Different Dialogues : H. E. Mirza Al Sayegh

In conversation with His Excellency Mirza Hussain 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 Counsellor and Minister Plenipotentiary (Charge d’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, incase 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.

Geeta Chhabra

Geeta Chhabra Comment Form
Form a link. Comment inside the box below. Your views will be published in a coming edition.