Page update - Oct 8, 2023
Streets, mosques, airports, and other sites in the UAE are named after these people. They are shown on television, their photos can be seen in newspapers and on social advertising posters. They are the Sheikhs, the ruling elite. On this page, we will talk about those who created and built the United Arab Emirates, the rulers of the country of the past, present, and future. So, who is who in the UAE?
The last update to this page was in October 2023. There has been almost no change in the UAE's ruling elite during the current year 2023. Considering the respectable age of most of the rulers, this can be considered lucky.
The only change. On 29 March 2023, Sheikh Khalid bin Muhammad Al Nahyan (son of the current ruler) was declared Crown Prince.
But there was a key change in 2022.
On May 13, 2022, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE, passed away at the age of 73. Read more about him later on this page.
On May 14, 2022, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (half-brother of the deceased) took office as President of the UAE. Recall that he was formerly the Crown Prince, but was the de facto leader of the country. Read more about him later on this page.
Our readers are already asking us, "What will change in the UAE in the near future?"
The answer is, "Nothing will change." The fact is that Sheikh Khalifa has not actually governed the country and the emirate since he suffered a stroke in 2014.
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the country of the UAE have long been ruled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who you can also read about later on this page. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed simply changed his nominal title from "Crown Prince" to "Emir" and has now officially assumed the presidency.
At the word "Sheikh" many people imagine a ruler of an Arab (or even any Islamic) state. The notion is not quite correct. In fact, this title is given at birth to all representatives of royal families of some Arab countries. We emphasize the word "some", for example, members of the Moroccan royal family do not carry the title "Sheikh".
Accordingly, the UAE has seven emirates, seven royal families and each has dozens or hundreds of people. The title "Sheikh" is worn by more than a thousand people there.
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is ruled by the Al Nahyan family.
May 6, 1918 - November 2, 2004. Pictured near, click on photo to enlarge.
The founder of the UAE and the first President of the country (Dec. 2, 1971 - Nov. 2, 2004), the Emir of Abu Dhabi (Aug. 6, 1966 - Nov. 2, 2004).
It was Sheikh Zayed who took advantage of oil revenues and transformed the UAE from a Third World country into a modern wealthy state. His ideas and values made the Arab Emirates a country "for the citizens".
Sheikh Zayed's name is the one most often encountered by tourists. In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is named after him. The second largest mosque in the UAE is located in Fujairah and also bears his name. In Dubai, the main thoroughfare is called Sheikh Zayed Road. Even in Egypt, in the city of Giza, there is a district of Sheikh Zayed City in his honor.
September 7, 1948 - May 13, 2022. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
President of the UAE (from 3 Nov. 2004 - 13 May 2022), Emir of Abu Dhabi (from 2 Nov. 2004 - 13 May 2022).
The Sheikh Zayed's eldest son inherited the throne of Abu Dhabi after his father's death on November 2, 2004. At the moment of his enthronement he was already 56 years old.
It would seem that at such an age one does not want any more reforms, however, Khalifa was able to change many things in Abu Dhabi and all the United Arab Emirates.
Sheikh Khalifa had a military education, he graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (Great Britain). On February 1, 1969, Khalifa was crowned as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and appointed Minister of Defense. It was Khalifa who created the UAE army in its current modern form.
Since the establishment of the UAE in 1971, he has held the positions of Abu Dhabi Prime Minister, the Head of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and Vice President of the UAE. In the late 80s, he became the head of the Supreme Petroleum Council, gaining de facto full power over oil revenues in the UAE.
In the late '90s, Sheikh Zayed's health no longer allowed him to perform all the functions of the UAE President. Sheikh Khalifa became the de facto president of the UAE and Emir of Abu Dhabi. On November 2, 2004, after his father's death, Sheikh Khalifa inherited the throne and the next day (November 3) he officially assumed the presidency of the UAE.
Abu Dhabi changed during his reign. The dress code and the behavior rules of tourists are treated much more softly. Many people remember that in the UAE they wouldn't let a man and a woman stay in the same room if they weren't married. Or they would not let a woman tourist into the country unaccompanied by her husband, father or brother. All of this is now a thing of the past. For a current list of norms of behavior, read our review "What tourists are not allowed in the UAE".
Many famous projects in Abu Dhabi were initiated or supported by Sheikh Khalifa. The most striking is Yas Island with the Ferrari World park, Yas Mall, Yas Waterworld waterpark, Yas Marina race track. Saadiyat Island with art galleries, branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.
In January 2014, Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke. His brother, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, took over as President of the UAE and Emir of Abu Dhabi. On May 13, 2022, Sheikh Khalifa left us.
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March 11, 1961 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
President of the UAE (from May 14, 2022 to present), Emir of Abu Dhabi (from May 14, 2022 to present).
The Sheikh Zayed's third son. An interesting point is that he and Khalifa are half-brothers. Khalifa was a son of the first wife, Hassa bint Mohammed. Muhammad is a son of the third wife, Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi.
Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi has 6 sons: Muhammad, Hamdan, Hazza, Tanun, Mansur, and Abdullah. They are called "Bani Fatima" or "the sons of Fatima", and they form the most influential bloc in the Al Nahyan family.
Bani Fatima have always been influential. Some political analysts even attribute to them the leading role in the changes in Abu Dhabi since 2004. They gained full power only in 2014, when Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke. Now it is difficult to say whether the vector of their domestic and foreign policy will change. We'll have to wait and see.
Mohammed bin Zayed went to school in Al Ain, then Abu Dhabi. Entered Sandhurst Academy (UK) in 1979. Trained in military skills in helicopter piloting, driving armored vehicles, and parachuting. After his return from the UK, he underwent military training in Sharjah and became an officer in the UAE Armed Forces.
He was an officer in the Amiri Guards (an elite unit) and a pilot in the UAE Air Force, eventually becoming Commander-in-Chief of the UAE Armed Forces.
In 2003, he was proclaimed the second Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. After his father's death on November 2, 2004, he became the Crown Prince. Since December 2004, Chairman of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi and member of the Supreme Petroleum Council. Since May 14, 2022, after the death of Sheikh Khalifa, he became Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE.
So far, world leaders and political analysts are still taking a closer look at Sheikh Mohammed. He is known to believe that the UAE should play a much larger role in world politics. He loves falconry, like his father. He is interested in poetry and writes his own poems in the style of Nabati.
The third wife of Sheikh Zayed, mother of six of his sons, including Mohammed (current Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE).
This woman played a major role in UAE politics during the reign of her husband Sheikh Zayed, and remains very influential to this day. She has been called the "Mother of the Nation".
Her exact date of birth is unknown. She was probably born in the mid-40s in Al Ain. In the '60s she married Zayed Al Nahyan, becoming his third wife.
In 1973, she founded the Abu Dhabi Women's Awakening Society, the first women's social organization in the UAE. In 1975, she founded and headed the UAE Women's Main Union. Education was the main focus of these organizations, as there was no education for girls in the UAE at that time. In 2004, Fatima facilitated the appointment of the first female minister.
Today, she still heads the General Union of Women, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the Family Development Foundation and several other organizations. And this in spite of her advanced age! Naturally, Fatima has a gigantic influence on Sheikh Mohammed's policies and the affairs of Bani Fatima.
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The Emirate of Dubai is ruled by the Al Maktoum family.
July 15, 1949 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
The reigning Emir of Dubai (officially from January 4, 2006, actually from January 3, 1995), Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE since February 11, 2006.
Sheikh Mohammed has been called the "Architect of modern Dubai". He is a very versatile educated man and is now the most famous leader in the UAE.
Mohammed was the third son of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. His mother Lafita was the daughter of Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Hamadan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. As a child, Mohammed received both a secular and a traditional Islamic education. In 1966 (at the age of 18), he studied in the UK at the Mons Cadet Corps and in Italy as a pilot.
In 1968, Mohammed attended a meeting of his father with Sheikh Zayed at Argoub el-Sedira, where the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi agreed on the imminent establishment of the UAE. After the formation of the UAE, he was Minister of Defense and Head of Dubai Police.
On October 7, 1990, Mohammed's father and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, died. Power passed to his eldest son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid, who loved equestrian sports and was an excellent athlete, but did not gravitate to politics and government.
On January 4, 1995, Maktoum bin Rashid appointed Mohammed Crown Prince and effectively transferred power in the Emirate of Dubai to him. On January 4, 2006, Maktoum bin Rashid died of a heart attack, and Mohammed bin Rashid became the official ruler of Dubai.
The list of Mohammed's achievements is enormous. He diversified Dubai's economy, and the oil revenues now account for only 4% of the emirate's GDP. Dubai has become a shopping "mecca" second only to London, a major commercial and financial center.
With his support or on his initiative the Burj Khalifa, hotel Burj Al Arab, the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountain, the Emirates Airline, the Dubai Metro, artificial islands Palm and World, the world's largest artificial harbor Jebel Ali, Dubai Internet City zone and hundreds of other projects were created.
He became famous for his raids on government offices, where he personally checked whether state employees were in their seats and fired those who were absent. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid is famous for his intolerance of corruption, and during his reign hundreds of officials have gone to jail for taking bribes and using their positions for personal gain.
He is now 74 (note: this page was updated in October 2023), but he is full of energy and is pushing ahead with his development plan for Dubai. He recently participated in the Arab Strategic Forum, see photo, and you wouldn't know he's in his eighth decade.
November 14, 1982 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Crown Prince of Dubai, member of the Dubai Executive Council (since 2006).
The second son of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. The media, politicians and political scientists, economists and sociologists are looking at him now. Of course, Sheikh Mohammed is alive and active, but he is already 73 years old and age can "take its toll".
He studied at the Dubai Government School, the Sandhurst Military Academy (Great Britain) and the London School of Economics. He is well-educated, known as a poet under the pseudonym "Fazza".
So far, his actions have been more of a showy nature. He personally hoisted the UAE flag on top of the Burj Khalifa after the city of Dubai was declared the winner of the bid to host the World Expo 2020. Established an award for photographers named after himself. Winner and medalist of international equestrian competitions.
Quite a popular personality - more than 12 million followers on Instagram. Account "faz3", look, his page is interesting.
Almost nothing is known about his political views. It is assumed that if he is enthroned, Hamdan will continue the line of his father.
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June 11, 1912 - October 7, 1990. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
First Prime Minister of the UAE (1971-1990), Emir of Dubai (1958-1990).
He is called the "Father of Dubai". It was during his reign that Dubai was transformed from a small settlement along the Creek Canal into a large city.
Sheikh Rashid said the famous phrase, "My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I ride a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel".
What Sheikh Rashid was trying to say was that oil would run out in a generation and something had to be done about it. His son Mohammed bin Rashid remembered his father's words and "decoupled" Dubai's economy from oil.
Sheikh Rashid was the co-author of the UAE. In 1968, he and Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi agreed to form a unified state, with 5 more emirates joining them later.
Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum is a legendary figure in Dubai.
The Emirate of Sharjah is ruled by the Al Qasimi family.
July 2, 1939 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Emir of Sharjah (1972-present), President of Sharjah University, President of the American University of Sharjah, Professor at the University of Exeter, Professor at Cairo University, and Chairman of the Sharjah Arabic Academy.
He received his secondary education in Sharjah, Dubai, and Kuwait. He further studied agriculture at Cairo University. While ruler of Sharjah, he obtained a double Doctor of Science from the University of Exeter (UK) and the University of Durham (UK).
He is also called Sheikh Dr. Sultan III. He is the most educated ruler in the UAE. Not surprisingly, even before he was enthroned in Sharjah, Sultan III became the UAE Minister of Education.
It's a very interesting story of how Sultan III came to be on the throne. Until 1965, Sheikh Saqr bin Sultan ruled in Sharjah, but in 1965 the British staged a coup and put Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed on the throne.
On January 24, 1972, Saqr bin Sultan attempted to regain the throne by staging a coup by a small military group, mostly Egyptian mercenaries. Recall that the UAE already existed by then. President Sheikh Zayed strongly condemned the coup and sent military forces to Sharjah from Dubai, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (we wrote about him earlier on this page).
The army forces from Dubai quickly won, but the captured Sheikh Khalid was killed and Saqr was arrested. Sultan bin Muhammad turned out to be the first heir to the throne and took the throne.
The Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah is ruled by the Al Qasimi family.
February 10, 1956 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Emir of Ras Al Khaimah (27 October 2010-present), Crown Prince of Ras Al Khaimah (2003-2010), member of Federal Supreme Council.
Saud is the fourth son of the famous Shaikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who ruled the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah from 1948 to 2010. It would seem that the chances of claiming the throne were minimal.
Saud received his secondary education in Ras Al Khaimah, then majored in economics at the American University in Beirut and the University of Michigan (USA).
In 1979, he returned to his homeland and took up the post of Head of the Sheikh's Court. The position suited the ambitious and talented Saud very well. He supervised dozens of projects in the field of economy, education, health care, and very successfully. In 2003, his father appointed him as his successor, leaving his older brothers out of the picture.
On October 27, 2010, Sheikh Saqr died, and Saud became the emir.
Observant readers have noticed that the emirs of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah share the same surname, Al Qasimi. It is no coincidence that they are of the same family.
The Al Qasimi dynasty traces its roots back to the 17th century, when they were the leaders of the pirates who terrorized the Persian Gulf. In 1809, the British had to send a squadron to fight the Al Qasimi fleet. The pirate fleet was destroyed and the region came under the full influence of the British Empire. However, the fleet was defeated, but Al Qasimi themselves remained in power and two different branches of the family rule in Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.
The Emirate of Fujairah is ruled by the Al Sharqi family.
May 25, 1949 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Emir of Fujairah (1974-present), member of the Federal Supreme Council.
Sheikh Hamad was educated in England at Eastbourne School, then studied at Mons Military Academy. After the establishment of the UAE, he headed the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from 1971 until his accession in 1974.
Considered an excellent orator in Arabic and English. Accompanied Sheikh Zayed at many international conferences. Very close to the Al Nahyan family (the rulers of Abu Dhabi).
But he is even closer to the Al Maktoum family (rulers of Dubai). His first wife is Sheikha Fatima bint Fani Al Maktoum. They have six children, three sons and three daughters. Eldest son Mohammed graduated from Webster University in London and was appointed Crown Prince on January 8, 2007.
The wife of Mohammed (son of Hamad, Crown Prince), Sheikha Lafita bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid (Ruler of Dubai). They already have five children.
He is a well-educated man, developing the Emirate of Fujairah in all possible directions. The emirate has a well-developed tourist industry, construction, agriculture, and the financial sector.
The Emirate of Umm Al Quwain is ruled by the Al Mualla family.
October 1, 1952 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Emir of Umm Al Quwain (2 January 2009-present), member of the Federal Supreme Council.
He received his high school education in Umm Al Quwain and his university degree in economics from Cairo University.
He joined the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973 and was head of the Emirate's Guard of the Emirate from 1977. In 1982, he was appointed Crown Prince and was in fact his father's main aide in managing the emirate. He ascended the throne after his father's death on January 2, 2009.
Married to the daughter of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi (ruler of Ras Al Khaimah), he has ten sons.
Saud bin Rashid has always supported the preservation of national traditions and cultural heritage. He love camel racing and sea fishing. Even during his father's reign, he worked in all directions - he founded several new departments in the Emirate of Umm Al Quwain, introduced new technologies into the emirate's management system, and developed services for the population.
The Emirate of Ajman is ruled by the Al Nuaimi family.
1931 - present. Pictured near, click to enlarge.
Emir of Ajman (6 Sep., 1981-present), member of the Federal Supreme Council.
He was the second son (and third child) of Sheikh Rashid, who ruled the Emirate of Ajman from 1928 to 1981 (one of the world's record-breaking monarchs). At the beginning of the 20th century, the population of Ajman did not reach 1,000 inhabitants.
Consistently Sheikh Rashid (father) and Humaid (son) made Ajman a modern city. Humaid assisted his father in running the emirate from as early as the '60s, before the formation of the UAE. He ended up on the throne, surpassing his brother Ali.
Sheikh Humaid studied in Dubai, then at Cairo University. In an interview with GulfNews, he said, "Education is one of the blessings of our world."
His other words are, "Knowledge and education are associated with ethics and morality" and "Knowledge in the hands of young people must counteract the negative trends of our world". He is the founder of the UAE's prestigious Education and Culture and Science Day Award, given for more than 30 years. Ajman University of Science and Technology is the second in the country.
His wife is Sheikha Fatima bint Zayed Al Nahyan (of the Abu Dhabi ruler family). They have six children, four boys and two girls.
- About who lives in the UAE and what these people do, read in our review "Population of the UAE";
- About what language the rulers and people speak, read in our review "What languages are spoken in the UAE".
- For a detailed history of the country, see our review "History of the United Arab Emirates".
We hope our story about the sheikhs of the UAE was interesting. Have a great trip, and read our pages about the UAE (see the list of the links below).
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