- Francois Nel/Getty Images
- Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum took Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from a postcolonial backwater to the global financial powerhouse it is today.
- Mohammed was present in 1971 when the British relinquished the seven emirates after 150 years of colonial rule. Today he’s prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the emir of Dubai.
- His personal life has been scrutinized after the escape and capture of his daughter Princess Latifa, who said she had fled abuse at his hands.
- In June, Mohammed’s sixth wife, Princess Haya, fled Dubai for London, reportedly after learning the truth about Princess Latifa’s escape.
- Here’s Sheikh Mohammed’s story.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In 1971, a 22-year-old Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum – royal but not yet a ruler – witnessed the return of sovereignty to Dubai at the end of British rule.
Forty-eight years later, he is the most powerful man in the United Arab Emirates. He is the vice president and prime minister of the UAE and also the ruler of Dubai, one of the world’s most prosperous and advanced cities.
Here’s how he took Dubai from a fishing village to a playground for the world’s superrich, and also why three woman have fled his royal household in dramatic style.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum was born on July 15, 1949.
Source: The Government of Dubai
He is the third son of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler from 1958 until his death in 1990.
His mother was Sheikha Latifa bint Hamdan al-Nahyan, daughter of the former ruler of neighboring Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Hamdan.
Source: Sheikh Mohammed
Mohammed was schooled in Dubai, attending al-Ahmedia School until the age of 10, whereupon he moved to al-Shaab. He finished the last of his schooling at Dubai Secondary School.
- Ministry of Culture
As a child, Mohammed adored horses — a passion he still keeps today —and battled in bareback races with his friends on the sands of Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach.
Source: Godolphin Stables
In 1966, as most future Gulf rulers did, Mohammed spent time in British education. He attended the Bell Educational Trust’s school in Cambridge when he was 17.
- Issaurinko/ iStock
In his autobiography, “My Story,” Mohammed recalled having next to no money when he lived in Cambridge.
He wrote: “I used to eat chicken only once a week and skip lunches at times to buy coffee for my friends or, most importantly, purchase a train ticket so I could go to watch the horse races that I love.”
Mohammed left Cambridge and completed military training at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot. He passed out with the sword of honor, awarded to the top foreign student.
- Google Maps
Shortly after, Mohammed traveled to Italy to train as a pilot.
In his autobiography, Mohammed said of his training: “I pledged not to return to Dubai unless I was physically, mentally, and militarily able to withstand everything.”
Source: “My Story, Dubai: The Making of a Megapolis”
His military training was cut short, though, when his father called him home and made him the head of Dubai’s police in November 1968.
In “My Story,” Mohammed wrote: “My father said: ‘A very important meeting. Now.’ That’s when I returned home – on the first flight out, the very next day.”
During Mohammed’s early years in the 1960s, the United Arab Emirates we know today did not exist; it was a British protectorate of seven sheikdoms called the “Trucial States.”
- Radio Atlantic
The British relinquished control of the region in 1971, after 150 years. The United Arab Emirates was founded on December 2, 1971. Mohammed, now 22, was promoted to minister of defense.
In 1979, Sheikh Mohammed married Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum, his first wife, with whom he has had 12 children. Sheikh Mohammed has 23 children in total from six wives.
Sheikha Hind is also Sheikh Mohammed’s cousin.
One of their six children is the heir to the throne. Hamdan bin Mohammed al-Maktoum, who was born in 1982, is the crown prince of Dubai.
In the 1970s all of the newly independent emirates were keen to modernize as fast as possible, using cash made from their rich oil fields.
- Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
In October 1990, Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, died at the age of 78.
- Father of Dubai: Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum by Graeme Wilson
Source: The National
His successor was Sheikh Mohammed’s brother, Sheikh Maktoum.
Dubai began to hit its stride as Mohammed was made Dubai’s crown prince by his brother in January 1995.
In 1996, Mohammed brought his love of horse racing to Dubai — launching the Dubai World Cup in 1996.
The race is held at Meydan Racecourse, with a current prize of $12 million for the winner. It is the largest such prize in the world.
In 2000, Sheikha Shamsa, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughters, fled the Sheikh’s country house in the British countryside, was captured, and forcibly returned to Dubai. She was the first of three royals who would escape his household.
- Google Maps
Shamsa has not been seen in pubic since.
In April 2004, 24-year-old Princess Haya — a half-sister of Jordan’s King Abdullah II — married Sheikh Mohammed, who was then 55.
Princess Haya was a professional show jumper, and she represented Jordan in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
- Maher Attar/Getty
“Sport has been a dominant part of life for HRH Princess Haya since childhood,” her official website says. “Having experienced the power of sport personally, she works tirelessly to give others, especially young children, a similar experience.”
Princess Haya was Sheikh Mohammed’s “junior” wife. They had two children: a son, Zayed, 7, and daughter, Al Jalila, 11.
The couple welcomed Al Jalila, on December 2, 2007, and then Zayed, on January 7, 2012.
Before Princess Haya, Mohammed had married at least four other women, but very little is known about them.
Their names are Sheikha Randa bint Mohammed al-Banna, Sheikha Delila Aloula, Greek Zoe Grigorakos, and Sheikha Houria bint Ahmed al-M’aash.
In January 2006, Mohammed’s brother and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Maktoum, died of a heart attack and Mohammed became ruler.
The day after, the UAE’s Federal National Council elected him as vice president.
Under Sheikh Mohammed’s rule, Dubai became the financial center of the Middle East.
Even though Dubai got a head start with revenue from its oil and natural-gas reserves, today that accounts for just 5% of the emirate’s revenue.
In April 2006, Mohammed wrote his first book. It is called “My Vision: Challenges in the Race of Excellence” and tells the story of Dubai’s boom.
- My Vision-Challenges in the Race of Excellence
Iconic Dubai projects like the Palm Islands, the Burj Khalifa tower, and the Burj Al-Arab hotel were completed.
- SMIRNOVA IRINA/Shutterstock
The Burj Khalifa, 2,717 feet tall with 160 floors, is the tallest tower in the world.
Source: Business Insider
In 2015, Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest son, Sheikh Rashid, died of a heart attack.
But Sheikh Mohammed’s reputation was damaged when in March 2018 his daughter Princess Latifa fled, citing abuse at the hands of her father.
- Free Latifa/YouTube
In a video recorded before her attempted escape, Sheikha Latifa claimed to have been imprisoned for several years and abused.
With the help of her martial-arts instructor and a former French spy, Latifa boarded a yacht flying a US flag and made it as far as Goa, India, before she was reclaimed by Emirati special forces.
The case hit headlines, but Sheikh Mohammed claimed that the ex-spy Hervé Jaubert had taken Latifa and planned to extort her for a ransom.
She has not been heard from in public since.
In June 2019, Princess Haya fled Dubai for London, reportedly after learning the true story of Princess Latifa’s escape.
- Alex Grimm/Reuters
Sheikh Mohammed previously told Princess Haya that Princess Latifa had been snatched in an extortion attempt, led by the former French spy Hervé Jaubert, according to reports.
Jaubert had in fact been enlisted to help Princess Latifa escape, as documented in a BBC documentary about her escape.
Sources told the BBC that Princess Haya learned “disturbing facts” about Sheikha Latifa’s attempted escape that made her no longer feel safe to be with her husband.
Princess Haya sued for custody of their two children at the British High Court, while holing up at her $107 million, or £85 million, Kensington townhouse.
“The UAE government does not intend to comment on allegations about individuals’ private lives,” a spokesman for the UAE government told Business Insider.
On July 30, 2019, the UK High Court hosted custody proceedings between the estranged couple.
Mohammed is a great lover of Nabati poetry and writes his own, published on a dedicated website.
He used one of his poems — after Princess Haya fled — to scorn her.
- Sheikh Mohammed
“O sweetheart, there’s nothing more to say. / Your deathly silence has worn me out,” he wrote in one poem, believed to be about Princess Haya, posted on his official website.
“You no longer have a place with me,” another says. “I don’t care if you live or die.”
In 2018, Mohammed named 2019 the UAE’s “Year of Tolerance,” but a number of negative events, like Princess Haya’s escape, have tarnished it.
- Emirati Government
Another embarrassing moment came as international press picked up that Dubai held “gender balance” awards in January, where every winner was a man.
- Dubai Media Office
Source: Business Insider
Mohammed is now steering Dubai toward “Vision 2021” — a plan he set up in 2010 to boost Dubai’s fortunes yet again.
The plane focuses on “fostering innovation, engaging youth, developing human capital, investing in education and scientific research, establishing good governance in the UAE government sector and promoting the growth of a knowledge-based economy.”
Source: Government of Dubai