Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the architect of modern Dubai


As the new nation of the United Arab Emirates was founded on 2 December 1971, following British notification of intent to withdraw from the Trucial States, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became its first Minister of Defence at the age of 22. Earlier as a young man, in January 1968, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was present when his father Rashid and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan first met in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi at Argoub El Sedira to agree to the formation of a union of emirates.

A period of uncertainty and instability followed the Union of the United Arab Emirates, including skirmishes between tribes over property, straddling new borders. On 24 January 1972, the exiled former ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah, Saqr bin Sultan Al Qasimi, led an insurrectionist coup against the ruler, Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi. Following a spirited firefight between the Union Defence Force and Saqr’s forces – mostly Egyptian mercenaries who had entered the UAE through Ras Al Khaimah – Sheikh Mohammed accepted Saqr’s surrender. Sheikh Khalid had been killed in the action, leading to the accession of his brother Sultan as ruler of Sharjah.

Sheikh Mohammed delivered Saqr to Sheikh Zayed, who put him under house arrest in Al Ain.

In 1973, Sheikh Mohammed was involved in protracted negotiations with the hijackers of JAL 404, led by Japanese Red Army member Osamu Maruouka, which landed in Dubai after being hijacked as it departed Schiphol Airport. Although unsuccessful in obtaining the release of the hostages (they were finally freed, and the 747 blown up, in Libya), he was more successful in a later negotiation with the three hijackers of KLM 861, who released the balance of their hostages and handed over the plane in return for safe passage. In 1977, Mohammed oversaw the integration of Dubai’s military forces with those of the other emirates.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was appointed by his father as the head of the Dubai Police Force and the Dubai Defence Force (which later became a part of the Union Defence Force) when he was only 20 years old.

A billionaire, Mohammed generates most of his income from real estate and is described as “one of the world’s most prominent real estate developers”.

Land which is owned by him is managed as an asset of the state. There is a blurred line between the assets of the government of Dubai and those of the ruling Al Maktoum family. He oversaw the growth of Dubai into a global city, as well as the launch of a number of government-owned enterprises including Emirates Airline, DP World, and the Jumeirah Group. Some of these are held by Dubai Holding. Mohammed has overseen the development of certain projects in Dubai including the creation of a technology park, a free economic zone, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, the Dubai International Finance Centre, the Palm Islands and the Burj Al Arab hotel. He also drove the construction of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

From the age of four, Mohammed was privately tutored in Arabic and Islamic Studies. In 1955, he began his formal education at Al Ahmedia School. At the age of 10, he moved to Al Shaab School, and two years later, went to Dubai Secondary School. In 1966, with his cousin Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum, he attended the Bell Educational Trust’s English Language School in the United Kingdom. He subsequently studied at the Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, passing out with the sword of honor as the top Commonwealth student. He also travelled to Italy to train as a pilot.

Mohammed has overseen the creation and growth of a number of businesses and economic assets of Dubai, with a number held by two companies under his ownership, Dubai World and Dubai Holding. According to the laws of Dubai, the ruling family owns all undeveloped land in Dubai, which has allowed the family to prosper from real estate development. During Mohammed’s rule, Dubai has seen enormous population growth, causing a real estate boom in Dubai. The boom was in part facilitated by Mohammed’s 2002 decree that foreigners would be allowed to purchase property in Dubai.

Mohammed established Dubai World by decree, leading to the company’s launch on 2 July 2006, as a holding company consolidating a number of assets including logistics company, DP World, property developer Nakheel Properties, and investment company Istithmar World. With more than 50,000 employees in over 100 cities around the globe, the group has real estate, logistics and other business investments in the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. The company is owned by the government of Dubai.

Mohammed’s personal corporate portfolio is the Dubai Holding Group, which is involved in a variety of investments. Dubai Holding benefits from its association with the ruling family of Dubai, and is given free land by the Dubai government.

Mohammed was responsible for the launch of Emirates Airline, which has already turned into one of the most popular airlines in the world.

Through the 1970s, as well as his role as head of Dubai Defence Force and UAE minister of defence, Mohammed oversaw Dubai’s energy resources and was in charge of Dubai Civil Aviation. It was in this latter role, in March 1985, that he founded Emirates Airline, tasking then-head of DNATA, Maurice Flanagan, with launching a new airline to be called Emirates after a dispute with Gulf Air over Dubai’s ‘Open Skies’ policy. The launch budget of the airline was US$10 million (the amount Flanagan said he needed to launch an airline) and its inaugural flight took place on October 25, 1985. Mohammed appointed his uncle Ahmed bin Saeed as chairman of the new company. A further US$75 million in facilities and materials was provided, but Emirates has always maintained that it has received no further subsidies throughout the company’s meteoric growth to become one of the world’s leading airlines.


  1. I found this article very interesting. Can you suggest a history book or books about Dubai? Thank you for your time.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here