In a period of decline, war and extremism, the Sheikh of Dubai paints a picture of a better Arabia. Prince Hamdan displays his ideal world on Instagram – a world in which probably every Arab would like to live. He can be seen playing with his nephew Mohammad on the beach, sometime he goes falcon hunting with his family, cuddles baby tigers, holds newborn foals in his arms, or lugs cement blocks in competitions with muscle men.
The man with the long name – Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum – is 33, single and the Crown Prince of Dubai. His posting of more than 1500 photos has clearly hit a nerve – some 3.5 million Internet users have already subscribed to his photo show. This is more than twice as many as those following the British royals William, Kate and Harry, on their Kensingtonroyal platform. Among the world’s political decision-makers, only American President Barack Obama has more subscribers. “Every image has a story and every story contains a moment that I would like to share with you,” announces Hamdan under his Instagram pseudonym “faz3.”
The Sheikh presents himself as a representative of a new generation of rich Arabs, who avoid scandals and hearken back to Islamic values. As such, he stands out in comparison with other privileged children of kings and dictators from the region, who have attracted attention with brawls, sex orgies, or drug parties. In his Instagram world, the Sheikh primarily focuses on pursuits and leisure activities that are expressly permitted by Islamic teachings: family, horse-riding and water sports.
“I am the people′s tribune”
He thereby promotes himself as an ideal for young Arabs who are searching for a new role model and yearning for their own Arab identity in this fractured region. It is a portrayal that is meant to be believable.
“With his photos, he demonstrates how approachable he is and that he does not stand five levels above the people,” says Martin Fuchs, a Hamburg-based political consultant and expert on social media. “It is a kind of branding strategy and it is clearly meant to send the signal that ‘I am the people′s tribune.'”
The only things that are truly known about the prince are what he has revealed himself. Sheikh Hamdan enjoyed a peaceful childhood in surroundings that emphasised the “true meaning of life,” he writes on his website. After having completed school in Dubai, he attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in the UK, where he learned “discipline and punctuality.” He regards his father as his role model and his views as “stars that show me the way.”
Don’t criticise the leadership
As long as Sheikh Hamdan remains in his homeland, it is not difficult for him to maintain this image. While the British popular press dog every step of the royals William, Harry and Kate, there is de facto no freedom of the press in the Gulf Emirates. Critical journalists can count themselves lucky if they are merely exiled. They could just as well end up in prison. The red line for criticism is the country’s leadership, to which Hamdan as Crown Prince belongs. According to Reporters without Borders, the Emirate of Dubai ranks 120th of 180 countries in the press freedom league table.
There was, however, a black sheep in the ruling family of Dubai – Hamdan’s older brother. Sheikh Rashid is said to have been a playboy with drug problems. He died last year, only 33 years old. A heart attack was given as the official cause of death.
Hamdan, on his part, has never given any cause for gossip. Even when Dubai is the subject of negative headlines, whether those dealing with near bankruptcies or how household servants are treated as slaves, the Crown Prince has found himself at the very most on the list of the “hottest young royals” in Forbes magazine. Only after the death of his brother Rashid did the media pay any attention to Hamdan, the grieving young Emir′s son. The sensitive sheikh, who composes poetry under the name Fazza, wrote a poem dealing with tears and loss. The verse is in the style of Bedouin poetry and bears the title “My brother, the word.” Together with photos of the dissimilar brothers, the poem spread via social media.
Victory, triumph and love
In the Emirati dialect, Fazza is someone who supports others. Women in particular love him. His photos on Instagram have received comments in Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish and English from women with pseudonyms such as aichafarah82, houroflove and annamariafoxyfox. Above all, the comments feature many heart symbols. There are practically no women featured in his photos. Nor any parties with alcohol.
Occasionally, the Crown Prince raises his hand in a three finger salute, in which he stretches out his thumb, index finger and middle finger. It is a greeting thought up by his father, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, three years ago. Two fingers are used in the West as a victory symbol. At the time, the ruler explained in a hall to hundreds of listeners that the V stands for victory. The new greeting is meant to symbolise three things – victory, triumph and love. Henceforth, he would only use this symbol, stated the Emir of Dubai to his applauding public. He stressed, “We Arabs possess a rich history. Why, then, should we follow the others?”
Author: Mey Dudin
Translated from the German by John Bergeron