Al Nahyan, Muhammad Bin Zayid (1961–)
Al Nahyan, Muhammad Bin Zayid
Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayid Al Nahyan is the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chairman of Abu Dhabi's Executive Council, and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Shaykh Muhammad was born in 1961 in Abu Dhabi, the third son of Shaykh Zayid (also Zayed) bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Shaykh Zayid served as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, beginning in 1966, and UAE President from its founding in 1971, holding both positions until his death in November 2004. Upon Great Britain's announcement in late December 1967 that over the next three years it would abrogate their defense and foreign relations treaties in east Arabia, Shaykh Zayid became the prime mover for the establishment of a union between the emirates, a project which culminated in the UAE's 2 December 1971 declaration of independence.
Although Shaykh Zayid had a total of nineteen sons, Shaykh Muhammad is Shaykh Zayid's eldest son by Shaykha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Qudayra, a favored wife. Some have opined that this fact played a role in Shaykh
Muhammad's selection by his father as deputy crown prince in 2003. While this was undoubtedly a contributive consideration, several other factors were as important, if not much more so, in driving the decision. One was that Shaykh Muhammad is the acknowledged leader of the single largest bloc of Shaykh Zayid's sons from the same mother, Shaykha Fatima, who gave birth to a larger number of children than any of the other wives of Shaykh Zayid. As is the case with numerous large ruling families in Arabia as elsewhere, it is virtually impossible for a monarchical head of state to devote as extensive an amount of time and care to raising his progeny on a day-to-day basis as would be likely with a father in a smaller, more nuclear, non-dynastic family. This being the case, it is typically the mothers who have the single greatest formative impact not only on how the children of a ruling household are being raised from one day to the next in terms of order and discipline, but also in terms of helping to develop numerous other attributes of their character, personality, knowledge, values, behavior, and sense of duty and service to those who, as public officials, they will one day be expected to lead and represent. In this regard, the influence of Shaykha Fatima, a powerful and inspiring person who has remained a legend in her own right, exercised outsized influence on Shaykh Muhammad and her other children early on. Not least among her many accomplishments is that she has long been second to none among UAE ruling family women leaders in striving to advance women's
opportunities and rights not only locally and nationally but worldwide. Year after year she has been a pivotal force within the UAE in hosting national and international conferences designed to increase the level of women's participation in a variety of professions such as the media, business, education, government, and public affairs in general.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Few have been surprised that, in addition to the important leadership posts assumed by Shaykha Fatima's eldest son, Shaykh Muhammad, others among her sons can also be found in positions responsible for such important tasks as inter alia, administering the emirate's port, airport, intelligence, and palace operations as well as, on the larger stage of the UAE, information and foreign affairs. Viewed in this light, Shaykh Muhammad's position and role within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi as well as the UAE has not only been multifaceted. The length and diversity of his public service alone have provided him a degree of legitimacy in matters of leadership unrivaled by any of his contemporaries. His legitimacy is anchored not just in such weighty matters as his responsibilities for the UAE's defense, together with all that entails in terms of his having continuously to interface with his country's armed forces establishment and those among the Great Powers that provide supplies, training, and logistical as well as operational support services for the country's military. It is also based on his having been selected to be the next ruler of Abu Dhabi when the time comes to succeed the incumbent and, if the manner of the most recent succession is repeated, to become president of the UAE as well. It is rooted further in his being recognized as leader of the single largest faction within the Abu Dhabi ruling family, itself the unquestioned centerpiece of governance in the UAE's most sizeable and powerful emirate and among other ruling households in the UAE, in the country as a whole.
Yet another attribute that has strengthened Shaykh Muhammad's unique niche within the constellation of power in Abu Dhabi and the UAE has been his patronage of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region's most successful public policy academic institute, or think tank, the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. Established on March 14, 1994, in Abu Dhabi, the center, under the administrative direction of Dr. Jamal S. Al Suwaydi, has played a pioneering role in conducting studies and hosting annual conferences as well as year-round seminars on issues pertaining to a broad range of pan-GCC needs, concerns, interests, challenges, objectives, and relationships. From the very beginning, the Center has engaged the participation of many of the world's most renowned researchers, scholars, and foreign affairs practitioners as speakers and consultants in its projects, programs, events, and activities as well as authors of its numerous publications.
In addition to its public service operations, the Center has also maintained an extensive library, a popular website, and a private branch that conducts research for the UAE government on select strategic issues, including defense, technology, foreign policy, and international relations. As the Center's premier sponsor, Shaykh Muhammad has thereby been able to remain as abreast as any leader in the Gulf of the latest developments in national, regional, and global affairs as these pertain to his and his fellow UAE leaders' ongoing quest to enhance the UAE and the GCC region's political stability, external defense, and further economic development and modernization. It has also engaged him directly in the education and training of the rising generation of UAE leaders in domestic and externally centric research and writing, information and communications, technology, and strategic analysis, placing him, like few other UAE leaders, at the cutting edge of the country's intellectual and scientific development.
Name: Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan
Birth: 1961, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Nationality: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Education: Sandhurst Military Academy, 1979
- 1993: Becomes Abu Dhabi Army's Chief of Staff
- 2003: Named by his father Deputy Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
- 2004: Upon his brother Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayid bin Sultan's assumption of rulership, becomes Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and next in line for the presidency of the UAE
At another level, Shaykh Muhammad has continued the example of the late Shaykh Zayid in demonstrating that politics is not simply synonymous with the art of the possible but entails equally that its practitioners go beyond accepting and mastering the spirit and principles of compromise to demonstrate a capacity, should matters of state require it, to forge political compromises in contentious matters even when doing so would require the sublimation of his emirate's or the UAE's particular
interests to those of the larger issue at hand. In this regard, Shaykh Muhammad has repeatedly indicated that the UAE has become a microcosm of how far and fast the dynamics of transformation within a traditional society can realistically be expected to be launched, proceed, and in the end prevail. Indeed, with the UAE having been born against a historical background of one failed Arab attempt at political cooperation and integration after another, few among the privileged handful of foreign observers present at the union's foundation in 1971 were willing to wager that the experiment would last as long as half a year, if that.
Yet, in 2007, the UAE had already endured longer than three and a half decades. It had done so despite the limitations and constant need for compromise among any government of seven semi-autonomous polities. Further, in spite of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war, the Kuwait crisis of 1990–1991, the American led-invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003 onward, the post-1979 Iranian attempts to export its Islamic revolution to the UAE and elsewhere, and more, the UAE managed to remain relatively unscathed by these and the kinds of other ravages that had brought low or ended many another attempt elsewhere to forge a similar edifice of governance and strong but flexible political institutions. In the process, the confederation has continued to serve, as it has from the beginning of the GCC on 28 May 1981, as a living example of what other polities can accomplish. Certainly, it has been a relevant bellwether for how the GCC itself came to be structured, led, and focused, which, in itself, was no mean feat. Indeed, while hardly devoid of defect, the GCC too has survived and, along the way, become the most successful experiment to date in inter-Arab organizational cooperation.
Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayid's Al Nahyan family in Abu Dhabi heads the predominant Al Bu Falah section of the Bani Yas tribe, which has been the most powerful in the southern region of the Emirates since the 19th century, when the fortunes of the northern region's rival Al Qasimi extended family waned in conjunction with the increase of British power throughout the Gulf as a whole. The ruling Al Maktum family of Dubai represents another section of the Bani Yas, one with which, like his father before him, Shaykh Muhammad has been on exceptionally close terms, most especially with the ruler of Dubai Shaykh muhammad bin rashid al maktum (r. 2006–), who is the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister (2006–), and, since 1971, also its minister of defense.
Shaykh Muhammad's pre-collegiate education was obtained through private tutors in Abu Dhabi after which he attended Sandhurst, the British Army's premier military academy in the United Kingdom, from which he graduated in 1979. He then entered the UAE air force, where he progressed through the ranks, becoming a commander and eventually chief of staff in January 1993 (although one source puts the date as 1994). The decision to appoint Shaykh Muhammad initially to a position that was below flag rank, beyond which he would not advance for several years, was arrived at only after considerable deliberation. It was influenced by his father and those among his advisers who wanted to avoid promoting Shaykh Muhammad in the manner of his next eldest half-brother, Shaykh Sultan bin Zayid. The latter had been provided the rank of Major General while he was still in his twenties and, thus, relatively untested.
For this reason and the additional one of conforming to the canons by which armed forces leaders ordinarily do not obtain senior rank until they have served first at lower levels and earned the respect of their fellow officers, it was several years before Shaykh Muhammad was promoted to the rank of general. Once appointed to senior command, however, there was no doubt that Shaykh Muhammad, who thereby earned the additional sobriquet of General as well as Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, would thereafter be a powerful force to be reckoned with in all matters pertaining to enhancing the UAE's capacities for deterrence and defense. In so doing, he became an essential third member of a de facto triad of UAE leaders that, upon his father's passing in 2004, would include his older brother, Shaykh khalifa bin zayid al nahyan, as Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (and Ruler of Abu Dhabi as well as President of the UAE since then), and Dubai's Shaykh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktum, the country's Minister of Defense since 1971 and Ruler of Dubai as well as UAE Prime Minister since 2006.
In 2003, Shaykh Muhammad's father appointed him deputy crown prince, fixing his place in the line of succession to become the ruler of Abu Dhabi as second only to his brother, Shaykh Khalifa. Prior to this appointment, there was some uncertainty in the country as to who would become crown prince upon Shaykh Zayid's death and the ascension of Shaykh Khalifa to the position of emir. Besides Shaykh Muhammad, the other major contender was Shaykh Sultan bin Zayid Al Nahyan, Shaykh Muhammad's older half-brother. (In 2004, the latter would become Abu Dhabi deputy ruler as well as UAE deputy prime minister.) Among the reasons offered for Shaykh Muhammad's selection was his manifest reputation for integrity, hard work, and skills as a leader, together with his domestic popularity and prominent international profile, especially with defense and aerospace firms. Additional factors were his level of comfort with Western and market-oriented approaches to the procurement of military systems and defense equipment as well as education and training, his acknowledged status as the most powerful among his siblings who also held key
government posts, and the fact that his mother occupied the predominant niche among the women within the ruling family's household.
In the period leading up to the American-led invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, Shaykh Muhammad, together with his fellow GCC defense leaders, confronted a predicament for which neither he nor his colleagues were responsible. On one hand, neither he nor others among his Arab colleagues, or for that matter most of the world's leaders, agreed that a military attack against Iraq was justified. They contested the view that an invasion could be rationalized factually or morally either on the grounds of international law or for the sake of protecting any of Iraq's neighbors, let alone on any argument that it was necessary to deter an imminent threat to the Gulf's regional stability and defense. Shaykh Muhammad, together with most of the other GCC military leaders and their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab and Islamic worlds, viewed the situation not only in light of the fact that Iraq had not attacked the United States, other great powers, or any of its neighbors since its 1991 aggression against Kuwait. They viewed it also in the strategic context of how a unified, sovereign, and independent Iraq, however weak and flawed it had become after more than a decade of onerous economic and other internationally imposed sanctions, nonetheless functioned as a geostrategic counterweight to Iran, the GCC countries' largest, most populous, and most radical neighbor. From this perspective, they foresaw that an American invasion of Iraq would immediately upset the regional balance of power. They acknowledged that this balance, achieved by the American-initiated policy of "Dual Containment" against Iran and Iraq from 1991–1992 onward, was hardly bereft of blemish. Indeed, they were fully aware that the accompanying economic sanctions administered by the United Nations Security Council, apart from being porous, less than comprehensively enforced, and ironically serving in various ways to strengthen the regime of saddam hussein, had severe negative consequences upon the health of many Iraqis. Even so, viewed from an overarching strategic perspective of the necessity of prolonging regional peace and avoiding a potentially catastrophic war, it had produced a degree of much-needed and appreciated stability within the Gulf as a whole.
On the other hand, Shaykh Muhammad and other Arab leaders conceded that their profound disagreement with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush (and also Great Britain) on this matter notwithstanding, it would have been unwise and counterproductive for their strategic, economic, political, commercial, defense and other interests with the United States to allow their disagreement on this one issue, large and laced with uncertainties as it was, to place their overall relationship with Washington officialdom in jeopardy. There were simply too many other things that the UAE, the rest of the GCC member-states, and Arab countries elsewhere wanted and needed from their association with the world's sole superpower for them to let their opposition to American policy in this instance endanger all their other U.S.-centric interests.
In the end, as was the case with every other GCC country, in addition to Egypt and Jordan, the UAE found it had little choice but to agree, if necessary, to extend tacit and low profile over-flight, refueling, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance to the United States and the other Allied Coalition countries in the event they proceeded to attack Iraq. The decision to do so was rationalized as being the least bad in a situation where there were no good options available. The decision's results were hardly insignificant and not long in coming. In the UAE, among the consequences was that Shaykh Muhammad and virtually all the other UAE leaders had to contend almost immediately with potentially serious implications for the country's domestic stability and security. One set of concerns stemmed from the palpable anger of Emiratis opposed not so much the idea of replacing the Iraqi regime of Hussein as to what they argued would be the inevitable immense harm inflicted upon an already weakened and beleaguered Iraqi people as a result. More specifically, UAE citizens, along with millions the world over, took particular exception to Washington's stated reasons for the attack. These included inter alia, the search for (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction; stemming the tide of terrorism emanating from the Middle East; lowering the international price of oil; installing a system of democratic governance in Iraq that would become a beacon to other countries; and privatizing the Iraqi economy, including its oil, gas, and petrochemical industries, as well as the country's banking and manufacturing sectors, among other rationales. Further, Shaykh Muhammad and other UAE and GCC country leaders' positions were not made any easier in light of the undeniable fact that, nearly half a decade after the invasion and occupation began, practically all of the attackers' stated objectives had met with ignominious failure.
Worse, Shaykh Muhammad and the rest of the GCC countries' leaders found that the results of the invasion, as they had predicted, left the previous regional balance of power in tatters. In its place was an emboldened Iran keen to expand its strategic influence and reach throughout the Gulf region and beyond. The implications of these new realities for UAE and other GCC strategic and defense interests as well as policies were profound and far-reaching. Not least was the heightened anxiety over the possibility that Iran, sooner rather than later, would become a nuclear power. The prospects for
its doing so had advanced largely unchecked as a result of the United States and other great powers, throughout the 1990s, having been fixated upon Iraq to the exclusion of what was happening in Iraq's next door neighbor. Heightening the anxieties rooted in this possibility were mounting signs that either the United States, or Israel, or worse, perhaps some combination of the two, would attack Iran militarily before the end of the Bush Administration in 2008 if not earlier. Making everyone more nervous still was the inability of anyone to rule out that Washington might use force against Iran not by itself but in conjunction with an Israeli strike with a view possibly to influencing in the Republican Party's favor the outcome of the American presidential elections scheduled for November 2008.
Regarding these concerns, Shaykh Muhammad had to contend simultaneously with two other realities. One was the fact that Israel was the only Middle Eastern country other than Kuwait to support the United States-led campaign to replace the regime of Hussein. The other, which was more ominous, was that many of these same Israeli strategists, together with their American supporters, remained enamored with the possibility of being able to overthrow the government of Iran as well. The consequences of the United States toppling the Iraqi government, to be sure, were serious enough. It had demolished the regional balance of power in the Gulf. It had heightened an image of instability throughout the area. It had broken a country and smashed to smithereens its capital that, for half a millennium, had been associated with the zenith of Arab as well as Islamic civilization. That the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq had strengthened the hand of the UAE's largest non-Arab neighbor, which continued to occupy three UAE islands it had seized by force on the eve of the UAE's independence; that there were tens of thousands of Iranians living and working in the UAE; and that Iran indicated it would not hesitate to strike at American interests in the Gulf were U.S. armed forces to attack Iran—these constituted an even more ominous set of consequences confronting Shaykh Muhammad and others responsible for ensuring the UAE's and the lower Gulf's defense. A particularly acute apprehension in this regard stemmed from the fact that virtually all of the UAE's desalination facilities, power generating plants, and the centers of the country's offshore oil and gas producing operations were not well situated in terms of being able to defend them from external attack. To the contrary, they would be within easy striking distance of Iran's armed forces in the event that Tehran's leaders, responding to an American and/or Israeli military attack against Iran, were to retaliate against United States interests in the UAE.
Since December 2004, Shaykh Muhammad has been the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, the major decision-making body in the Emirate. First established in the late 1960s, the Council has comprised as many as nearly two dozen members appointed by the ruler. In the absence of a parliament, the council has functioned for years as a kind of a de facto council of Emirati ministers, or cabinet. As such, its members are charged to consult continuously with a view to forging consensus in matters relating to a variety of functions common to all governing bodies, especially municipal ones such as energy, education, housing, health, roads, and communications. The council was responsible for administering all of these services, and more, for the city of Abu Dhabi, as the capital of the emirate, in the first five years following Shaykh Zayid's becoming Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and in that same role as well as Abu Dhabi having become the UAE's national capital since 1971, continuously since then. Just as his older brother, Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayid, obtained valuable experience in the day-to-day administration of government in Abu Dhabi, so, too, has Shaykh Muhammad benefited in the course of developing important administrative skills of a kind at once different and more numerous than those he developed earlier in his role as deputy supreme commander of the UAE defense forces.
Upon Shaykh Zayid's death in November 2004 and his brother's accession to the leadership of Abu Dhabi and the UAE, Shaykh Muhammad became next in line for leadership of the emirate. Likewise, if precedent and the continued predominant position and role of Abu Dhabi within the UAE as a whole are any guide, there is every indication that Shaykh Muhammad will eventually be in line, if not first among equals, to be elected President of the UAE as well.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Shaykh Muhammad is renowned in defense and aerospace circles the world over as the chief of the air force component as well as deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, one of the most modern, high-tech, and well-equipped and supplied air forces of any country in the developing world. He is director of a complex and controversial economic offsets program whereby, in exchange for lucrative defense contracts, his country has been able to enter into long-term mutually beneficial economic and related arrangements whereby the host contracting country gains valuable access to technology, education, training, and access to foreign markets it would have been unlikely to obtain in any other way, simultaneous to strengthening the overall defense commitment of the contracting companies' host country governments in assuring the defense of Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole.
Like all of Shaykh Zayid's children, it would be difficult for Shaykh Muhammad to have been uninfluenced by the towering legacy of his father. Like his elder half-brother, Sheikh Khalifa, Shaykh Muhammad is regarded as generally committed to continuing those among his father's policies as they pertain to Abu Dhabi. These have included most especially Shaykh Zayid's legacy of providing a degree of security, defense, and material well-being as well as a system of civil and effective justice for the citizens of Abu Dhabi that is second to none not just in the UAE but, arguably, among other countries in the developing world in general. Similarly, he has given every indication that he is also determined to continue as well as build upon his father's pro-confederation policies. These have been manifested most prominently in the efforts to bolster the UAE's capabilities in and contributions to regional and global affairs. They have also been evident in the care that Shaykh Muhammad has taken to strengthen and expand the UAE's close partnership with mainly Western oil and gas companies and a comparably extensive partnership with Western, and increasingly American, systems of deterrence and defense as well as equipment and training in strategic and tactical doctrine pertaining to the country's armed forces.
In addition to being broadly supportive of the UAE's strategic relations with the United States and other Western great powers, Shaykh Muhammad has long admired the UAE Emirate of Dubai's business-friendly policies and orientation. Evidence of the latter has been his support for Abu Dhabi's Chamber of Commerce, comprised of all of the emirate's leading merchant families and investors. Indicative of his willingness to introduce the most modern elements of electronic commerce to Abu Dhabi and the UAE's private sector vendors, he supported the decision stipulating that no application for government contracts would be considered if the applicant failed to submit its request via e-mail.
Further evidence of Shaykh Muhammad's determination to enhance the degree of UAE business participation in major foreign contracts has been the UAE "offsets program." This system has long existed as a means of compelling international companies seeking lucrative government contracts to commit to investing a portion of the profits generated back into the country's economy. As one might expect, international companies have never liked this system, as it often forces them into underwriting business undertakings that for reasons owing to their often being at variance with their strengths and of dubious profitability, they would like to avoid. The UAE and other governments' perspectives have been quite different. They have argued that companies seldom venture outside their specific area of specialization unless required to do so by some factor over which they have no control. In this instance, the factor has been the UAE government's insistence that any foreign company deriving major defense-related commercial gain from the UAE has a legal duty to find ways to strengthen and expand the country's private sector as a cost, in effect, of doing business in this exceptionally lucrative sector of the UAE economy. As a result, foreign companies doing business in the UAE have concluded they have no choice but to comply with such terms, however onerous they may be, as an essential means of aspiring to win a contract.
Shaykh Muhammad has been essential to the conceptualization and administration of this system since it was launched in the early 1990s. To date, the commercial record of the system's implementation, as elsewhere, has been mixed. However, the goal of achieving the program's strategic objectives, as was the intent from the beginning, has by and large been successful. For example, the UAE has thereby been able to obtain technology it would otherwise have had to purchase separately at additional cost. It has been able to enhance vital human resource training for Abu Dhabian and other UAE citizens who might otherwise not have been provided such an opportunity. It has helped UAE businesses to access foreign companies' or their affiliates' markets in ways that would probably not have been possible in any other way. And it has deepened private sector-to-private-sector ties between the UAE and some of the world's most advanced companies to a degree that would not have been imaginable otherwise.
Finally, Shaykh Muhammad is known for championing improvement of the UAE's record in the realm of human rights. To this end, he and his colleagues have long held to a much broader definition and concept of human rights than many of the country's mainly Western critics. That is, in contrast to many wealthy countries in the Western world, Shaykh Muhammad, in keeping with his father and siblings' values and Islamic-inspired ethics, has contended that any country whose economy can afford it should not shirk from fulfilling its duty to provide as many of its citizens as possible with their legitimate needs. The obligation to provide such assistance is the more keenly felt in those cases where, if it is left to the citizen's personal initiative alone, this is not likely to occur. To this end, Shaykh Muhammad and his fellow leaders believe such governments should consider themselves morally bound to provide their citizens free of charge, as the UAE has done, everything they can in the way of such benefits and services as adequate housing, education, and health care. In addition, Shaykh Muhammad and his fellow leaders contend that, wherever it is possible for a government to avoid doing
so, neither should it tax a person's income or, on humanitarian grounds alone, allow that a society's orphans, widows, widowers, disabled, or any others among a wealthy country's less advantaged citizens should receive anything less than the best possible care, compassion, and provision for their basic needs.
By this measurement of how governments of substantial economic and financial means ought to treat their citizens, Shaykh Muhammad and his UAE counterparts have ranked year after year among the most exemplary of world leaders in terms of the degree of compassion and public service they have extended to those in need among their fellow citizens. In terms of the international components of similar acts of goodwill, Shaykh Muhammad and his fellow UAE leaders have also been exemplary. Together with his ruling brother, Shaykh Khalifa, and the Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, Shaykh Muhammad bin Rashid Al Maktum, Shaykh Muhammad bin Zayid has frequently been at the forefront of those UAE leaders earliest and most generous to provide support throughout the world for those most in need of assistance. Examples of the recipients of Abu Dhabi and the UAE's largesse have been refugees in Bosnia, Kosovo, Lebanon, and the Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine, victims of climatic catastrophes in the United States and elsewhere, and substantial charitable, humanitarian, and development assistance to numerous less-developed countries.
Among critics of the UAE and its leaders, Shaykh Muhammad and other UAE officials have long been on the receiving end of international condemnation of the extent to which under-age children have been used as camel jockeys in the popular UAE pastime of camel racing. On 31 March 2005 despite predictable opposition from many owners of camels that race in competition, Shaykh Muhammad outlawed the use of child camel jockeys. Under the law, children under 16 years of age or 45 kilograms in weight cannot be jockeys in the country. Similar laws had been enacted previously with minimal effect, but the incarnation of the 2005 restriction has been taken far more seriously and been much better enforced. Contributing to Shaykh Muhammad's decision and follow-up in this matter was his involvement with the Ansar Burney Welfare Trust. The Trust is named after and headed by Ansar Burney, a Pakistani human rights activist and vocal opponent of the use of child camel jockeys. After viewing a documentary that Burney produced to highlight this issue, Shaykh Muhammad proclaimed the ban. Subsequently, he helped the trust establish a rehabilitation center for young camel jockeys who had been damaged by the hazardous sport and the often-unacceptable conditions in which they were traditionally housed and trained. As in neighboring Oman, where Sultan qaboos al bu sa'id has similarly prohibited the use of child camel jockeys, UAE camel races have since substituted electronic camel jockeys in their place.
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