On February 18, 1968, Abu Dhabi Ruler Sheikh Zayed and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid met at a desert campsite to discuss the formation of a federation between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed had flown back from England to accompany his father. He still recalls the few words that launched the beginning of the United Arab Emirates.
"So, Rashid, what do you think? Shall we create a union?" asked Sheikh Zayed. Without hesitation, the Dubai Ruler held out his hand and replied: "Give me your hand, Zayed. Let us shake upon an agreement. You will be President."
Their treaty, the so-called Union Accord, was the beginning of a search for a wider federation that would continue for several years and consume Sheikh Mohammed, his father and brothers.
To further prepare for his future role, Sheikh Mohammed attended Mons Officer Cadet School, located in Aldershot, about forty miles from London in the south of England.
Over subsequent months, Sheikh Mohammed would be exposed to the toughest training that the British military could throw at an officer cadet. It was an environment in which he thrived. During the latter stages of the six-month course, he was promoted to Senior Under Officer of Kohema and was later awarded the Sword of Honour for achieving the highest mark of any Foreign and Commonwealth officer cadet in his intake.
On November 1, 1968, Sheikh Rashid appointed his third son as Head of Dubai Police and Public Security, Sheikh Mohammed's first public position.
On December 2, 1971, the rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Fujairah and the Crown Prince of Umm Al Qaiwain, representing his father, met at Sheikh Rashid's Jumeirah Beach Palace in Dubai. There, they signed the provisional constitution that created the United Arab Emirates.
In the days after December 2, Sheikh Maktoum, the new Prime Minister, appointed his brother Sheikh Mohammed as Minister of Defence and awarded him the rank of General.
Sheikh Mohammed was the youngest Minister of Defence in the world at that time. In less than 12 months, this demanding role would lead him to deal with the events of an Arab-Israeli war, an attempted coup in one neighbouring state and an aircraft hijacking at Dubai International Airport, all while he was attempting to construct a national Union Defence Force. The UDF made its first operational foray abroad in 1976, when Sheikh Mohammed committed troops to Lebanon as part of the Arab Deterrent Force, attempting to keep the peace in this troubled country.
Sheikh Rashid relied heavily upon his sons as he sought to transform Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed took on much responsibility. Projects such as Dubai Dry Docks, the biggest such facility in the Middle East, were put under his charge. One significant appointment came in 1977. On August 25, Sheikh Rashid announced the formation of a committee under Sheikh Mohammed that would take over the administration of Dubai International Airport. Developing Dubai as an aviation and tourist hub would become one of Sheikh Mohammed's most visible achievements. He adopted an open skies policy, and worked to lay the foundations for a tourism industry that would burst into life in the 1990s.
During this period he was also given responsibility for Dubai's oil; this was one of the most vital tasks within the Dubai Government, such was the importance of oil exports to the economy at that time.
Sheikh Mohammed's Majlis began to take on the energy that had been attached to the Majlis of Sheikh Rashid at its height, when it had been described as "an Arabian Camelot".
Businessman Mohammed Al Naboodah says: "It is a creative environment, in which people are allowed to speak freely. Sheikh Mohammed places no barriers on what can be said. It is this open atmosphere that cultivates a genuine, open debate. He challenges people to think and perform beyond the limit of the capabilities that they themselves believe they have. This brings out the best in people."
In May 1981, Sheikh Rashid was struck down by illness. Like his brothers, Sheikh Mohammed took on new responsibility as his father continued his extended recuperation. The extraordinary achievement, from a Dubai standpoint, was the way in which the Al Maktoum brothers had gelled, working together for the good of the emirate and the UAE. Their unity of purpose is not a false front. A close friend says:"Sheikh Maktoum, Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Mohammed are in constant touch, every day. There is nothing of importance that goes on without all three knowing about it. Information is shared and collective decisions are taken."
Through crises such as Lebanon's invasion, the Iran-Iraq War and the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada on December 9, 1987, Sheikh Mohammed continued to aid the Dubai Government in its march forward. Financial Analyst Clinton Jones said: "There was a self-belief within the Dubai and Federal Government. The Al Maktoum brothers in particular were not content to tread water and wait until stability returned. Indeed, there was a trend regionally to increase holdings in Europe and North America. Dubai bucked this trend. To boost the local economy there was greater spending on infrastructure projects. In doing so, Dubai showed its overwhelming confidence in itself and the future. This helped to calm the Dubai economy and laid the foundations for the bright future we see today."
One such breathtaking initiative was Sheikh Mohammed's decision to create a new airline. One morning, in January 1985, Maurice Flanagan, general manager of the Dubai National Tourism Authority, received a summons to Sheikh Mohammed's Za'abeel Palace.
"I want to start an airline, as soon as possible. How much will it cost? How long will it take?" Sheikh Mohammed asked. Flanagan knew that his inquisitor was not a man to wait around for an answer and replied: "Ten million dollars."
Sheikh Mohammed set up a small team to develop the concept, working in secret. On October 25 the same year, Emirates flew for the first time, sporting livery chosen personally by Sheikh Mohammed.
Also in 1985 Sheikh Mohammed took charge of Jebel Ali Free Zone; a port-based industrial area centred around Jebel Ali port. This was another project that illustrated the 'overwhelming confidence' referred to by Clinton Jones.
Sultan bin Sulayem, chairman of Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA), says: "One of the main points that Sheikh Mohammed stressed was the need to keep things simple. He worked to ensure that JAFZA was served by the best in infrastructure, that would empower us to offer the best services possible."
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