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17 March, 2005

Open desert, closed city part II

Delving into UAE history, we can find other examples of remarkably progressive men. One was Shaikh Mani bin Rashid, a pearl merchant who travelled to India and had friends in Kuwait and Bahrain, described as a "moderniser" by Lienhardt and an "enlightened philanthropist" by Michael Field in his book The Merchants: The Big Business Families of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

In the 1930s, Mani had his young daughter taught to read and write, a very rare thing for women. Lienhardt claims that this accomplishment was "lacked by any of the other shaikhly ladies of Dubai" even in the 1960s. The official website of Dubai's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed describes Mani as "one of the most educated men in Dubai" before the second world war:

"Sheikh Mani was a major participant in the Ruler’s Majlis and played an important part in Dubai’s fledgling education system in the 1930s. Considered something of an intellectual, Sheikh Mani was informally given the portfolio of education. As Minister of Education, he used his office to develop the schooling system by cajoling local individuals and enterprises into offering the same sort of financial assistance that had been seen before the Great Depression."

Mani formed a reformist party that made several successful demands on the ruling sheikh, including a consultative and legistlative council that would control state revenues, a formal court of law, and a modern schools system. Sadly, some of this early progress met a sorry end when Mani's party was defeated in the Dubai-Deira conflict of 1940.

But is notable that even in the days long before oil, women's education and democracy were not alien notions in Dubai.



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