FactCheck Social Media

Dubai sheikh’s words lost in translation with viral quote

2021-04-26 17:23:48

The Statement

A Facebook post features a quote that is attributed to the late ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

The post by a Papua New Guinea page features a picture of a sheikh sitting outdoors. The accompanying text says that when Sheikh Rashid was once asked about the future of his country, he replied: “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son rides a Land Rover, and my grandson is going to ride a Land Rover, but my great-grandson is going to have to ride a camel again.”

The text continues: “‘Why is that’, he was asked? And his reply was — ‘Hard times create strong men, strong men create easy times. Easy times create weak men, weak men create difficult times. Many will not understand it but you have to raise warriors, not parasites.'”

At the time of writing, the April 14 post had generated more than 1400 shares and 2.3 million views. The much-repeated text has also been shared and viewed thousands of times by other Facebook users.

A Facebook post
 A post features quotes that it claims are by Dubai’s founder, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. 

The Analysis

Parts of the purported quote have been widely attributed to Dubai’s late ruler but that phrasing has been mixed with a passage from a science fiction novel to distort its meaning in the viral post.

Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (1912-1990) was the former prime minister of the United Arab Emirates who ruled the emirate of Dubai until his death. He has been called the “father of modern Dubai” and is credited with leading development of the city.

The first half of the post’s quote, beginning with “my grandfather rode a camel”, has often been attributed to the sheikh.

Graeme Wilson, who has written several books on prominent Middle Eastern figures including a biography of Sheikh Rashid, told AAP FactCheck the sheikh’s son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who died last month, had confirmed that his father told the anecdote about the camel.

“This was first relayed to me by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum about 1988, and many years later I heard the same thing from George Chapman, who was Sheikh Rashid’s shipping adviser,” Wilson said in an email.

“Sheikh Hamdan’s telling was in the context of his father telling the ‘Camelot’ Majlis (advisory meetings), this is what we are trying to avoid, going back to a camel, so this is why we have to plough everything we have and more into development.”

The quote is often cited in articles, profiles and books in reference to the sheikh’s desire to diversify Dubai’s economy as the emirate’s wealth was built on dwindling oil reserves. While the United Arab Emirates is among the world’s 10 largest oil producers, the vast majority is found in Abu Dhabi.

However, the same quote about grandparents and camels was also attributed to the late Saudi Arabian politician Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani as early as 1986, according to Oxford Essential Quotations.

The photo that appears alongside the post’s text is not of the late Sheikh Rashid but of his son and current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

The same quotes as those appearing in the post have previously been wrongly attributed in other viral posts to Sheikh Mohammed, who was falsely said to have made the comments in a 2014 BBC interview.

The second half of the quote, beginning “hard times create strong men”, has no identifiable connection to the sheikh and instead can be traced to the 2016 science fiction title Those Who Remain: A Postapocalyptic Novel by G. Michael Hopf.

The quote, found on page 20 of the print edition, is by the character “Gordon” and reads in full: “I’ve lived a long time and seen a lot of s***. In my latter years, I’ve become somewhat of a philosopher and this is one truth that is undisputable. Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”

The “hard times” quote has been cited in several articles (here, here and here) as being by Hopf and not Sheikh Rashid. The quote has also been used unattributed in memes since at least 2016, while the earliest examples linked to Sheikh Rashid appear to be in social media posts from early 2021.

According to Wilson, the “hard times” part of the quote does not sound like the late sheikh.

“I never met him, but my understanding is Sheikh Rashid did not speak like that,” he told AAP FactCheck.

The final line of the post’s quote, “Many will not understand it but you have to raise warriors, not parasites”, surfaces in social media posts from January attributing the words to Sheikh Rashid or his son. There is no evidence to link either man to that section of the quote.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
 Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the son of the late Sheikh Rashid. 

The Verdict

The quote beginning “my grandfather rode a camel” has been widely attributed to the late Sheikh Rashid of Dubai. His biographer told AAP FactCheck the sheikh’s his son repeated the anecdote to him in the context of a discussion about Dubai’s oil reserves and future economic needs, not in the context implied by the post.

The second half of the purported quote concerning “hard times” first appears in a 2016 science-fiction novel and cannot be traced to the sheikh, while there is also no evidence that he is the source of the last line in the post.

The man pictured in the post is not Sheikh Rashid but his son and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

Partly False – Content that has some factual inaccuracies.

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