Dubai mourns loss of sheikh Maktoum

13 January 2006
Crown Prince Shaikh Mohammed appointed ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the federation
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed appointed ruler of Dubai and vice-president of the federation

It was in many ways a fitting location for Dubai's ruler to pass away. At the age of 62, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum died on 4 January in the luxurious surroundings of the Palazzo Versace hotel on Australia's Gold Coast. The hotel chain announced in 2005 that it would be building a replica in Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum had been waiting to attend one of horse racing's most glamorous events, the Magic Millions. His passion for horses and the equestrian industry is arguably what he will be most remembered for.

Sheikh Maktoum played a key role in developing modem Dubai and establishing the UAE. With his father Sheikh Rashid bin Saaed al-Maktoum, he worked tirelessly to develop the emirate, overseeing the construction of Dubai's airport, a host of municipal buildings, its first hotel and providing electricity and water throughout the emirate.

Having returned from studying at Cambridge University in the 1960s, he was thrust into the political limelight as the federation cemented its union. In the years up to 1971, he was called on to accompany his father at Trucial States Council meetings, a body composed of the rulers of the seven emirates. He was also a regular visitor to Abu Dhabi to consult with the UAE's founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, culminating in the 18 February 1968 union accord between Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid. His role in the negotiations was rewarded shortly after when he became the first prime minister of the federation in 1971, a position he held for eight years. In 1990, when he became ruler of Dubai on his father's death, he again was appointed UAE prime minister as well as vice-president.

Yet as Dubai entered its economic boom, Sheikh Maktoum increasingly took a backseat in the day-to-day running of the emirate, leaving Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum as the de facto ruler.

'For Dubai, nothing much will change,' says local political scientist Abulkhaleq Abdulla. 'Since 1995, it has been Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai and in fact things will become clearer as he continues his leadership with the same visions. Ironically, one of Sheikh Maktoum's greatest decisions was to appoint Sheikh Mohammed as crown prince.'

Sheikh Mohammed, regarded as a more authoritative and hands-on figure than Sheikh Maktoum, had still not announced on 5 January a crown prince. His two sons, still in their twenties, have until now had little involvement in government. The decision is unlikely to be urgent. Dubai already has a deputy ruler in the form of Sheikh Mohammed's brother, UAE Finance & Industry Minister Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, should there be any crisis. 'In Sheikh Mohammed's tradition, it will go to the most qualified person,' says Abdulla.

Despite being a key player in the federation, Sheikh Maktoum's influence federally was often considered low-key and more as a link between the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi rather than as a pro-active prime minister. He played a key role in early November 2004 to ensure the smooth transition of the presidency from Sheikh Zayed to his son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Although he did push forward residential and infrastructure projects throughout the less developed emirates, his influence was limited due to his long absences abroad.

The federation's supreme council, which comprises the rulers of the seven emirates, announced following the burial of Sheikh Maktoum on 5 January that Sheikh Mohammed would succeed his brother as UAE prime minister and vice-president. He has also been asked to form a new cabinet.

'It will mean a great deal more responsibility for Sheikh Mohammed and leave him less time to focus on Dubai, but if he takes the premiership things will become clearer and more active,' says Abdulla.


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