Page last updated at 03:33 GMT, Thursday, 5 January 2006

Dubai's formidable new ruler

By Julia Wheeler
BBC Gulf correspondent

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Sheikh Mohammed has been Dubai's heir apparent since 1995

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE defence minister, has succeeded his elder brother as Ruler of Dubai, according to officials in the United Arab Emirates.

Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who had ruled since 1990, died on Wednesday while visiting the Gold Coast of Australia - one of the newly-favoured destinations of many wealthy Emiratis.

There was never any real doubt that his brother, the powerful and well-respected Crown Prince Sheikh

Mohammed would succeed him as ruler of the tiny emirate.

With his older brother's blessing, Sheikh Mohammed has been in de facto charge of Dubai's direction and fast-paced development for at least a decade.

Sheikh Maktoum appeared content to allow Dubai's economic and political decisions to be taken by others.

UAE leadership decisions

The successor to the posts of vice-president and prime minister of the UAE will be decided at a meeting of the country's Supreme Council which is a body made up of the rulers of all seven Emirates in the UAE.

Government officials indicate that the council elects a vice-president and that President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi nominates a prime minister.

[Sheikh Mohammed] is not a man generally satisfied with the status quo

The prime minister must be approved by the council and will then form a cabinet.

The Supreme Council meeting to make the decisions may happen as early as Thursday. When the former president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, died just over a year ago, the decisions were taken straight after his funeral.

The posts of both vice-president and prime minister have always been held by Dubai and there has been a long term understanding that this will continue to be the case, although officials say the constitution does not specify the fact.

Crown Prince question

Sheikh Mohammed is one of the most formidable and impressive sheikhs within the UAE - something which has sparked envy as well as admiration by some in other Emirates.

They have seen the success his policies have brought economically, with Dubai diversifying away from its reliance on limited oil supplies.

Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Sheikh Maktoum died aged 62 while visiting Australia

Under the guidance of Sheikh Mohammed, the tiny emirate has built on its position as a trading hub and developed new sectors such as tourism, construction and finance.

The seven emirates which make up the UAE tend to run their own business and political affairs and this is unlikely to change if Sheikh Mohammed fills his brother's posts at a federal level.

However, he is not a man generally satisfied with the status quo and will undoubtedly have plans if he does take a more central role in the UAE's government.

It is not clear who would become UAE minister of defence or if the portfolio would stay with Sheikh Mohammed.

His sons, who are in their late teens or early twenties are still relatively inexperienced in the ways of government, although he appears to have been grooming them for public roles.

Within the Gulf, Sheikh Mohammed is seen as someone who knows what he wants and who gets things done. Again this has manifested itself both in feelings of esteem and, at times, in veiled criticism.

Internationally, Sheikh Mohammed is perceived as someone with whom the West can do business. He is seen as trustworthy and a serious player in the region.

Perhaps the most interesting question is who will become Crown Prince of Dubai - Sheikh Mohammed's older brother, the deputy ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, Sheikh Hamdan, or one of Sheikh Mohammed's sons?

Although the transition is expected to be smooth, the implications for Dubai and the UAE are perhaps more significant than they at first appear.

Dubai's ruler Sheikh Maktoum dies
04 Jan 06 |  Middle East
Obituary: Sheikh Maktoum
04 Jan 06 |  Middle East
Racing grieves for Sheikh Maktoum
04 Jan 06 |  Horse Racing
Country profile: United Arab Emirates
22 Dec 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: United Arab Emirates
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