For some reason, I recalled a scene from Lawrence of Arabia in which Sheik Auda abu Tayi, played by Anthony Quinn, shouts to his cheering followers, “I am a river to my people!” When Sheik Mohammed emerged from the desert to win the endurance horse race, cheering Emeratis had swarmed around his horse as they did around Quinn’s in the movie.
Maybe, I thought, Dubai is nothing more than a benevolent Arab tribal monarchy in modern dress. Then I remembered Saif Sultan al Shamsi, a marketing executive I met in Sheik Mohammed’s tent the afternoon of the race. Al Shamsi was dressed in a sand-colored dishdasha and white head scarf; with his easy charm, he would have appeared at home anywhere in the world. As we sat amid pillows and Oriental rugs, dining on an exquisitely prepared buffet featuring dishes from beef tournedos to curried shrimp and pastries, Al Shamsi talked about his year in the United States, when a chilly New York winter sent him fleeing to Tucson and a more familiar clime.
“Were you buying horses there?” I asked, thinking of the millions in equine bloodstock just outside the tent. “My friend, I don’t do horses,” said Al Shamsi, smiling indulgently. “I love golf. And I love my Harley.”