Over the past ten years Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership has seen remarkable economic development in Dubai. He first spearheaded the successful expansion of infrastructure and more recently, formulated investment, fiscal and economic policies as well as strategies to support the overarching vision of the city. Research on Dubai Ruler’s leadership would help point out the distinctive leadership tactics that have propelled Dubai to its current status. This investigation was conducted from different angles as one aspect of the ruler’s leadership could not accomplish such a demanding goal. Among the angles approached are the policies the ruler puts into place, the public relations tactics he employs to make a brand of his emirate, his beliefs and values as well as leadership and intrapersonal skills he possesses. The research also includes reports released by human rights groups that taint Dubai ruler’s leadership due to his intolerance to criticism.
Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum had always harbored an ambition of transforming Dubai, which was then a fishing village. He attended the meeting between the then ruler of Dubai and that of Abu Dhabi where they discussed and formed the United Arab Emirates. He was not the ruler then and could not do more than that. Today, he is the Prime Minister and Vice-President of the UAE as well as the Ruler of Dubai. He has taken over from his brother in 2006. He holds all the three positions because of the nature of politics in the United Arab Emirates (the UAE); governance occurs in a framework of an absolute federal monarchy. The UAE is a federation of seven monarchies, and conventionally, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi automatically becomes the President of the UAE while the Ruler of Dubai serves as both the UAE Vice-President and the Prime Minister. This paper introduces Sheikh Mohammed briefly and then discusses his leadership, including revolutionary initiatives, plans and programs that he has developed. The paper attempts to prove that the major transformation of Dubai into a leading global city over the last decade is attributable to Sheikh Mohammed’s tactful leadership.
Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum was born in 1949. He is the third born son in the family of Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Since the age of four, he got private tuition in Islamic and Arabic studies. He joined Al Ahmedia School in 1995 to begin formal education. In 2001, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, a world-renowned institution in the UK. He attended some specialized economy courses at the Dubai School of Government and later the London School of Economics. He then acquired practical leadership skills and public administration studies from his father at home. Sheikh Mohammed is relatively wealthy person, with Forbes estimating his net worth at 18 billion U.S. dollars. He is married to two wives: Sheikha Maktoum and Haya Al-Hussein. He has fathered 16 children.
A poet and philanthropist, His Highness has proved to be a leader of international stature who works tirelessly aiming towards a glowing nation. Some potent proofs that Dubai is now a world city include the Burj Khalifa (Oxford Business Group, 2014). The building rose from a stump to become the tallest skyscraper worldwide in only four years of Sheikh Mohammed’s rule. Additionally, he continues to strengthen the Dubai Defence Force, Emirates airline, Burj Al Arab hotel and Palm Jumeirah, which he established just before his ascension to premiership. One may not believe he has achieved so much in a short span; now Dubai is a global financial hub.
Under his leadership, Dubai today transports its citizens on a post-modern metro network. The capital welcomes millions of visitors every year through the busiest airport worldwide and an unparalleled collection of luxury guest houses (Lis, 2009). Abu Dhabi has become a haven for thousands in an increasingly unstable and uncertain part of the world; having almost slipped toward chaos, it managed to offer security, tolerance and prosperity (Sargisson, 2012). Sheikh Mohammed’s government encourages and rewards enterprise in all areas. Consequently, the population in the Emirate has risen from 1 million to about 2.5 million. The surge does not result from an insignificant economic calculation based on the benefits of economic growth. The Premier has mastered the art of prosperity and understood its importance. That understanding is a hallmark of His Highness, both as the Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai.
Dubai’s economy has become very diverse since Sheikh Mohammed took over the power. Sectors such as tourism, investment in the real estate as well as construction are vibrant. Sounds of construction are heard everywhere in Dubai. Legions of workers, mostly foreigners from Pakistan and India are building lavish tourist resorts daily. In a nutshell, Sheikh Mohammed is turning Dubai into an international magnet. He has overseen the emirate reinventing itself in the Persian Gulf as a tourist mecca as well as a financial capital. The state contrasts the neighboring states whose economies rely predominantly on exports of crude oil. The UAE is now trading with China and is the largest market for Chinese goods in the Middle East. China has over 4,000 companies in Dubai, most of them specializing in construction. There are also more than 350 trading agencies belonging to the Chinese government in the Emirates. Additionally, the government under Sheikh Mohammed has created conditions that are attracting over 200,000 expatriates from China. Each year, Dubai is also hosting more than 300,000 Chinese tourists. In addition, the UAE will seek to strengthen the economic ties with China even further.
Dubai and the UAE now boast of remarkable achievements of this unique leader who has expanded the gross domestic product significantly in per capita terms since he came to power. Using his team of officials, he leads a sustainable and balanced economy as well as an efficient policy on finances. He has also stuck to his unique philosophy where the function of the government is to make citizens happy while managing government agencies.
There were fears in 2009 that the global economic turndown could have a domino effect in Dubai. China’s devaluation of its currency worsened the situation. Even foreign investors in the Emirate doubted Dubai could survive. The Prime Minister reacted by adjusting its trade transactions with China. The country would import only at a cheap cost from China. Additionally, he pegged the UAE dirham to the U.S. dollar, making prices for Chinese buyers in Dubai more expensive. In spite of the measures outlined above, Dubai’s economy suffered slightly because some foreigners left the country. More than 50 percent of construction projects were put on hold, but they picked up again when the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi bailed out the emirate. As European investors left, they were replaced almost immediately by Asians, who were in search of real estate investments. Dubai survived economic meltdown, thus, though the stakes had been high due to the city’s tight ties with China and the world market (Pozzan, Dunston, & Carter, 2009). Dubai weathered this storm and thus became a defining chapter of the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed.
Sheikh Mohammed works hard to make a brand name of the country. He cultivates the image of Dubai carefully and brings a veneer of respectability to the city. For instance, he launched a project dubbed ‘Dubai Speaks to You.’ By turning Dubai into an open gallery, the project will highlight a feeling and unique image of Dubai as one of the world’s most culturally diverse and fastest-growing cities. Brand Dubai in collaboration with the principal real estate developers in the Emirates has made many locations across Dubai for artists to work in, involved in installations, photography, street art or sculpture. His Highness emphasizes an embedded historical dimension, which gives Dubai significantly more familiarity and interest in the Middle East. In a nutshell, Dubai is clearly on the rise. It remains an indelible mark in the Middle East, the influence of which comes with international ramifications for the whole world.
The Dubai ruler, when the building the city’s global brand, has helped strengthen Dubai’s international alliances. He reinforces the city’s ties to the Western countries through meetings with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the US President Barack Obama. To show solidarity with the States, Sheikh Mohammed’s government took part in the bombing of Yemen. Some critics in the West, however, perceive the well-managed public relations clamor as hiding a far darker side of Dubai, which will be described in the following section.
Sheikh Mohammed has recognized the input of the youth and incorporated them in his government. He believes the society cannot grow without the optimism and energy of youth. Being a young country, the UAE needs to invest even more in the youth, which His Highness is doing passionately. The Prime Minister admits young people are fast as far as acquisition and processing of knowledge is concerned, partly because they grew up with techniques and technology that were not available before. They can thus drive the Emirate to unprecedented levels of development. With this realization, the Minister for Youth Affairs in Sheikh Mohammed’s cabinet is a youngster who was first appointed at the age of 22 years. There is also a council of youth in place to cater for their special interests. Before His Highness came to power, the UAE government had spurned the youth and blocked their path to enhancing their lives. The young people slammed the door in the UAE’s face. The tension in the Emirate increased and culminated into the Arab Spring. The event was rooted squarely in the shortage of opportunities for youth; they could not achieve their ambitions and dreams despite working hard.
Sheikh Mohammed’s administration is quite concerned about aligning and driving the government policy to create satisfaction and social good. In view of this, Dubai ruler’s cabinet contains some surprises. By establishing a post of the Minister for Happiness, the administration is not leaving the cheerfulness of Emiratis to chance. The ministry works through a variety of policies to improve the levels of happiness among the citizens. Despite its grandiose name, this ministry has a reasonable mandate; it measures the effectiveness of various social welfare programs. He also created the post of the Minister for Tolerance. The idea is to craft policy that is based on happiness rather than just place economic issues at the center of the public policy. Since then, an index of happiness has come into use, with the country’s values helping identify the components of happiness – ecology, health, education, psychological well-being, culture, living standards, community vitality, good governance and time use. There is certainly no doubt the government policy can influence cheerfulness levels, but whether bringing happiness requires an entire ministry or not is not so certain. All in all, Sheikh Mohammed is a leader who cares about the well-being of the citizens.
Sheikh Mohammed has an active presence in the social media and maintains personal pages on the major social networks. The ruler’s legion of followers across various social networks and in the UAE as well as further afield affectionately refer to him as ‘Sheikh Mo’. Facebook has emerged as a platform to engage with his people. In the Gulf Cooperation Council, he ranks the most popular leader with over 5 million “likes” on Facebook. He has over 1.4 million followers, ranking the third in the group of the most followed North Africa and Middle East leaders. Together with Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, his Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed receives over 25,000 interactions on every post.
As more and more citizens begin communicating on social media, the Ruler of Dubai has turned to Instagram as a tool of communications to reach the citizens. Whilst it is a new channel for leaders, Instagram’s emphasis on visual communication makes it an important medium for connecting the public. Over the last 5 years, Sheikh Mohammed’s government has increasingly experimented with Instagram; they post pictures to illustrate the daily activities the leader is engaged in, including behind-the-scenes shots. According to the studies by global communications and public relations firms, the UAE premier ranks the fourth in terms of interactions and the sixth in terms of followers on Instagram.
On Linkedin, Sheikh Mohammed has set a new standard for engaging the community. His recent post on Linkedin became the third most engaging post worldwide. The post that explains the rationale behind the Happiness and Tolerance Ministries is among the ten fastest spreading posts globally. In less than 48 hours, the post had garnered over 300,000 views, fast approaching the half million mark. Mohammed also initiates discussions on Twitter, where be boasts of over 5 million followers, about issues facing both his country and the matters of international importance (Nepal, Paris, & Georgakopoulos, 2015). He also writes frequent updates on Twitter describing activities he carries out, often focusing on the need to develop Dubai and its youth. In short, Sheikh Mohammed is a pioneer in social media usage in the Arab world, with a total of about 12 million followers across social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook and Instagram.
Sheikh Mohammed’s charitable initiatives and public welfare works make the Dubai leader widely popular among the masses. Indeed, he has become a humanitarian leader globally and the most generous supporter of international humanitarian crises worldwide. He established the International Humanitarian City (IHC), the busiest and largest logistics hub for humanitarian assistance in the world (Metcalfe, & Mimouni, 2011). Sheikh Mohammed’s idea to establish the IHC came at a time when humanitarian efforts were needed worldwide. Sheikh Mohammed’s government has also put in place transport and logistics for aid agencies to reach out to the victims of hunger and poverty. Through the IHC, the Dubai leader has given assistance during the worst humanitarian crises, including the Southeast Asia tsunami, Afghanistan and Darfur civil unrest, the Haiti earthquake of 2010 as well as the famine in the Horn of Africa. Additionally, his government has been engaged heavily in the response to crises in the Philippines and Syria.
The situation in Dubai has changed significantly under Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership. The majority of people are happy with how Sheikh Mohammed is leading the country. Traditionally Dubai was conservative, but today it is one of the most liberal Gulf countries, with foreign cultural beliefs being tolerated in general. It is now providing opportunities to foreign expatriates who failed to find jobs in their countries. Large scale creation of job opportunities was not possible without the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed. Since Sheikh Mohammed ascended to power, Dubai has developed in all aspects of life successfully, including social services, communications and technology, health and education, trade and finance. The rate at which the government of Sheikh Mohammed is transforming Dubai is unmatched at any time or anywhere, which has confounded international expectations. Notably, all these material developments have taken place against a backdrop of social and political stability.
Politically, however, Sheikh Mohammed’s rule remains authoritarian. Many people would merely associate Dubai with tall, futuristic buildings, Arsenal football club and elaborate shopping complexes. The skewed view tends to obscure the authoritarian leader whose beliefs and behavior sharply contrasts the flamboyant and liberal image that Sheikh Mohammed’s government loves to project. His authorities have recently introduced laws that further criminalize political dissent. There are now far-reaching laws on cyber-crime, which resulted in anti-government activists facing threats of deportation (Amnesty International, 2016). Advocacy groups believe one could get extended prison sentences for merely holding peaceful protests. According to these advocates, Sheikh Mohammed’s administration restricts freedom of expression despite the constitutionally guaranteed right allowing people to express themselves.
While Dubai was spared the uprisings that characterized the Arab Spring in Arab countries, activists often ask Sheikh Mohammed’s government to grant greater political rights. According to Amnesty International, he responds by incarcerating pro-reform voices (2016). Together with the UAE’s President, they have provided military support to help crush the pro-democracy movement of Bahrain. At one time he ordered revocation of citizenship of men who he claimed to belong to the Association for Reform and Guidance, an Islamist group. These men had reportedly signed a petition calling for free elections and a legislative reform earlier in the year. Sheikh Mohammed continues to respond harshly to pro-democracy activism; every time he cites vaguely defined security reasons as justification. He orders to arrest activists, bloggers, judges, lawyers and political reformers, incarcerating most of them without access to any legal representation.
The Dubai ruler expels NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) whose focus is to empower the civil society of the country. Foreign academics that criticize the regime’s suppression of free expression are not spared; their passports are confiscated without explanation. It is not only political rebellion that is punishable. Serious concerns have risen about the working conditions of foreign workers. Laborers had their passports withheld and were forced to work in squalid conditions as a punishment for their threatening to go on strike. The International Trade Union Confederation has criticized conditions in labor camps, describing rampant abuses as ‘systematic’.
The United States has refrained from criticizing Dubai and the UAE as a whole publicly as it is a “friendly” country. The U.S. calls for intensifying ties with Dubai and reflects not only the confused U.S. foreign policy but also application of double standards when interacting with the Middle East (Amnesty International, 2016). The Obama administration had promised to no longer support authoritarian states in the Arab World, but it never applied the policy to “preferred” governments such as that of Dubai.
Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership skills have enabled him bring radical changes in Dubai, which his fellow leaders in the UAE have not yet achieved. As a leader, he is a distinguished person who has a passion for management, excellence and quality. He oversees not only the leadership of the economy of the emirate but also its future directions. Some people have described him as having a visionary foresight, contagious energy and unyielding desire to win. In fact, Middle East leaders agree the only driving force behind the complete transformation of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed’s visionary leadership.
There are several decisions and action that attest to Sheikh Mohammed excellent business skills and strategic thinking. Realizing that oil revenues would imminently decrease, Dubai began an extensive strategy for economic diversity, which focused on trade, construction, financial services and tourism. He transformed his emirate to the business gateway of choice for the Middle East. One of the most striking illustrations of Sheikh Mohammed’s vision is the expansion of the Emirates Airlines, which now sponsors the Arsenal football club. The Sheikh personally bought more planes and borrowed resources from the Pakistan Airlines in an interesting twist. Today the Emirates Airlines is the largest airline worldwide, which boasts of serving 50 percent more passengers than its nearest competitor, the United Airlines.
The Dubai ruler’s adaptability to stress is well-known. Having accepted a place at the helm of the city’s most stressful office, Sheikh Mohammed has developed an adaptable mindset. The holder of the office has so much work, all of which is very stressful. He must keep lobbying impressively and using public relations to sell Dubai as a dependable U.S. ally and stable business environment. At the same time, he has to control the dreaded state security system, which suffocates voices of the civil society regularly and suppresses the freedom of speech. Most importantly, he must maintain the economic development of the third most dynamic city in the world.
Sheikh Mohammed possesses excellent interpersonal skills; he relates to other people comfortably. He can build rapport easily and is an extroverted person. Such factors help him appear approachable, comfortable and likeable in his position. These qualities contribute to other world leaders desiring to interact with him. They also contribute by motivating his officials to work hard. When ministers can relate to their appointing authority, they believe that he is more concerned with their performance and their output. Moreover, they know they can go to the leader with problems they encounter while serving the people without fearing the ruler might punish them for their inability to resolve issues. It would do little good if the Dubai ruler just had a vision, goals and mission – and even enormous budgets – but could not convey his ideas to the stakeholders inside his government and outside it. He keeps in touch with important officials regularly, by email, meetings, v-mail and other means of correspondence. As previously mentioned, he also has an overwhelming presence in the social media. Being a composer of Arabic poetry as well as a passionate admirer of poetry by others, the Dubai ruler sometimes uses poetic quotes to convey his message. Of course, he practices face-to-face interactions more often, which is the best form of social interactions.
Dubai owes a massive debt of gratitude to the wisdom, forward vision and perseverance of its ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, who has invested his efforts and taken a thorough stock of resources to shape the country. He has risen to the challenge of establishing a progressive nation so that the Emirati citizens could enjoy the fruits of the development they have all brought to the city (Singarum, & Kumar, 2015). The remarkable development has enabled Emirates to reap many benefits while also seeking to preserve the fabric of the Emirati society. Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohammed is plans for oil-free future for his country due to sustainability concerns. He wants to reduce reliance on oil and gas because they are volatile commodities. The reduction of dependence of gas and oil is a sign that the region’s diversification away from hydrocarbons could take effect any time from now and have a significant impact on the world economy. The city will count numerous impressive accomplishments and stands among the most industrialized countries in the world thanks to Sheikh Mohammed’s visionary leadership.
Dubai has changed dramatically under Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership, becoming an international business centre with a dynamic and diversified economy. Dubai is among the wealthiest and most stable cities in the Middle East. The United States regularly champion it as a model that impoverished Arab states can try to emulate. A tiny emirate in the Persian Gulf, Dubai had long sought to position itself within the world economy as an international trading center, a dream that only Sheikh Mohammed managed to achieve. The Dubai ruler is now determined that no vibrant political debates ought to interfere with the emirate’s efforts of providing a dissent-free environment for investment. That mindset constitutes a shortcoming of his leadership. His administration suppresses any sign of opposition. The world has largely ignored the clampdown on dissent in the past, but Amnesty International is now unearthing the crackdown. If the legal body continues to shed light on Sheik Mohammed’s repressive tactics against critics, the façade of glamour and glitz around Dubai may begin disappearing and taint Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership.