Maktum, Muhammad Bin Rashid al- (1949–)

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Maktum, Muhammad Bin Rashid al-

Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum (Maktoum) is the emir of Dubai and prime minister, defense minister, and vice president of the United Arab Emirates.


Shaykh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum was born in Dubai in 1949, the third son of Shaykh Rashid bin Sa'id al-Maktum, who ruled Dubai from 1958 to 1990. The al-Maktum family is from the Al Bu Falasa section of the powerful Bani Yas tribe, which also includes (in its Al Bu Falah section) the Nahyan family, rulers of neighboring Abu Dhabi. In 1833 the Al Bu Falasa section left the broader Al Bu Falah group to make its home east of Abu Dhabi in the coastal village of Dubai, and Shaykh Muhammad's family and the people of Dubai have ever since been known for their urban, maritime, and commercial identity, often contrasted with the Al Bu Falah's desert and tribal character.

Shaykh Muhammad's eldest brother, Maktum bin Rashid al-Maktum, became the ruler of Dubai from 1990 until his death in 2006. His other older brother, Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktum, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Minister of Finance and Industry since the U.A.E.'s inceptionon2December 1971, has served as crown prince of Dubai from 1971 to 1990, as deputy ruler from 1990 to 2006, and again as crown prince from 2006 to the present. His younger brother is Major General Ahmad bin Rashid al-Maktum, deputy chairman of Dubai Police and Public Security, as well as the head of Emirates Airways and the Dubai Department of Civil Aviation.

Shaykh Muhammad received his early education in Dubai, first by way of private lessons in Arabic and religious studies, and then, beginning in 1955, successively at al-Ahmadiyya School, al-Sha'b School, and Dubai Secondary School. In 1966, he attended the Bell School of Languages at Cambridge University. Shaykh Muhammad is also a 1971 graduate of the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, United Kingdom.


In late December 1967, Britain announced that it intended to abrogate its more than a century-old series of treaties by which it conducted the defense and foreign relations of nine east Arabian principalities (emirates and shaykhdoms) in the Persian Gulf region. This decision to transform these polities from protected-state status to independence had a profound impact on Dubai and the other emirates. They were thus presented two challenges: the first was to determine what if any changes might be required to the existing systems of governance; the second was to reach agreement on the configuration of any new state or states: whether the nine shaykhdoms would become a single entity or two or more states seeking admission to such international organizations as the United Nations and the League of Arab States.

Regarding the first, the rulers decided to maintain the governmental and political status quo as far as their individual emirates were concerned. Resolving the second proved more difficult. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai declared in February 1968 that they had agreed to establish a bipartite federation and invited the seven other shaykhdoms to join them.


Name: Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktum (Maktoum)

Birth: 1949, Dubai

Family: Wives, Shaykha Hind bint Maktum bin Juma' al-Maktum and Princess Haya bint al-Hussein of Jordan; seven sons; nine daughters

Nationality: Emirati

Education: Private tutoring; al-Ahmadiyya School; al-Sha'b School; Dubai Secondary School; Bell School of Languages, Cambridge University, 1966; Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, U.K., 1971


  • 1968: Receives first public appointments: head of Dubai Police and Public Security; director of Department of Oil
  • 1971: Appointed United Arab Emirates minister of defense
  • 1995: Appointed crown prince
  • 2006: Succeeds as emir, Dubai, vice president and prime minister, United Arab Emirates


Pressed back, without supporter
A child defenseless, confronting aggression
Hiding, the bullets of tyrants
Have no mercy for a child, so young
Seeking shelter, slaughter him the criminals
Savages, whose tyranny never waned
Oh Muhammad, in Paradise of the eternal
Oh Muhammad, your voice reverberates throughout
Oh Muhammad, with you, the God of the Worlds
Whose mercy enfolds you forever
Oh Muhammad, who saw you grieved
And all, if we could, would sacrifice
A thousand million, the Muslims
All for you, Muhammad, fathers
Alas, where is the peace of the just?
The peace you seek is futile
Lost it, without doubt, the usurpers
When allowed their hatred to renew
And boiled the blood of Arabs, East and West
When Sharon visited the mosque
Oh Arabs, comrades for years
Bury that which passed, as became
Our greatest concern, to defend against aggressors
Who against al-Aqsa their aggression began
My nation, would that you unite
In lines, terrified then the enemies
Follow Zayid, the leader of the wise
Who called for unity and initiated
Oh Saladin, oh the greatest conquerors
Oh Umar, oh the dignified and the generous
The state of the nation allures the greedy
We seek naught but unity to satisfy


Soon thereafter, a series of meetings among all nine of the emirates' rulers began to lay in earnest the groundwork for what would become, in 1971, the six-state U.A.E., comprised of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujayrah, Sharjah (ash-Shariqah), and Umm al-Qaywayn. In February 1972, the Emirate of Ra's al-Khaymah also joined, thereby expanding the U.A.E. to the seven-state union that exists today. The other two states, Bahrain and Qatar, chose to become independent.

In 1968, near the beginning of this three-year process of transition from imperial rule to national sovereignty and independence, Shaykh Muhammad received his first two public appointments. He became head of Dubai Police and Public Security as well as director of the Department of Oil. The latter assignment entailed close cooperation with the main concessionaire, the American firm Continental Oil Company (Conoco). The nature of the work in each of these institutions, combined with the then small size of Dubai's population, required that Shaykh Muhammad work with numerous expatriate advisers as well as foreign workers; the latter comprised thousands from numerous developing countries, the Indian subcontinent in particular. A consequence of Shaykh Muhammad's holding these two portfolios was that he became familiar early on with the increasingly vital strategic role that Dubai and virtually the entire Gulf would play in terms of regional and global economic growth, together with the necessity of developing a long-term strategy for expanding the emirate's human resource capabilities and the concomitant vital role that the maintenance of peace, prosperity, and political stability locally, nationally, and internationally would play in enhancing Dubai, its fellow Gulf countries, and their allies' prospects for success.

Military Matters

In late 1971, one of the outcomes of the negotiations between his father, Shaykh Rashid bin Sa'id al-Maktum, Dubai's emir, and the emir of Abu Dhabi, Shaykh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was that Shaykh Muhammad was appointed minister of defense for the newly created U.A.E. His younger brother, Shaykh Ahmad bin Rashid al-Maktum, was appointed commander of the Dubai Defense Force (DDF), which was essentially synonymous with the Central Command of the U.A.E.'s armed forces. This command initially assumed responsibility for the defense of Dubai and adjacent emirates immediately to the north. It would continue to do so until the command was eventually and fully integrated into the U.A.E. Defense Forces. This occurred in stages, beginning in 1976 and ending in the 1980s when the last of the force's seconded British commanders retired, the DDF ceased to exist, and the U.A.E. government assumed its expenses. As minister of defense, Shaykh Muhammad had earlier worked extensively with leaders of the Abu Dhabi Defense Force to forge a national defense force, subsequently known as the U.A.E. Armed Forces, with the latter effectively subsuming the DDF and Abu Dhabi Defense Force, together with the far smaller defense force of the Emirate of Ra's al-Khaymah. In the process, Shaykh Muhammad developed a multifaceted and ongoing professional relationship with Shaykh muhammad bin zayid al nahyan, third eldest son of the emir of Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi ruling family's most prominent military leader. During the 1980s, Muhammad bin Zayid became a lieutenant general and deputy supreme commander of the U.A.E. Armed Forces, the first commander having been Zayid himself, followed by his other son, khalifa bin zayid al nahyan, who, upon Zayid's passing in 2004, became emir of Abu Dhabi and U.A.E. president.

The U.A.E. military's earliest deployment was to Lebanon in 1976 as part of the Arab Deterrent Force seeking to end the Lebanese Civil War that had erupted the year before. It was subsequently one of the first Arab armies to provide logistical, operational, and humanitarian assistance to Iraq in the aftermath of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War and, again, to both Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 following the reversal of Iraq's aggression against Kuwait. In the weeks immediately prior to Iraq's 2 August 1990, attack against Kuwait, the U.A.E. was one of the first Arab countries to call for foreign military action opposing Iraq's invasion. When this failed, it joined Saudi Arabia and Iran in replacing the 4.5 million barrels a day of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil that the United Nations Security Council forbade anyone to purchase. Simultaneously, the U.A.E. advocated that concerted international military action should restore Kuwaiti sovereignty.

The U.A.E.'s armed forces were also deployed to Somalia in 1993 and to Kosovo in 1999 as part of the multinational forces in those two conflicts. In the latter operation, the U.A.E. contributed 1,450 troops, mechanized infantry, and an Apache helicopter. In the 1990s, the U.A.E. military engaged in a program of expansion, purchasing new weapons and equipment, and the process of "emiratization," increasing the number of U.A.E. citizens to replace officers and soldiers from other countries, especially Oman and Pakistan.

Dubai as a Commercial Center

Shaykh Muhammad remained involved in domestic developments in Dubai, especially in its booming commercial sector. In 1977, he was tasked by his father, Shaykh Rashid, with administrative responsibility for Dubai's international airport. In keeping with the al-Maktum family's interest in international trade, Shaykh Muhammad quickly grasped the potential business opportunities represented by a state-of-the-art facility that would provide world-class shopping and other amenities to passengers transiting Dubai on international aircraft. He also saw that it would further the Dubaian merchant community's aspirations for the emirate to become an Arabian variant of Singapore or Hong Kong.

In 1985, Shaykh Muhammad decided to create a Dubai-based airline, Emirates Air. Many questioned the need for it, given that a Gulf-based airline, Gulf Air, already existed, albeit with ownership, and therefore decision making, dispersed among four non-Dubaian co-owners, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar. That same year, Shaykh Muhammad was appointed to supervise the Jabal 'Ali Free Zone, associated with Jabal 'Ali Port, one of the world's largest. In assuming responsibilities for the success of such a vast infrastructural undertaking, Shaykh Muhammad was following in the footsteps of his father, who was known for his commitment to long-range planning and decision making.

The combination of mega-investments in the emirate's airport, seaport, and ship repair facilities, together with the practically nonstop expansion and modernization of its wholesale and retail merchandising, importing, and reexporting activities, proved to be extremely profitable, and made Dubai a logical location for foreign companies seeking a site for their regional headquarters, as well as a center for cost-effective distribution of goods and services to markets in Arabia, the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, and parts of Central Asia as well as East Africa. Moreover, the end of the Cold War and the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s spurred expansion of Dubai's economic and commercial activities beyond what anyone had earlier foreseen as possible. Dubai became a hub for chartered and regularly scheduled commercial flights to and from such consumer goods-deprived countries as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Passengers from those places returned home laden with every consumer good and luxury item imaginable for themselves and their friends and relatives, and Dubai reaped the benefits.

The success of Shaykh Muhammad's business-driven vision for Dubai did not come cost-free. Among other effects was a massive influx of foreigners who flocked to the emirate in search of business or employment opportunities. Inevitably among them were tens of thousands of non-Muslims who neither spoke Arabic nor had more than the most rudimentary knowledge, understanding, or respect for the traditional culture and mores of Dubai's citizens. Compounding the complexity of accommodating the needs of so many newcomers was the fact that, but a few decades earlier, the emirate's indigenous inhabitants had lived a far more simple life. Indeed, the lives of many if not most people who were born and raised in Dubai from as recently as the early 1960s was one in which there were few instances of social dislocation and almost no political unrest. Similarly, the earlier era could hardly have differed more in terms of the nature and extent of economic and commercial development. Indeed, apart from only a dozen or so of the emirate's older and more well-established merchant families, there was little likelihood of most Dubaians' prospering financially, let alone becoming business tycoons with the ability to guarantee their children a life of material abundance.

Another mixed blessing was almost complete lack of import duties levied by Dubai or the U.A.E. on goods entering the emirate, either for local consumption or for reexport. Dubai's leaders, and the merchant class that supported them, grew ever more certain over time that the emirate's commercial success was inextricably linked to this low level of taxation. The same fact, however, was and is the chief obstacle to the goal of achieving the common market among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.) envisioned in June 1981 shortly after the GCC's establishment. In Dubai's defense, Shaykh Muhammad and his fellow decision makers argue that the emirate's prosperity overwhelmingly depends on its successful pursuit of three main interests, facetiously but factually cited as business, business, and business. More specifically, they stress that the emirate's commercial prowess turns directly on the extent to which it operates, as do rival commercial entrepôts Colombo, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and Singapore, on the principle of importing massive volumes of goods with very slim margins of profit per item. Viewed from this perspective, anything that would raise the level of taxes on imports runs the certain risk that Dubai's profit-conscious business partners, both the producers of incoming goods as well as foreign customers, would switch to its competitors.

The Future Emir

In 1995, Shaykh Muhammad's eldest brother, Shaykh Maktum bin Rashid, who had become emir on the death of their father in 1990, appointed Muhammad crown prince, or heir apparent (Wali al-Ahad). With the economic boom sustained by conspicuous consumption unleashed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, Shaykh Muhammad was persuaded that the promotion of tourism should become one of the emirate's major economic objectives. Accordingly, that same year he announced the creation of the Dubai Shopping Festival, an annual event designed to extend the emirate's economic development far into the future. To this end, Shaykh Muhammad lent his support to such major undertakings as the expansion of Dubai's airport; construction of the Burj al-'Arab (Arab Tower), the world's tallest hotel; and the ambitious Palm Islands project, the creation of a group of artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree in the shallow waters of the Gulf, on which would be built a set of luxury resorts. These and other such endeavors aimed at the international carriage trade highlighted Shaykh Muhammad's business-driven ambitions for Dubai and his powerful influence in guiding a substantial segment of the U.A.E.'s overall economic and commercial growth throughout the 1990s and beyond.

In 2004, Shaykh Muhammad married Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, daughter of King hussein bin talal of Jordan and half-sister of the current king, abdullah ii bin hussein. The marriage was viewed as having the potential for enhancing the existing strategic and geopolitical cooperation between two of the Arab world's most important subregions.

On 4 January 2006, on the death of his elder brother the emir, who in addition to ruling Dubai served as the U.A.E.'s vice president (since 1990) and prime minister (since 1971), Shaykh Muhammad succeeded him in all three positions while retaining the portfolio of U.A.E. minister of defense.

In 2006 and 2007, Shaykh Muhammad and his fellow leaders in Dubai and the other U.A.E. emirates found themselves in a quandary not of their making. Future prospects for continued stability and economic success had grown cloudy, as a result of the mounting international opposition to Iran's nuclear development programs and quest for expanded regional power and influence. Iran remains not only Dubai's largest and most militarily powerful maritime neighbor but also one of its perennially most important customers for reexported goods.

Shaykh Muhammad recognizes that Dubai and the U.A.E. are incapable of defending themselves unaided against the possibility of an Iranian attack. Further, it is uncertain whether, and if so for how long, the emirate could withstand a sustained campaign of internal subversion and sabotage by Iranian agents, supporters, and sympathizers among the tens of thousands of overseas Iranians in the midst of Dubai. The uncertainty is compounded by its appearing to be out of the question that Dubai could, or indeed would ever want to, expel this particular group of foreigners who are essential to the ongoing success of Dubai's economy and its citizens' standard of living. No one can predict with assurance what might be the likely consequences were Iran to wage a covert campaign to undermine stability and security in Dubai, whether or not in reaction to an American and/or Israeli military attack against the Islamic Republic.


Shaykh Muhammad is known internationally for having been largely responsible for the development of the Arab world's most successful business-minded city-state, as well as having helped to forge and sustain the developing world's longest-lasting and most successful confederation of sovereign states.

Beside his reputation as a business-friendly modernizer who deeply respects many of the traditions and customs of his forebears, Shaykh Muhammad is known for his fondness for some of the more romanticized aspects of Bedouin life, among them falconry and horses as well as camel riding, breeding, and racing. Shaykh Muhammad's renowned love of horses and horse racing led him in 1994 to establish Godolphin Stables, Inc., which further enhanced his reputation as a world-class horse owner. Since 1996, his sponsorship of the Dubai World Cup has annually drawn an elite assembly of equestrians from around the world. Adding to his long string of successes in backing championship horses in prominent competitions in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere, he is the owner of Bernardini, the winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes.

Shaykh Muhammad is also known for his skill in writing and reciting poetry. His poems are in the nabati style traditionally associated with the tribes of Arabia and their local Arabic dialect. Shaykh Muhammad has written poems on subjects ranging from the personal and intimate to the public and national, as in one poem extolling the legendary virtues of U.A.E. founding president Shaykh Zayid, which Shaykh Muhammad recited live on national television for nearly an hour to the accompaniment of stirring music and film clips portraying many of the highlights of Shaykh Zayid's extraordinary life and accomplishments. Another such poem was an elegy for the young Muhammad al-Durra, who in 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada was seen on news footage aired on television worldwide being killed by Israeli soldiers as he crouched against a wall with his father in Gaza City as they tried to protect themselves. Other examples include Shaykh Muhammad's odes to his father and meditations on the life and creatures of the desert.


Shaykh Muhammad has been a major driving force behind Dubai's long-lasting economic boom. His interest in economic development has consistently been manifested in his strong pro-business policies and numerous projects designed to encourage the emirate's rapid and ongoing economic development. Well before becoming ruler of Dubai in 2006, Shaykh Muhammad was heavily involved in promoting the emirate as a business and tourism hub; his activities have made Dubai a brand name identified with luxury tourism and shopping. Along with Dubai Development and Investment Authority Board Chairman Muhammad al-Jirgawi, with whom he launched the Dubai Shopping Festival, Shaykh Muhammad also pioneered telecommunications and electronic information services in such projects as Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City.


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                                             John Duke Anthony