Sheikh Rashid, ruler of Dubai from 1958 - 1990, was the eighth ruler from the Al Maktoum family. Well loved and greatly respected by the residents of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid ruled the emirate with compassion and with a clear vision of what was required in order to transform Dubai into a modern city. Driven by this vision, Sheikh Rashid accomplished what many believed to be impossible.
As the first-born son of Sheikh Saeed, he involved himself at an early age in the politics of the emirate. He frequently attended his father's Majlis; ever curious, he would listen intently to each man's dilemma or opinion. Eager to comprehend the minutiae of governing a state, he would spend long hours questioning his parents about the events of the day.
As a child he received the finest education available in the region. Attending the Al Ahmadiyyah School, Sheikh Rashid's studies included Islamic studies, Arabic, and arithmetic. Although he was a good student, the true focus of his enthusiasm was reserved for falconry and hunting. "From an early age, he was an excellent shot with the rifle and, while his mother took a leading role in his upbringing, falconry was a passion which brought together Sheikh Saeed and Sheikh Rashid, father and son, throughout their lives."
These hunting expeditions, which were taken twice a year, led the Ruler and his hunting entourage to Iran and later, on occasion, to Pakistan. Providing Sheikh Rashid with a brief, welcome respite from the responsibilities of his position, he was free to be just a normal man. Houbara, gazelle, rabbit, and grouse were the game of choice.
Sheikh Rashid's hands-on approach called for a disciplined daily schedule. Twice daily he would tour Dubai to see for himself how the projects were progressing. Sheikh Rashid was never satisfied with a simple explanation; instead he wanted to have a detailed understanding of every project undertaken in Dubai. Furthermore, these inspections provided him with the opportunity to meet with the man on the street.
"After returning home in the evening, it was time to take on more official business in the traditional evening Majlis, an occasion where the Ruler gives his people the opportunity to meet him and share problems or grievances. This duty was one which Sheikh Rashid took very seriously." Sheikh Rashid was famed and admired for his patience on these occasions; he thoughtfully considered each man's complaint or opinion, ensuring that proper assistance was given to each individual.
The Majlis, a mix of nationals, also provided a vibrant stage for debate. Surrounded by men whose opinions he valued, projects were dissected, moulded together, and often implemented by members of the Majlis. Determined in his unfaltering belief that a modernized Dubai could be achieved, Sheikh Rashid initiated numerous remarkable developments in his city-state.
Projects viewed as impossible by many members of society (including foreign nationals), were seen as challenges by the Ruler. Examples of such projects include the Al Maktoum Hospital, the first modern hospital in what was then the Trucial States; the Al Maktoum Bridge, which spanned the Creek, joining Dubai with Deira and eliminating the long trip around the head of the Creek; and Dubai Airport, which bore immediate reward as demand for seats grew much faster than anticipated. "Both these projects, the airport and the bridge, showed clearly that Dubai infrastructure planning was hardly ever just a response to the immediate needs of the community: it was clearly linked to the ambitious ideas about the future development of Dubai."
On October 7, 1990, Sheikh Rashid died. He left behind a legacy visible in the town planning of Dubai. News of his death travelled far and wide. Heads of States throughout the world sent their condolences. "Most extraordinarily, however, was the reaction across the Atlantic in New York, at the United Nations. The General Assembly was debating a motion on Palestine when invited to mark the passing of Dubai's leader. Both General Assembly and Security Council observed a minute's silence, after which representatives of Kuwait, Poland and the US paid tribute to Sheikh Rashid.
Though scarcely a whisper marked his birth in 1912 in a place which few outsiders at the time had even heard of, Sheikh Rashid had laboured to develop Dubai and later the United Arab Emirates into a lasting and sustainable entity. Seventy-eight years later, his death drew the world community to its feet in the UN General Assembly, a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man and his undoubtedly remarkable achievements