On January 4, 1995, Dubai and the UAE awoke to groundbreaking news splashed in banner headlines in Arabic and English newspapers. The previous day the Dubai Ruler, Sheikh Maktoum, had signed two decrees that would have a dramatic effect on the future of the emirate. One appointed Sheikh Mohammed as Crown Prince of Dubai. The second recognised Sheikh Hamdan as Deputy Ruler of the emirate.
Sheikh Mohammed later commented: "I do not know if I am a good leader, but I am a leader. And I have a vision. I look to the future, 20, 30 years. I learned that from my father, Sheikh Rashid. He was the true father of Dubai. I follow his example. He would rise early and go alone to watch what was happening on each of his projects. I do the same. I watch. I read faces. I take decisions and I move fast. Full throttle."
It was this "full throttle" approach that Dubai Ruler Sheikh Maktoum hoped to harness on behalf of Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum, Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Mohammed continued their father's work and based their vision on the basic framework laid down by Sheikh Rashid.
"Destination Dubai" was the tourism brief so long championed by Sheikh Mohammed. Late in 1995, he announced the creation of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), one of his first initiatives on assuming the mantle of Crown Prince. DSF is an annual festival aimed at bringing together all aspects of the emirate's economy as part of a promotion that would extend around the world.
The centrepiece of the Dubai Shopping Festival had to be memorable, and Sheikh Mohammed had a plan for this too. Never one to take small steps when giant strides would do, he announced that the following March, at the height of the new Dubai Shopping Festival, the inaugural Dubai World Cup would be staged. It was to be the world's richest horse race, boasting a purse of $4 million, $2.4 of which would go to the winner.
"Destination Dubai" was evolving rapidly. On April 1, 1998, the Sheikh Rashid Terminal was opened, representing the completion of the first phase of the Government of Dubai's $540 million expansion plan for the airport.
Elsewhere in Dubai, an artificial island was appearing some 100 meters offshore. This was to be the base for one of Sheikh Mohammed's boldest projects, a hotel that, when it was finished, would be only 60 meters shorter than the Empire State Building in New York, Burj Al Arab, the Tower of the Arabs.
Early in 2001, Sheikh Mohammed announced by far the most extraordinary "Destination Dubai" project, Palm Island. A giant resort spread over two palm tree-shaped islands, each of which will be divided into 17 huge fronds and a trunk, and surrounded by a crescent shaped barrier reef.
Sheikh Mohammed was also pressing on with his Emirates airline project. In May 2001, Emirates Chairman, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, confirmed that, on instructions from Sheikh Mohammed, Emirates planned to buy up to 60 new wide-body aircraft worth $10 billion. Emirates already had an order book that included seven Airbus A380s, making it the first airline to sign a firm deal for the controversial giant 555-seat aircraft, which were scheduled to enter service in 2006.
Perhaps the boldest new front in Dubai's plans was "e-Dubai". In 1995, this vision was still largely unknown outside the higher echelons of the Al Maktoum family and a handful of those close to Sheikh Mohammed.
Sheikh Mohammed has said that "at a relatively early stage, [Dubai had] drawn up the necessary plans to ensure that the requirements for positive interaction with the new economy are in place. We [aimed] to move in several directions at once, namely promoting awareness of the information culture, improving education and rethinking its curricula and tools, initiating infrastructure projects for the new digital economy and launching the e-government initiative..."
On October 29, 1999, Sheikh Mohammed called a press conference where he announced:"One year from today, we will inaugurate, on this site, a new initiative, not only for Dubai but for the rest of the world. We call it Dubai Internet City."
He went on to spell out his vision. Internet City would encompass the infrastructure, environment and attitude to enable new economic enterprises to operate out of Dubai with significant competitive advantage.
Sheikh Mohammed had set a deadline of just 365 days. By any standards, this was a bold move, undertaken in the hope of establishing the emirate's name within the world's fastest growing industry.
By September 2000, more than a hundred IT companies had been granted licenses to operate in Dubai Internet City, including industry giants Microsoft, Oracle and Compaq. Another 350 firms were awaiting approval. The total investment planned by those already holding licenses was estimated at around $700 million.
Sheikh Mohammed was well aware that the business sector was not the only one that had to be updated, if Dubai was to remain at the forefront of international development. On May 11, 1999, he announced his latest initiative to a gathering of senior officials at the Dubai Quality Awards. "Within 18 months of tonight," he said, "the Dubai Government as a whole will be on-line, a factor that will increase efficiency and make the process of government faster and smoother. Among other things, I want to see visa applications and other transactions carried out on-line and government departments communicating with each other electronically." His deadline was met and Dubai had the world's first fully online government.
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