The media guru
HE Maryam Eid Al Mheiri
CEO of the Media Zone Authority – Abu Dhabi and twofour54
For Maryam Eid Al Mheiri, the future of film in Abu Dhabi looks bright. As CEO of twofour54, a media hub housing 460 companies, she’s seen the local movie industry boom.
“The biggest successes so far?” she muses. “It would be easy for me to talk about the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Fast and Furious 7 in the UAE. But I’d prefer to mention partners that twofour54 has supported since the beginning who have gone on to become larger players in the industry, such as tech news portal tbreak.com, which recently joined the global TechRadar site, part of the Future publishing group.” When she’s not enabling a thriving media ecosystem and attracting Holly- and Bollywood blockbusters, she’s on the board overseeing the Abu Dhabi Special Olympics in 2019. “The hosting of the Special Olympics comes from Abu Dhabi’s unwavering commitment to inclusion,” she says. “We want to change current perceptions of people of determination.” The next step for twofour54? “Yas Island,” says Al Mheiri. “At Yas we’ll have the chance to expand to almost five times our current size. In the next five or 10 years I want to see Abu Dhabi as the global capital of content creators.”
The space man
Mohammed Al Ahbabi
Director general of the UAE Space Agency
“Everything is red in my house,” declares Mohammed Al Ahbabi. “All of my files in my office – when I buy apples, I don’t buy green, I buy red.” Mars, the Red Planet, is clearly on the brain of the UAE Space Agency’s director general, whose upcoming Mars Hope mission aims to send a probe there on the UAE’s 50th anniversary in 2021. “I lie awake at night thinking of it. The data that we’ll bring back will be shared with more than 200 universities.”
The agency was established in 2014, with the aim of aiding the private sector in making advances into space. “We’re like conductors in an orchestra,” Al Ahbabi says, “we leave the people to play. We have to help the private sector stand on its feet.” They’re helping UAE communications company Yahsat to launch its third satellite, have drafted plans to recruit the first Emirati astronauts next year and are part of an international plan for a Mars colony in 2117.
The agency is very young and very small (around 70 people), but there are benefits to being a newcomer: “If you look at the big space agencies they are good, but they’re elephants. If you are small, you can act quickly. We’re qualified to sit face to face with Nasa, Jaxa and the European Space Agency. Not because we have wealth, but because we have a credible space programme.”
Part of this programme is to educate young Emiratis and recruit them to the sector. “We are the first country in the region with a space agency. We want to help others in the Middle East establish one too. The more voices at the table, the better.”
The first Emirati female Olympic swimmer
It’s every athlete’s ultimate goal, one that some spend their whole lives working towards. But few ever get to represent their country at the Olympic Games – let alone just three years after starting to swim competitively, as was the case with Emirati Nada Al Bedwawi.
“I was 18 when I competed at the Olympics at Rio,” she says, “and I was the youngest person on the UAE’s Olympic team.” The now 20-year-old, who carried the UAE flag at the opening ceremony, says that she wants to be a role model. “It’s really important to break gender barriers. Now we have many more female political ministers and businesswomen, and I’m trying to represent Emirati women in the world of sport. I want to be a pioneer. I’m now in my final year studying biology in NYUAD and there’s an Olympic-sized pool on campus. My training is not as intense as before, it’s only once a day, not twice. In the next few weeks though, after my exams, I’ll go back to twice a day. I’m getting ready for Tokyo 2020.”
And her advice to aspiring sportswomen? “I attended a talk by Michael Phelps – my role model – and he said to me, ‘Don’t give up. Even on days where you don’t feel like it, force yourself. That’s what distinguishes a great swimmer from a good one.’”
HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak
Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi
Surely it’s the best job in the world, to inspire people from all over the globe to visit your hometown? The Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi is effusive in his response. “It is,” he beams. “Whether it’s the white sand beaches and mangroves teeming with wildlife, Al Ain – the UAE’s only Unesco heritage site – or the world’s tallest sand dune in Liwa, Abu Dhabi has so much to offer – we just have to get the message out there.”
Abu Dhabi has seen 18.9 per cent growth in tourism since 2009, making it the fourth fastest-growing city in the world, with Yas and Saadiyat islands now global centres of culture. It’s been a landmark year for the department, which has overseen the biggest museum opening of 2017, the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, and a busy time for Al Mubarak himself, who is not only responsible for shaping Abu Dhabi’s cultural landscape but also CEO of Aldar real estate, with developments including Reem Central Park and the Crowne Plaza hotel.
However, Al Mubarak explains the biggest challenge is yet to come. “We have to sustain this growing art scene and of course develop our own national identity while preserving our heritage. This is a place founded on tradition yet forged by rapid modernity.”
Maysson Al Otaiba
Designer and founder of Maysson
“Emirati women are the most stylish in the world,” says designer Maysson Al Otaiba. “They experiment with fashion. Some may be wearing an abaya, but they’re probably wearing Chanel or Gucci underneath.”
Up-and-coming Al Otaiba founded her eponymous label in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. Drawing on her mixed heritage, with time spent between the Emirates and Morocco, she’s already been featured in Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
Her second collection is inspired by mosaic patterns found in Abu Dhabi and her other hometown of Fez.
Women in the UAE have pretty much the exact same opportunities as anywhere else in the world – they just do it wearing an abaya
“I’m inspired by Abu Dhabi’s architecture, old and new, from Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to Etihad Towers.” Al Otaiba says she is living in exciting times: “Women in the UAE have pretty much the exact same opportunities as anywhere else in the world – they just do it wearing an abaya.”
So what’s next for the UAE’s fashion scene? “In five or 10 years, it’ll be as big as New York, Milan or London. Emirati designers are entering the international market at breakneck speed, with the support of their own people. It’s going to go global – it’s just a matter of time.”
Bader Najeeb Al Awadhi
Celebrity chef and YouTube star
His videos rack up tens of thousands of views on YouTube and he has almost 100,000 followers on Instagram. It’s official: Bader Najeeb Al Awadhi (or “Chef B”, as he’s known to his fans) is part of a new generation of social media-savvy celebrity chefs.
“My relationship with food started with my mum, baking cakes at my grandfather’s house every Saturday,” Al Awadhi explains. “I used to go and pay attention to the ingredients and try and help her out. From there, I fell in love with cooking.”
Since then, Chef B has had his own 30-part TV show, Ma’a Bader on Abu Dhabi Al Emarat TV, aged just 18, and even fronted a Coca-Cola ad that got 18 million views.
“My signature dish is éclairs,” he explains. “Sometimes I put an Emirati twist on the recipe and add saffron to the cream, but I like to keep it classic.”
This year saw Al Awadhi take gold at the national patisserie championships in the UAE and compete at the World Skills competition in Abu Dhabi in the pastry and confectionery category.
“World Skills was amazing,” he beams, “we trained for months. So many people gathered around the cooking station to cheer me on – more than 100,000 people visited the event over four days. It was an honour to represent my country.
“Social media and YouTube are a platform to showcase your skills. I’ve hosted TV shows, but I can do the same thing from my own home instead of a studio and share it with the world at the click of a button.”