Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 March 2018

Boy who had the perfect mentors

Sheikh Mohammed, who today marks five years as Ruler of Dubai, followed his grandfather and father to the top.

DUBAI // Whenever Sheikh Saeed, the late Ruler of Dubai, welcomed his guests to the open wooden majlis just outside the family home in Shindagha, a small boy would be seen sitting next to him, listening to matters of state and society under discussion.

The boy was his grandson, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. In the five decades since his grandfather's death in 1958, and the five years since he himself became Ruler, he has grown up to become one of the world's most recognisable Arab leaders.

On January 4, 1995, as he was appointed Crown Prince by his brother, the then Ruler Sheikh Maktoum, he said: "I do not know if I am a good leader, but I am a leader. And I have a vision … I take decisions and I move fast. Full throttle."

As Crown Prince, he oversaw the completion of two of Dubai's landmarks, the Burj Al Arab and the Palm Jumeirah.

Today, as he marks five years as the emirate's 10th ruler, that doctrine of "full throttle" has put Dubai on the world map. However, the ambitious developments have not been without cost.

The past year has been particularly difficult, as Dubai struggled to recover from a recession that the 61-year-old Ruler characterised as "a challenge".

But as he told CNN recently: "Life would be boring without a challenge… The worst has passed, and now we are looking forward to the next growth."

Even as the downturn bit, Dubai unveiled the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, and inaugurated its Metro, the Gulf's first mass-transit rail system. One of its first passengers, naturally enough, was Sheikh Mohammed.

After becoming Ruler - he became Vice President of the UAE the next day, and Prime Minister a month later - Sheikh Mohammed developed and launched in 2007 a Strategic Plan for 2015 for the emirate. In it, he laid out ambitious targets for growth, as well as strategies for social and educational development.

Born in 1949 in the Al Maktoum family home in Shindagha, near Dubai Creek, Mohammed is the third son of the late Ruler Sheikh Rashid, one of the main driving forces behind the formation of the UAE. He accompanied his father on important occasions, such as the signing of 1968's Union Accord between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which marked the first step towards a federation. The same year, he was appointed to his first public position as the head of Dubai Police and Public Security.

After attending schools in Dubai, the teenage Sheikh Mohammed went abroad to study English at the Bell School of Languages in Cambridge, England.

He also attended Mons Officer Cadet School, in Aldershot, where he was promoted to Senior Under Officer of Kohema and later awarded the Sword of Honour for achieving the highest mark of any overseas officer cadet in his intake.

After unification, he was appointed as the first federal Minister of Defence. At 23, Sheikh Mohammed was one of the youngest defence ministers in the world.

A poet and horse lover, he established the Godolphin stables in 1994 and Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race in 1996.

Whatever the future holds for him, Sheikh Mohammed likes to live by his motto: "A man has two choices, either to be a follower or to show initiative… We greatly desire to be pioneers."