On one of my last days in London I called on Mohammed Mandi Al-Tajir, who is not only Sheikh Rashid’s principal adviser but also the U.A.E.’s Ambassador to Great Britain and France. A Bahraini, he had begun his public career helping reorganize the Dubai customs office. He also went into private business—beginning in the gold trade and the idea to sell gold for cash. Today, according to London newspapers, he is one of the world’s wealthiest men.
His holdings included farms in France (“I love land”), London’s Park Tower Hotel, real estate in Paris, shares in African mines, an oil well in Texas (“400 barrels a day”), Wall Street stocks (“you should move things every day, buy and sell even if the profit is low, it’s the turnover that counts”), a new bank in the Cayman Islands, collections of pearls and Persian carpets (“I could stare at one for hours, they are so beautiful”). Of his six children, two sons attend Harrow; his daughter is at school in Surrey.
What Does It All Add Up To?
We strolled together over Dropmore, a 300-year-old estate he had just added to his collection of English country houses. There were great trees, a blue sky; far off, a jet climbed from Heathrow. For a time we walked in silence, the only sound the crunch of the gravel paths beneath our feet.
It had been 24 years since the Ambassador first came to London as a young student. Coal still heated most houses, and he remembered how when he came back to his lodgings “my shirt would always be sooty.” He came to love the city: its handsome buildings, its institutions, its public services, above all, the character of its people. It is, he said, the “capital of the world.” Now a part of it is his.
Mr. Al-Tajir’s career reminded me that in personal affairs, as in history, change is a constant. The ignorant sometimes learn; the poor become rich; the powerless, influential. It is a test of life, as old Shakhbut’s fate indicates, to come to terms with change; neither to hide from it, nor to waste too much time in protest.
As for the future, few undertake to make predictions when they concern the Arabian Peninsula or the international oil business. But the motives of the Arabs are easy to discern. As one Arab minister said: “Nobody cared about us before the oil came, nobody will care about us when it is gone.”