Sheik Left His Heart in Modesto : Chamberlain to Arab Ruler in Sharjah ‘Tied’ to California

Times Staff Writer

The chamberlain to the royal court in this tiny Persian Gulf state is a loyal Californian.

“I love California,” Sheik Faisal ibn Khalid ibn Sultan al Kasimi said not long ago, recalling his college days there. “Part of my heart will always be in the Golden State.” He was president of the Foreign Students Club at Modesto Junior College in 1978 and later earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Cal State Stanislaus, in Turlock.

Now the bearded, 30-year-old sheik is chief adviser to his uncle, the ruler of Sharjah, which is one of the seven Arab sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates. Oil-rich Sharjah is 50 miles long and 32 miles wide, about the size of Rhode Island.

Twenty-five years ago, Sharjah’s 10,000 or so people were desert dwellers. There was not a single paved road, no electric power and few modern conveniences. Today it is a booming modern city-state with broad boulevards, skyscrapers, resort hotels and 220,000 people, 80% of them immigrants.


“Sharjah shows you what oil can do,” Faisal said.

He was interviewed at the headquarters of his vast business empire, the Kasimi Group. Asked what kind of business his firm does, he replied: “Almost everything. Anything that makes money--oil, construction, computers, road building, you name it.”

His family has ruled Sharjah--in Arabic the word means “sunshine"--for more than 300 years. His uncle, Sheik Saakr ibn Mohammed al Kasimi, is called “His Highness” or simply “The Ruler” by his subjects.

Numbers, Numbers


At the front of the Sharjah telephone directory are two pages of numbers at which the ruler can be reached. There are numbers for his various palaces, his saunas, his swimming pools, his official offices, the race track, the stables where he keeps the 35 horses he bought in Europe and America.

The ruler, who is 45 years old, has an engineering degree from a university in Egypt. He is studying for a doctorate at the University of Exeter in England, to which he commutes.

Faisal, talking about his country, said: “We have no legislature. . . . The ruler makes all the laws. Each of the seven emirates is autonomous, banded together since 1971, with the federal government providing for defense, foreign relations and currency.”

Before the United Arab Emirates was formed, the seven entities were known as the Trucial States, as a consequence of truces concluded with the British government in the 19th Century. For many years they were a British protectorate.


The UAE is ruled by the Supreme Council of Seven, which consists of the rulers of the seven states, Abu Dhabi, Ras al Khaimah, Fujaira, Dubai, Ajmaan and Umm al Qaiwain in addition to Sharjah. The president is Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahayan, who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi. The UAE has close ties to the United States and no diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

Every native Arab family in Sharjah is provided with a $50,000 house by the ruler, who also pays the utility bills. In addition, the people get free medical service, free education through the university level. But all this is for citizens only, and only people who have been here for generations qualify as citizens.

Patient Flown Elsewhere

If it happens that the needed medical attention is not available in the UAE, the patient is flown to Europe or the United States, at government expense. And for the student, wherever he may be studying--here in the Middle East, in Europe or the United States--all expenses are paid, including transportation, tuition and fees, books and supplies, housing and clothing. He gets $850 a month for incidentals.


People who are not citizens are allowed to live here at the ruler’s pleasure. By law they must leave the country when the family breadwinner is no longer employed.

En route to a new, $25-million shopping center in Sheik Faisal’s Mercedes-Benz, the sheik asked about the “Oakland Raiders--ah, I mean, Los Angeles Raiders.”

He said, “I went to every game they played, every chance I had, when I was in Modesto. To me they will always be the Oakland Raiders. You know, I miss California very much.”

Friends in Modesto miss the sheik, too. Donald Knies, 53, a history professor and faculty adviser to foreign students, said later that Faisal “was one of the most popular foreign students ever to attend Modesto JC.”


Sharjah may not be known to many Americans, but it is well known in Modesto. Faisal, his wife, sister, brother and many cousins and friends have studied there. And many people from Modesto, among them Rose and Armen Sarquis, have visited Sharjah.

Rose Sarquis, 60, has been chairman of the Citizens Committee for International Students at Modesto Junior College for 15 years.

“Everybody liked Faisal when he lived in Modesto,” she said. “He was so outgoing and friendly, one of the most popular young men on campus. My husband and I visited Faisal and his family in Sharjah. He was the perfect host. We had a super time.”