Dubai Experience

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Dubai and the United Arab Emirates

Dubai is an emirate, similar to such principalities as Monaco and Lichtenstein, and maintains a feudal form of hereditary rule that's been held by the Al Maktoum family since the 1830s. The leading male members of the ruling family are called sheikhs, which loosely translates to "prince," and leadership is passed down through the family but is not an automatic right of the eldest son. Rather, the current sheikh chooses who will succeed him from eligible members of the family.

Dubai is one of seven countries that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a federation founded in 1971. The other six emirates are: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The UAE's main legislative body (the Federal Supreme Council, or FSC), is made up of the seven sheikhs of each emirate, but Abu Dhabi is the preeminent emirate in the federation. The president of the UAE plays an influential role and is always the sheikh of Abu Dhabi, a hereditary post that's passed down to a member of the Al-Nahyan family—currently Sheikh Kahlifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The sheikh of Dubai is vice president.

Each emirate controls most of its own domestic matters, including taxes, trade, and investment, but the federation oversees foreign policy and defense. The UAE cultivates friendly relations with other Arab states, as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as well as with the United States and other Western nations.

The Federal National Council, which has 40 members including eight from Dubai, acts as a consulting body. Until 2006 sheikhs appointed the council members, but the nation is trending toward mass representation and now a group of Emirati, the Electoral College, elects 50% of the chamber. In Dubai, the Dubai Governing Council acts as an advisory body to the sheikh. However, council membership is limited to a small number of Emirati who make up less than 20% of the population. So more than a million people who live and work in Dubai have no political voice.

Sheikh Mo

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, known affectionately as "Sheikh Mo," envisioned only the most prosperous future for Dubai. In fact, it was his dream that brought about Burj Dubai, the Palm islands, the tallest tower in the world, and Dubai Marina. But he didn't stop there—nothing seems to faze this man, who officially became Dubai's ruler in 2006.

Born in 1949, Sheikh Mo was the third son of Sheikh Rashid and grew up on the bank of the Bur Dubai. He excelled at the Al-Ahmadiya School and was allowed at an early age to attend the majlis, or meetings, where his grandfather Sheikh Saeed dealt with matters of state. When his father, Rashid, became sheikh in 1958, he and his brothers began to take on responsibility within the emirate. Mohammed finished his education at a language school in Britain, after which he enrolled in a six-month officer training program at Aldershot in 1968.

When Mohammed returned to Dubai in 1968, he took control of the emirate's police force. At this time, Britain announced its withdrawal from the region. His father, along with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, was instrumental in the creation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, and Mohammed was appointed minister of defense of the new country.

Sheikh Rashid expanded Dubai's horizons as a trading and transport hub for the greater Gulf region. He began offering more challenging roles to his son, who at that time oversaw infrastructure improvements, including the expansion of Dubai International Airport, and the management of Dubai's oil supplies. In 1981, Sheikh Rashid fell ill, so Mohammed and his brothers collectively assumed control and soon became known for their open-minded approach to government. Sheikh Rashid died in 1990 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sheikh Maktoum, under whose guidance Mohammed broadened his portfolio and grew his reputation as an approachable leader willing to take risks. In 1995 Sheikh Maktoum declared Mohammed Crown Prince of Dubai, paving his way to the sheikhdom.

Throughout his adult life Mohammed's favorite pastime has been horse racing. He and his brothers own the successful Godolphin stables and have invested billions of dirham in fine horses that have been trained at state-of-the-art facilities in Newmarket, UK, and Dubai. The Dubai World Cup, the highest purse in the sport, is both a source of pride and passion for Mohammed.

Updated: 11-2008

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