In the 10 years that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has been Ruler of Dubai, the emirate has not only defied a global economic crisis, but emerged from it bigger, better, stronger, smarter – and happier.
It was less than a year after his accession as Ruler of Dubai that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid gave an extensive interview to Al Ittihad newspaper on the 35th National Day.
The UAE, said Sheikh Mohammed in December 2006, “is the embodiment of confronting difficulties, overcoming obstacles and conquering the impossible”.
Ten years later, on the anniversary of his accession, it is a statement of faith that holds true.
It is also the case that the achievements of Sheikh Mohammed and the mark he has made cannot be contained by just the past 10 years.
During the 1970s, Sheikh Mohammed was both head of the Dubai Defence Force and Minister of Defence. He was instrumental in the creation of Emirates airline in 1985 and, as Crown Prince, launched the landmark Burj Al Arab hotel in 1999 and instigated the construction of the Palm Jumeirah in 2001.
Those last three are now potent symbols of Dubai as a world city, as is the Burj Khalifa which, in the first four years of his rule, rose from a concrete stump to become the tallest building in the world.
Concrete, steel and glass are certainly some measure of his achievements.
The Dubai of 2015 transports its population on a modern metro network, and welcomes its millions of visitors through the world’s busiest international airport and on to an unrivalled collection of luxury hotels.
The city has become a home and a haven for hundreds of thousands in a part of the world that is increasingly uncertain and unstable; it offers prosperity, security and tolerance as much around it slips towards chaos.
Enterprise in all areas is encouraged and rewarded. As a result, since 2006, the emirate’s population has grown from 1.4 million to nearly 2.5 million.
This is not the result of a simple economic calculation of the benefits from growth to the country’s economy. Sheikh Mohammed has always understood why prosperity is so important.
In his 2013 book, Flashes of Thought, he wrote: “Our region is home to more than 200 million young people. We have the opportunity to inspire them with hope and to direct their energies towards improving their lives and the lives of those around them. If we fail, we will abandon them to emptiness, unemployment and the malicious ideologies of terrorism.”
This understanding of the bigger picture is a hallmark of Sheikh Mohammed, both as Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE. He has a clear understanding of the responsibilities and duties of leadership.
“A true leader does not derive power from his position,” he wrote in Flashes of Thought, “but from his ethics, from people’s love for him, and from his knowledge, education and excellence in his field of work.”
It is a philosophy of leadership that runs through the DNA of his first 10 years as Ruler. He is a visible presence both at home and abroad, from the winners’ enclosure at Britain’s Royal Ascot horse racing festival (one of his great passions) to answering questions live for listeners on local radio, to his Twitter feed that now tops 5.3 million followers.
Social media is an example of his embrace of the modern world. He speaks frequently of his vision to make Dubai the Arab world’s first Smart City, where every aspect of life is interconnected in a way that improves life for all, from traffic lights controlled by a single control centre, to a host of services from booking a taxi or paying a utility bill from the screen of a smartphone.
It is also at the core of Vision 2021, unveiled a year ago by Sheikh Mohammed as Prime Minister. In six years, the golden jubilee of the UAE Vision 2021 establishes an agenda of national priorities that include world-class health and education and a knowledge-based economy expressed in a spectacular space mission that will make the UAE the first Arab country to send a probe to Mars.
All of this involves risk to some degree. In 2009, the global economic downturn produced an economic crisis that some international observers doubted Dubai could survive.
That it weathered the storm is another defining chapter of Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership, expressed in two more quotes from Flashes of Thought: “To take risk and fail is not a failure. Real failure is to fear taking any risk”, and “An easy life does not make men, nor does it build nations. Challenges make men, and it is these men who build nations”.
It is the nature of Sheikh Mohammed’s achievements that to understand them it is as important to look forward as to look back on the past 10 years. Two years ago, the country celebrated as Dubai won the right to host Expo 2020, an international event which Sheikh Mohammed promises will “astonish the world”.
By then, the Business Bay Canal will have been completed, connecting Dubai Creek to Jumeirah with a new park featuring a lagoon and man-made beach. This year three new theme parks will open – Legoland, the Hollywood-themed Motiongate and Bollywood Parks.
If all of this can be distilled to a single word for Sheikh Mohammed’s vision, it would be happiness. As he puts it: “Good governance is about nothing more or less than creating happiness. It really is that simple.”