A national period of mourning in the UAE has been announced following the death of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, former Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Finance Minister of the UAE. It is a time of reflection, to recognise Sheikh Hamdan’s lifelong journey helping to shepherd the country in its transition from a series of desert and coastal settlements to a leading regional power.
Hailing from Dubai's ruling family, Sheikh Hamdan was a central player in one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of urban development. In 1970, Dubai was estimated to have a population of a little more than 70,000. Now, an estimated three million people live and work in the city, a global hub for business, aviation and cultural exchange.
His home city was Dubai, but his ultimate service was to the country as a whole. In the half-century since federation, the UAE has been catapulted onto the global stage at a speed with which few other nations have had to contend. To the public who witnessed the beginning of its story, the nation's success was by no means assured.
But for its leaders, including Sheikh Hamdan, that success was seen as a matter of skill and hard work. Not faltering in the limelight required the dedication of open-minded and adaptable statesmen. Sheikh Hamdan's career embodied these characteristics.
He oversaw one of the widest portfolios in the country. One of his defining roles was as the UAE's finance minister, awarded to him by Sheikh Zayed, the nation's Founding Father, in 1971. He held it until his passing. This involved him helping to manage the nation's growing oil wealth, and spending it to cultivate an advanced and prosperous society. Other posts included leading Dubai Aluminium, now EGA – the centre of the country's aluminium industry, accounting for almost 1.5 per cent of the UAE's economy – Dubai Natural Gas , Dubai Cable and the Dubai World Trade Centre. He began representing his country abroad in the world's halls of power in his mid-teens, while accompanying his father, Sheikh Rashid, who was then ruler of Dubai.
The biggest challenge for the leaders of the UAE during Sheikh Hamdan's tenure was, in the middle of this boom in wealth and status, plotting a route to modernity that did not lose sight of the nation's culture. He participated in this assertion of identity, whether it was through the patronage of tolerant religious institutions at home and abroad as division grew around the world, or responsibly allocating wealth for the benefit of all of the country's citizens. The government sees these values as fundamental pillars, to the extent that each year, a particular theme is chosen that hones in on a particular aspect of Emirati identity. Recent examples include 2019 as Year of Tolerance and 2021 as Year of the 50th, in recognition of the golden anniversary of the UAE's formation.
This is a mourning period in honour of a truly remarkable statesman. It is also a moment during which Emiratis and other residents of the Emirates will be reflecting on the visionary personalities who brought them to where they are today.