Sheikh Mohammed’s interview with CNN
Erin Burnett: I began by asking the Sheikh if his ambition of Dubai has changed since the real estate crisis.
Sheikh Mohammed: I don't call it crisis, it is a challenge. This is a challenge you know. All good leaders are there when things are alright. But it takes a good leader at a crisis like that.
Erin Burnett: What about the real estate market here? Is the Europeans crisis affecting Dubai?
Sheikh Mohammed: Of course, I mean, even the American crisis or the European crisis, they are affecting the market. But we are here better than anywhere else, we got out of the crises and now we are back building again. But just to remind you, at the time of the crisis, we completed the tallest building, the metro and the Meydan project, all during the crisis, all the big project we have not stopped. We only stopped, for a year or two, some projects that were on the paper.
Erin Burnett: What is your view of the Arab Spring?
Sheikh Mohammed: I have said in 2004, I said please change or you will be changed.
Erin Burnett: You are talking about Arab governments.
Sheikh Mohammed: The Arab governments; the Arab Spring is [about] the people who have waited for a long time (for change to happen) and some governments are serving themselves and not their people who want to work.
Erin Burnett: Some people have said they're worried that Egypt, which is so important to the Arab World, could become like Iran. Do you have that fear at all?
Sheikh Mohammed: No, I don't. Because Egypt has a very strong army watching what is happing and giving the lead for these parties.
Erin Burnett: And what about in Syria, what do you think is going to happen in Syria?
Sheikh Mohammed: I think Syria is more complicated than Egypt or Libya because they have Iraq behind them, they have Lebanon, they have Hezbollah, you know, all that. So it is the same as everywhere else; their people want jobs, they want opportunities and they ask me for it; unless Bashar [Al Assad] changes and start making things good for the people, they will carry on like that.
Erin Burnett: Or he'll go, if he doesn't change?
Sheikh Mohammed: Yeah.
Erin Burnett: The idea about the Emirates is different, you have accomplished things that other countries have not, but it is not a democracy either, so explain how it works.
Sheikh Mohammed: We are, you know, tribes, we must save our people, we must get the education, the universities, the hospitals, housing and no tax here and the government has the wealth to spend on the people.
Erin Burnett: No tax! A lot of people on the street love that, "So what do you like about Dubai?" "No tax, no tax!"
Sheikh Mohammed: Yeah, no tax and the government is working, like today in the cabinet, we made the program, we have our vision and we're going through it. We are achieving that vision, you know, the dream. We are getting there. Here, it is different. Here, where everybody can come to the ruler and say, well I didn't get this or that, or this department or this ministry didn't give me my right.
Erin Burnett: They come to you?
Sheikh Mohammed: They come to me.
Erin Burnett: And they directly ask you, you didn't do this or I want that and then you have to answer to individual person.
Sheikh Mohammed: Yes, and he will complain about one ministry, so I will get hold of the minister and ask him why you didn't do your job. So, transparency here is more.
Erin Burnett: There were five activists recently here in the UAE, some of them dissidents, a blogger; they were sentenced to two or three years in jail, they were pardoned on National Day. Amnesty international is calling them the UAE 5, how did that happen? Because in my understanding is that one of them was saying that all of the free things in UAE, the free health care, the free education, no taxes, he said it was "buying off the people" trying to give them money so they're happy, so they don't demand change like in Egypt or like in Syria. So what's your view of what happened and whether it is ok to say something like that here?
Sheikh Mohammed: If you are a criminal, you'll go to court, you know. Not everybody is really perfect, and we are not perfect, you know. We are doing a lot for our people with still more to do. So, we hope all these five also will become better citizens for their own good and for their people.
Erin Burnett: This just leads to the question of one thing over the year that covering the UAE, people would say the press isn't totally free, people can't really say everything that they think. Do you think that that's part of how, in this society, you need to govern?
Sheikh Mohammed:As long as they don't say something wrong about a person or whatever it is they can say anything they want. As I told you, we are not perfect we are still learning, we are trying to do our job right, and we are trying to help our people. We have our own democracy; you can't transfer your democracy to us. We differ, for example, our democracy is coming from the Qur'an and as long as you don't step on somebody else, you are free to do what you like.
Erin Burnett: When people look at you, they say ok, your family has ruled Dubai for 200 years, your son Hamdan will rule after you, father to son, will that continue forever, do you think?
Sheikh Mohammed: As long as the people want that. Our tribe is really ruling bigger tribes because they [are] accepting us to do so.
Erin Burnett: So do you think that there will be more countries where the governments fall in the Arab Spring?
Sheikh Mohammed: I think this period of time, you know, every 100 years this might happen again. Yes, you have to be careful. You don't know what is happening here and there. But I think the Gulf is safe? for the time being.
Erin Burnett: The issue I'm curious about with welfare system. It is an amazing thing to have free health care, free education and no tax. It is a good thing, but it also sometimes could be not a good thing because maybe people are a little complacence or they get a little bit lazy because they know someone was going to take care of them, so instead of starting a new business or working really hard, they know that there is a safety net there. Do you ever worry about that?
Sheikh Mohammed: Not really, because this is only the basic. People want more, want a better life, they want a better job; so they have to work harder.
Erin Burnett: So, Dubai's had some problems. But you are going ahead. So you are showing people that you could take risks, you can have failures, you can stand up and keep going.
Sheikh Mohammed:Yes, and don't stop when somebody doubts you. Once you make up your mind then go full speed. And that's what we think. That's what we believe and that's what is going to happen. I'm not looking for the last spring; I'm looking for the next spring.
Erin Burnett: Is Iran a bigger threat now than it was a few years ago?
Sheikh Mohammed: Iran is our neighbor, they are Muslim and we lived next to each other for thousands and thousand years. I don't believe that Iran will get a nuclear weapon, I don't think so. What can Iran do with the nuclear weapon? Will they hit Israel? How many Palestinian will die? And do you think if Iran hit Israel, Iran will be safe? They will be gone the next day.Tuesday, December 6, 2011