Ever since Dubai began dreaming up large projects – think dredging of the Dubai Creek in the 1950s, the establishment of Jebel Ali in the 1970s, and the real estate rush in 2000 epitomised by Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building – critics have been vocal. But the vision of Dubai’s leaders has stood the test of time, with the emirate achieving new heights of glory year after year.
Born on July 22, 1949, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. He is the third of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum’s four sons. A man of many guises – UAE Vice-President, Prime Minister; poet; champion equestrian – Sheikh Mohammed, 58, has always been the man in command – he is like the CEO of Dubai Inc.
Personally responsible for conjuring up mega projects including Dubai Central and the Dubai International Financial Centre, Sheikh Mohammed’s bold vision of transforming the emirate is urban planning on a cosmic scale.
From the age of four, Sheikh Mohammed was privately tutored in Arabic and Islamic studies. In 1955, he began his formal education, and in 1966 he attended the Bell Educational Trust’s English Language School in the United Kingdom.
Sheikh Mohammed does not conceal his ambitions for the emirate. He categorically maintains the progress so far is a mere 10 per cent fraction of what he envisages to achieve, and that the new growth phase will be much larger and much more profound than the previous ones.
He is a man who does not shy away from folding up his sleeves – something not usually associated with royalty. There are anecdotes galore of him visiting government departments, unannounced and often unaccompanied, to get a feeling of what is going on and, more importantly, what is lacking.
Sheikh Mohammed personally follows up the implementation of some of the important projects in the emirate, and is known to be a tough taskmaster, not tolerating incompetence or a lackadaisical attitude.
The development of infrastructure and legal framework complements the launch of new mega projects and intensive promotional and marketing initiatives all over the world, in order to showcase Dubai’s emerging status as an international tourism, trade, business and services centre.
Sheikh Mohammed also has a heart of gold. The ruler of Dubai donated $10 billion (Dh36bn) last year to set up an educational foundation in the Middle East – an example of not just his charitable activities, but also his vision, investing in the future generations.
The money is meant to improve the standard of education and research in the region, and aims to stimulate job creation, Sheikh Mohammed said. It is thought to be one of the largest charitable donations in history. Sheikh Mohammed said his personal initiative was aimed at creating “a knowledge-based society” in the Middle East.
“There is a wide knowledge gap between us and the developed world in the West and in Asia. Our only choice is to bridge this gap as quickly as possible, because our age is defined by knowledge,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Also last year, Sheikh Mohammed launched the Dubai Cares initiative. The drive amassed donations of almost $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) (half of it from Sheikh Mohammed himself) for building and renovating schools, training school teachers, providing teaching materials, sport and recreation equipment, offering scholarships to the deserving, organising school feeding programmes and encouraging physical education in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Blessed as he is with an extraordinary vision, Sheikh Mohammed is known to be very quick in his decision-making and implementing the same.
In fact, one morning in January 1985 Sheikh Mohammed hit upon the idea of launching an airline. He immediately summoned the concerned official and enquired about the cost involved and the time required to kick off such a venture.
He then set up a small team to develop the concept. Just 10 months later, on October 25, Emirates flew for the first time, sporting livery chosen personally by Sheikh Mohammed.
Also in 1985 Sheikh Mohammed took charge of the Jebel Ali Free Zone; a port-based industrial area centred around Jebel Ali port.
Sultan bin Sulayem, Chairman of Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza), said: “One of the main points that Sheikh Mohammed stressed was the need to keep things simple. He worked to ensure Jafza was served by the best in infrastructure, which would empower us to offer the best services possible.”
The immense success of these projects and initiatives is highlighted by Dubai attracting an increasing number of multinational companies and institutions – including Halliburton and International Cricket Council – to make the emirate their regional and global base.
From the foundations that Sheikh Mohammed and his family have laid at home – including such projects as Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Dubai International Financial Centre – to the principles of modern development laid down in the federation of the United Arab Emirates, the road to progress has remained clear.
Through leadership, vision and innovation, Sheikh Mohammed hopes to guide the people of the UAE and, indeed, the Middle East, towards a brighter future.
As Sheikh Mohammed himself says: “A man has two choices, either to be a follower or to show initiative, and we greatly desire to be pioneers.”