the world torn by conflict of many sorts?  

As I am jotting down the gist of the interview, I am solemn-eyed trying to grapple with the conditions in those parts of the world where illiteracy and intolerance have created havoc for people. Why is it so? Why should it be so? How will all this end?  These are my next questions on the agenda.


As the pall of gloom is about to get the better of me, H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh’s calm voice responds.  He replies. ‘Last week, I was in Ethiopia where we have built 2 schools.  I went to see the functioning of those schools.  I was asked the same question.  What question?  Do you build, when you build the schools – are you building for Muslims?  I tell them – Look, I am in the middle of the locality of an area called Ayaat in Addis Ababa which comprises of 100 buildings and houses.  Do you want me to knock at every door to ask people if they are Muslims, Christians, Hindus?  The person answers back to me – but they (the kids) are coming to you.  My reply to this person is, do you still want me to ask the same question to these children? Sorry, I am not going to do that.  I want them to have an equal opportunity to enter our schools and get the right education as per the government rules. Thank God for our rulers who know the importance of education.  Our nation also went through the period when education was lacking, but our leaders have changed all that.’ 


As I heard Mirza ji’s narration, I marveled at the noble vision of Al Maktoum Foundation.  If this attitude of treating the globe as “one-family” was to spread across to other parts of the world, there would be no hatred or intolerance, or, any other type of darkness in the life of any person. If only!


A second round of beverages makes me enjoy the flavor of cardamoms brewed in the hot liquid of the Arabic tea… a cup of it is always a welcoming proposal.


Meanwhile, I have profited from the wisdom of Mirza ji’s narrations. Mirza ji’s words are based on real life’s experiences, and those experiences will always carry an eternal value.


I ask Mirza ji to give his views on the Indo-UAE ties.  In his earlier years, he was posted in Mumbai and New Delhi, and knew the region.   


He adds, ‘Two things have happened in the last year. The visit of India’s Prime Minister – Mr. Narendra Modi to Dubai, and, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, going as the Chief Guest to participate for the Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi in January 2017. These events represent a great start and a turnover to an even better, greater horizon for UAE and India.’


As much as I have enjoyed the interview, I am also happily thinking of the flag of Al Maktoum Foundation flying high in some of the remotest parts of India.  The radiant light of education via Al Maktoum Foundation has already reached a number of Indian villages.  


I remember another unforgettable incident when I had enquired from Mirza ji if Al Maktoum Foundation preferred to sponsor EKAL schools in any particular region to give priority to Muslim communities.  Then, too, his answer was crystal clear and straight: ‘Education is our priority.  Education for the kids in India.’  


In the race for excellence, there is no doubt that the leaders of UAE have carved their names in gold.  Indeed, they have!


Interview with Extended & Enlarged Interview of H.E. Mirza Al Sayegh-Director of the Office of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.


Educational Background: Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (UK Programme) London.  BA in Business Administration from University of Jordan.


Professional Background: Deputy Chairman of numerous companies both in UAE and overseas.  In 1983, Mirza Al Sayegh took charge of investment affairs of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Government of Dubai.  In 1979, he represented the UAE on the Political Committee of the United National General Assembly session.  In 1976, Mirza Al Sayegh was appointed as Counselor and Minister Plenipotentiary (Charged’ affairs) UAE Embassy, London.  In 1974, he was Head of UAE Consular Mission in Bombay.   In 1973, he was elected as Third Secretary, and subsequently First Secretary, at the UAE Embassy in New Delhi, India.  In 1971, he was appointed as Third Secretary and Head of Information and Translation Section, Political Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abu Dhabi.


It is a kind of a wonderous ever-flowing chapter – the glorious growth of U.A.E.  Several factors have worked collectively for the success of U.A.E.  All the factors embody the essence that the royal families of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have proven to be visionary leaders – this process is continual.  The rulers are dynamic – encouraging development of their people, and developing a multi-cultural bonding amongst nations, additionally.  This is my strong impression which was further enhanced when I got the good opportunity to speak with H. E. Mirza Hussain Al Sayegh.


One morning, in Dubai at the office of Al Maktoum Charity Foundation – when I was learning about H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh’s background – two specific features ran predominantly in our discussion.  The first was the friendly cross-link ties between UAE and India.  The second was the phases of creation of Al Maktoum Charity Foundation.  Both the features gather closeness with H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh’s own life.  Personally, for me, it was an appropriate moment to present my coffee table book: An Indian Ode To The Emirates, containing 40 poems celebrating the 40 years of UAE’s Union, last year.  As he took the bi-lingual (English-Arabic) book in his hands, he beamed and said, ‘Respect for Indians has never changed.  We admire Indians.  Our history of friendship goes back a long way’.  He paused and then he continued to demonstrate the beautiful proof of his statement.  ‘In 1987, His Royal Highness, Sheikh Hamdan got married.  Before his marriage, at the time when invitations were about to go, His Royal Highness called me and said: You know your people – your Indian people.  Go and get me the list of prominent Indian people.  So, I along with Khalil Ali Sayegh got 60 names.  When we brought the names, H. H. Sheikh Hamdan wanted us to check for more, in case we had left some people out.  We went again and came back.  This went on and on.’  H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh kept smiling and continued, ‘Now, with his kind nature, H. H. Sheikh Hamdan expanded the list of 120 to the spouses.  Soon, the word had gone everywhere.  Sheikh Hamdan personally signed the invitations, a total of 1000 Indian guests.  That showed the royal family’s love for the Indians.  If I have it right, many more in numbers came for the wedding.  There were really so many and I shook hands with those Indians without cards!  Those are the days of our ties’.


As I sat there on this quiet hour listening about the spirited wedding, I could well imagine the scene of bustle and affection among the Indians and Emiratis.  What started on a smaller scale and would grow so much today is thoroughly heartening to any individual who cherishes harmony.  On the next note, we began with the nature of Al Maktoum Charity Foundation.  In 2005, when the Foundation’s Board of Trustees was formed, it was at this time that H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh was appointed as the Deputy Chairman.  This organization was set up in 2002 by H. H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, the Patron of Al Maktoum Foundation.


H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh fondly recalls, ‘To help in the cause of our charity work, when we started sending sewing machines to Tanzania, and other places, someone said it was better still if we send textiles along with the sewing machines.  Narain Sawlani’s name came up and when he was approached, Narain Sawlani was willing to give the textile material.  There are good, helpful Indian people.  Hemchand Bhatia is another name.’


By the interview, in steps, I learnt about the growth of Al Maktoum Charity – which promotes knowledge, thus, making continual bridges of brotherhood and peace.  Educational programmes are diverse sprouting job opportunities for students who avail of the opportunity.  H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh explained in length and remarked, ‘When, at one point, Sheikh Hamdan was asked about the 43 schools running in Africa under the support of Al Maktoum Foundation, His Highness said that he wanted ONE friend in every school.  So you see, he is building bridges of love… every year building 3 to 4 schools.  Even before the start of Al Maktoum Charity Foundation, Sheikh Hamdan has been spreading the philosophy of philanthropy – randomly and indulgently’.  I was touched by the Al Maktoum Foundation’s motto: Giving Without Limits!  And how well the belief is advancing… I was thinking to myself.


The charity works in 26 countries.  The functions classified are in fields of health, religion (Islam), water-wells, relief work; the majority of donations are for educational purpose.  Education Institutions are in Ireland, Detroit, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania and Holland.


As this interview goes online, I must mention that by a blessed chance, only some days back, I witnessed at the Zabeel Palace – an amazing knowledge-gaining-ceremony dedicated to enhance the horizon of Emirati-girl-students.  A batch of eager students was due to travel to Dundee (Scotland) for Academic Training Programme – which will cover: Civilization Dialogue, Woman in Islam, Leadership Management and other features of global interests.  What’s the most impressive thing I observed as a commoner was that His Royal Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in rapt attention was completely devoted in listening to the students’ addresses.  Later, when I spoke to two students travelling to Dundee, they had praises after praises for Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum for giving them the opportunity of international connectivity.


H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh’s interview lasted as a window of a rich river flowing… the river became two perennial streams… the streams never lost the essence of past and present times.  He also revealed a personal chapter of Al Sayegh family.  ‘I was born in Dubai, in the old souk area, near the Jama Mosque.  In those days, it was the international hub.  My father’s name was Hussain… Hussain Al Sayegh.  He was a teacher and in his childhood (mid 1940’s) he was travelling on a ship which sunk in Gulf waters.  He was hit by a rusty nail in the hip.  He required surgery.  For that, my father went to Mumbai.  The treatment prolonged and he stayed in his family home in Byculla, Bombay (Mumbai).  My father’s uncles – three of them had migrated to India in 1930’s.  Those uncles died and are buried in Mumbai.  Now their grand-children are back in Dubai.  In later years of January 1973, when I was working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abu Dhabi, I was called by the Director of the Ministry to tell me that he had selected me to go to India and he (the Director) wished that the offer should be accepted by me.  I said to the Director that because of my family’s affiliation with India, I was loving the idea and this was my dream.  The department was swift in winding up all my dues, even setting another replacement!  The Director asked me whether I knew why I was being sent to India.  He told me that Swaran Singh (Indian Minister of Foreign affairs) was coming to UAE, and at some point UAE Ambassador to India was also coming with Swaran Singh to UAE.  Therefore, they needed to tie up all these programmes of their itineraries and I would handle this responsibility’.


H. E. Mirza Al Saygeh continued with his narration, thus: ‘In the months that followed, while sitting in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Vice-President of UAE, told me that there was so much work to be done in India, and I must continue staying here.  I told His Highness promptly and happily that this was another dream of mine!  So this is how my connection kept growing with India and Indians.  For that matter, I must also mention a name… the name of Ambassador George Joseph.  He played a very good role to amalgamate some work over here.  When a decree was passed by our rulers that every nationality can have one business council, India consolidated her business councils into IBPC (Indian Business & Professional Council) in Dubai’.


After an important and short interruption, H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh looked at me and said, ‘You know, my father went to a Parsi school in Byculla, and learnt English and Persian.  Later, when he came back to Dubai, he opened his own school.  My father came back from India to Dubai to open his school in 1948.  He stayed associated with the school till 1957.  He was Chief Accountant in Pepsi Cola Company, owned by his ex-student Juma Al Majid’.


Between our varied topics, there were a couple of nostalgic remembrances which H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh shared light-heartedly.  ‘The yogurt of Byculla was famous.  It was set so firmly and in such a way that the shopkeeper could actually slice it.’  To that, I responded, ‘Your Excellency, you mean the way bread is sliced?’  He replied, ‘Exactly… exactly’.


For my readers, I owe an explanation on the locality of Byculla.  Byculla is a neighbourhood in South Mumbai.  There was a Portuguese King whose name was King Byculla and he was the owner of this land in some old period, hence, the name Byculla.  During the late 18th century, Byculla was an extension of Mazagaon, one of the seven islands that originally formed the city of Mumbai.  The Byculla railway station was completed by 1857.  This was also the time the first mills came into this area; until then, Byculla was chiefly for residential purposes.  Traditionally, Byculla has been inhabited by Parsis, Christians, Hindus and Muslims.  Byculla, like many other locations of Mumbai, witnessed a scene of cross-cultural exchange as it was inhabited by various types of communities, including the Maharashtrians who are the locals.  Byculla is also home of the Byculla vegetable and flower market.


As we were concluding our dialogue, I asked H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh, ‘What is your message to my readers?’  He was instant in replying, ‘Knowledge and learning is the only weapon that we can carry to a wider scope of understanding and relationships.  Our noble holy Quran orders Muslims to communicate with others to foster peace and understanding between peoples – speaking different tongues.  On an individual level, because of my work at Maktoum Foundation, understanding people is utmost.  When Sheikh Hamdan’s goals cure illness and educate the illiterate – that gives me contentment and satisfaction’.


The Arabic tea and the dates were great.  The dialogue with H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh was warm and refreshing.  Moments later, I had walked out in the sun towards my car, wearing a happy cap displaying the name of Al Maktoum Charity Foundation.


Q 1.  What has been the turning point of your life?
A. The turning point of my life was the day when I was about to join an oil company.  On this very day, I happened to meet a friend as I was going to the office.  You see, I had freshly graduated – I was among the 30 graduates from the entire Emirate region – in 1971.  My friend told me to drop the idea of this job and think of my future to be a part of the first batch of diplomats to represent my country.  I took heed of my friend’s words.  There has been no looking back, and that was indeed the turning point of my life.


Q 2.  If you could go back in time, what would you want to do?
A. I am happy in what I have been doing – especially with my fortunate relation / association with His Royal Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Maktoum family – led by His Royal Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Q 3.  What are your future dreams?

A. Like any Emirati citizen, I want peace and prosperity for my beloved country.  I also wish that the wisdom-filled policies of my rulers spread peace, tolerance and understanding in other nations.  After all, UAE is a prime example of harmony where people of hundreds of nationalities come to work and grow.


Extended & Enlarged Version of Mirza Al Sayegh’s Interview - Director of the Office of H. H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.


Educational Background: Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Southern California (UK Programme) London.  BA in Business Administration from University of Jordan.


Professional Background: Deputy Chairman of numerous companies both in UAE and overseas.  In 1983, Mirza Al Sayegh took charge of investment affairs of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Government of Dubai.  In 1979, he represented the UAE on the Political Committee of the United National General Assembly session.  In 1976, Mirza Al Sayegh was appointed as Counselor and Minister Plenipotentiary (Charged’ affairs) UAE Embassy, London.  In 1974, he was Head of UAE Consular Mission in Bombay.   In 1973, he was elected as Third Secretary, and subsequently First Secretary, at the UAE Embassy in New Delhi, India.  In 1971, he was appointed as Third Secretary and Head of Information and Translation Section, Political Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abu Dhabi.


Q 1.  In your view, what is most important in life?  Accordingly, name three aspects, important in life.

A. There are many things that are equally important.  Family, business, hobbies are important in their own way.  Similarly, friendships and the right kind of connectivity can be most vital.  One thing, that may not give us ‘visible’ returns like a business venture can – is devotion to community.  What I feel is that, devotion to community is really special and priceless.  We cannot put any value because the satisfaction that can be derived from the act is immeasurable.  Plus, our belief that God will one day give us the reward for our kind approach – is priceless, too.


Q 2.  If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?

A. I will tell you one thing.  None of us are authorized to choose our destiny.  Our destiny is planned by the Gracious Power.  It’s another matter that the same Force is ‘personalized’ by different individuals in a different way.  So, really what I am doing now, I would be doing, otherwise, too. What Allah has planned for me, I am following. I am happy with what I am doing.  Of course, I must enhance my journey by giving my best, doing the best during the course of my journey.


Q 3.  What motivates you to achieve your goal?

A. Everybody should have a goal in life.  My targets are clear to me.  I want to play my part in doing the best I can for my country because I love my country.  I respect the leaders of my country who have toiled to bring the nation to such great heights.  Hence, my deep loyalty comes for my leaders from the inner depths of my heart.  My other goal is to guide my family with my keen guidance.  I want my children to be examples of good citizens, responsible citizens. 


Q 4.  How do you handle stress and pressure?

A. What is the need for stress and pressure? Life is so short – we should not go into stress and pressure.  If the stress is coming from work – one can reorganize things. Money, it goes and comes. I think, for these reasons life cannot be wasted away in negativity. We all know that stress is negative. Of course, the loss of a dear one can cause stress and sadness.  But, then, you have to understand that this is the way of the Gracious Power, it is all in His hands, hands of Allah. One has to find solace, somehow. By being in our family’s warmth and affection, we can make stress ‘evaporate’.


Q 5.  Which of your qualities would you want to pass down to your child/children?

A.  Helping others is very important.  As I said earlier, the devotion to community is vital.  All those who require help – we should help them.  That’s a quality I would want to pass down to my children. The other quality is that they become self-sufficient, self-reliant by their own competence.


Q 6.  Who is your favourite author?  Which book of your favourite author have you enjoyed the best?

A. It is not so much the authors, as much as the subjects that will draw my mind towards them.  Often, I will see the title of the book, and pick it up.  That’s how I am. 


Q 7.  What are you pursuing currently, by the way of a light hobby, or by the way of a serious goal?

A. I have several hobbies.  I like to watch and keep track of sports, like tennis, football, cricket.  I like reading.  Equestrian-related-sports are a great source of interest to me.  By the way of a serious goal, Al Maktoum Foundation is a concentrated goal for me… a goal for expansion.  We want to make it bigger and bigger.  I will travel to see its expansion. 


Q 8.  In the last 1 year, is your particular goal advancing?  Which is that goal/dream?

A. Yes, goals are advancing.  Al Maktoum Foundation is on my priority.  I want to travel to see it grow.  The same applies to my business interests.


The diarist, Geeta Chhabra, took the interviews in April 2013 & March 2015 for www.geetachhabra.com