x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Petrol and poetry: the many strings to the bow of UAE's new energy minister

At 39, Suhail Al Mazrouei is the youngest member of the Cabinet and while he has worked at Shell and Mubadala Oil & Gas he also appeared on Million's Poet.

At 39, Suhail Al Mazrouei is the youngest member of the Cabinet
At 39, Suhail Al Mazrouei is the youngest member of the Cabinet

ABU DHABI // Suhail Al Mazrouei has many strings to his bow. After getting his degree in the United States, he worked at Shell and Mubadala Oil & Gas, rising to become the deputy chief executive and senior vice president.

And last month he was named as the new Minister of Energy, becoming, at 39, the youngest member of the Cabinet.

But beyond petroleum, there is poetry. Mr Al Mazrouei has a passion for Nabati poetry – an art form with deep roots in the Arabian Gulf's Bedouin past.

For years, he has written verses about life, work, love for his country and, more recently, politics, the Arab Spring and criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood.

After a day considering the finer points of oil production, he often spends his evenings exchanging verses with fellow poets.

And in 2006, he took part in Million's Poet, an X Factor-like television talent show for Arab poets with a first prize of Dh5?million.

He got through the auditions to win a place on the live televised shows. His performance of "Meshareih wa 'etab'" [Reproach and an Emirati word meaning the same] is available on YouTube, and shows him being interrupted several times by applause.

The poem expresses Mr Al Mazrouei's disappointment over the actions of a loved one, the state of the Middle East and corruption. It concludes that people must work hard to improve themselves and the community, and sometimes all that we can do is to reproach and tell the truth. It ends by asking God for mercy.

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He asked me about his place in my heart
And I see his eyes disappear beneath his eyelids
He knows but he likes to be silly
And I say where is my heart, you thief

In my eyes he sees the poet's nostalgia
With every flash his interest increases
I created the poems for him and I tamed them
So he will boast about them in front of his relatives

I am envied and my problem is in his love
And may God keep envy away from people
Close, but the evil is inside them
And may God take the evil back to them  - Suhail Al Mazrouei

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Sultan Al Amimi, one of the Million's Poet judges, remembers Mr Al Mazrouei's distinctive Emirati dialect. "He was distinct, and he used Emirati words and his Emirati accent was very clear in his performance," he said. "He managed to perform real Emirati poetry."

Although Mr Al Mazrouei did not get past that first round, Mr Al Amimi said that should not be seen as a judgment on his verses.

"To get on the show you have to have the talent," he said.

Mr Al Mazrouei was not discouraged by being knocked out. Even with such a demanding job, lines of his poetry still dominate his Twitter feed, which is followed by more than 400 people.

In 2011, after visiting post-revolution Libya, he wrote a poem expressing his support for the Libyan people. According to the Poetry News Agency, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, replied to Mr Al Mazrouei's verses with his own, greeting him and expressing his pride in Sheikh Zayed's children.

Both the Crown Prince and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, are known for their Nabati compositions.

"Poetry is the soul of a nation," said Dr Shihab Ghanem, an Emirati engineer who is an author and award-winning poet. "It is an expression of emotions and feelings sometimes mingled with thoughts, often lofty and intellectual ones."

Classical Arabic poetry, he said, was highly developed in the Arabian Peninsula, even in the pre-Islamic period.

"Omar bin Al Khattab, the second caliph, called poetry the diwan [record] of the Arabs," he said.


osalem@thenational.ae