A look back at Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's 50 years of service to his country

From negotiating with hijackers to leading Cabinet meetings, the Ruler of Dubai has a long record of public service

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Public service begins at an early age for the Rulers of the country. For Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, it started when he was still a teenager.

The journey to Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE began when Sheikh Mohammed was 19, a newly minted graduate from a British military academy and ready to begin work for his father, Sheikh Rashid.

His first job was in February 1968, at a historic meeting in the desert between Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Zayed.

As the youngest member of the party, it was his task to serve coffee, but it was an important exposure to the world of governance. By the end of the meeting, the two Rulers had agreed to a union that three years later would lead to the formation of the UAE.

By November of that year, Sheikh Mohammed had been appointed the head of Dubai Police and Public Security force and in December 1971 he became the UAE's Defence Minister, making him the youngest in the world to hold the title.

He gained experience rapidly, showing the qualities that would stand him in good stead in later life. In 1976, he dispatched the first Emirati troops overseas, as part of pan Arab peacekeeping mission during the Lebanese Civil War.

During the 1970s a succession of hijacked aircraft passed through Dubai, with Sheikh Mohammed leading negotiations, including a Lufthansa passenger jet that landed at the airport in 1977.

Film footage from the time shows Sheikh Mohammed calmly speaking to the four members of the Popular Front of the Liberation for Palestine via a radio link from the airport’s control tower.

The defence and security portfolio was only part of Sheikh Mohammed’s role in this period, which included heading the committee to manage the rapidly expanding airport as an international aviation hub, and managing the emirate’s oil industry, at the time a significant source of revenue.

In 1985, he assigned a budget of nearly Dh40 million to Maurice Flanagan, the then head of Dubai National Air Transport Association (Dnata) to create a new airline. A little over six months later, the first Emirates flight took off for Karachi.

The speed and dynamism of the growth of Dubai were a reflection of the personality and leadership qualities of the young sheikh. He inaugurated the the Dubai Airshow in 1989, and two years later merged Jebel Ali Port and Port Rashid to create the Dubai Ports Authority and eventually DP World, one of the world’s most successful companies.

With the death of Sheikh Rashid in October 1990, Sheikh Mohammed assumed even greater responsibilities, ordering aid supplies to Kuwait in the aftermath of the first Gulf War and working with Sheikh Zayed on other humanitarian missions by the UAE in Bosnia, Somalia and Kosovo.

January 1995 saw Sheikh Mohammed appointed Crown Prince of Dubai, by his brother and then Ruler, Sheikh Maktoum.


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It was a move that signified an even greater period of expansion by Dubai, driven by the new Crown Prince. Under the direction of Sheikh Mohammed, the Burj Al Arab hotel was opened in 1999, an iconic symbol of the city’s growing international profile. Two years later, he inaugurated construction of the Palm Jumeirah, another project that would capture the world’s imagination and define the new Dubai.

Always looking to the future, Sheikh Mohammed launched the e-Government project in 1995 at a time when most people were barely aware of the internet. By 1999, he issued a deadline of 18 months to make Dubai Government services fully online and ordered the creation of Dubai Internet City, recognising the growing importance of the worldwide digital economy,

On January 4, 2006, Sheikh Mohammed became Ruler of Dubai, following the death of Sheikh Maktoum. The following day he was appointed Vice President of the UAE and in February was nominated by President Sheikh Khalifa as Prime Minister.

Dubai Crown Prince and UAE Defence Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum (R), winner of the first Bahrain Endurance Ride, an equestrian marathon, receives a trophy 07 April 2000 from King Abdullah II of Jordan in Manama. (Photo by AFP)
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, then Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defence, meets with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the Bahrain Endurance Ride in April 2000. Photo by AFP

As Ruler, the pace of expansion of Dubai has only quickened. On his accession, Sheikh Mohammed observed that the UAE was “the embodiment of confronting difficulties, overcoming obstacles and conquering the impossible".

It was an expression of faith that overcame the challenges of the global financial downturn of late 2008, and saw the construction of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in the first four years of his rule, the Dubai Mall, and the opening of the Dubai Metro in 2009.

His passion to make Dubai the Arab world’s first Smart City is embodied in futuristic projects like flying taxis and the ambition to make a quarter of all journeys in the city autonomous by 2030. In 2015, Sheikh Mohammed unveiled Vision 2021, with national priorities that include world class health and education, and a knowledge based economy tangible in the forthcoming Mission to Mars and Expo 2020.

For millions in the UAE and worldwide, he is a visible and approachable symbol of the success of the UAE. Sheikh Mohammed was quick to embrace social media, his Twitter account now accruing over nine million followers. His passion for horse racing has seen him with the Queen at Royal Ascot, but also travelling as a regular passenger on the London Underground.

As he wrote in his book Flashes of Thought: "A true leader does not derive power from his position, but from his ethics, from people's love for him, and from his knowledge, education and excellence in his field of work."