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Sheikh Mansour: the Fresh Face of Emirati Leadership

Shiekh-Mansour
Shiekh Mansour. Photo PA Photos Ltd

Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa al-Nahyan (1970), commonly known as Sheikh Mansour, was virtually unknown outside the very small but very oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi until 2008. That all changed when he bought Manchester City F.C. for £210 million. He became known as the ‘richest man in football’, but many wondered whether the inexperienced new owner could buy success.

After his purchase of Manchester City, he moved on to another embattled British trophy asset: Barclays, a bank with roots that go back to 1690. Amid the 2008 financial crisis, Barclays turned to investors in Qatar and Abu Dhabi to raise more than £7.3 billion in emergency cash in order to stay out of government control. For the two key individual investors – Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad and Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour – the investment significantly raised their profiles and influence in the United Kingdom.

The British media were less than welcoming to the aspiring sheikh, however. Both the Manchester City and Barclays deals attracted widespread controversy and criticism, which Gulf royals have traditionally tried to avoid. Moreover, these royals have never had to endure any ridicule in their local media, which is taboo. In January 2009, for instance, as Barclays’ shares plummeted and Manchester City’s attempt to buy top Brazilian footballer Ricardo Kaká from AC Milan floundered, the Sun, a British tabloid, ran a caricature of Sheikh Mansour with the headline: ‘Sheikh in the Kaka’.

Seven months later, the sheikh had the last laugh. The International Petroleum Investment Company, a government investment vehicle which the sheikh chairs, recorded an estimated profit of £1.46 billion after it offloaded Barclays’ shares. Moreover, Manchester City’s value rose from £210 million in 2008 to £1,293 million in 2016, according to Forbes, representing a massive return on investment should the sheikh decide to sell the club or part of his shares.

Sheikh Mansour is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), of which Abu Dhabi is the capital, and minister of presidential affairs. Little is known about his early life. However, when WikiLeaks released the cables from the US embassy in Abu Dhabi, a document profiling the ministers of UAE’s government stated that Mansour was an English student at Santa Barbara Community College in 1989. ‘He speaks English well, but his academic record was poor. He received a bachelor’s degree in international affairs in 1993 from the UAE,’ the document added.

In the mid-1990s, he married Sheikha Alia bint Mohammed bin Butti al-Hamed, daughter of Mohammed bin Butti al-Hamed, one of Abu Dhabi’s top statesmen and a close associate of Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE and Sheikh Mansour’s father. They have one son, Zayed. In May 2005, Sheikh Mansour married Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, eldest child of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai. They have five children: Fatima, Mohammed, Hamdan, Latifa and Rashid, born 22 March 2017. Sheikha Manal works to help women achieve success in the UAE’s economic, social, sports, arts and political arenas.

According to Forbes, Sheikh Mansour became the newest Gulf billionaire in 2009, with an estimated personal net worth of £3.9 billion, most of which comes from oil revenues. Today, this is an estimated £17 billion, although no figures can be fully verified because Forbes does not value royal fortunes unless it can clearly track them.

In the past decade or so, the leaders of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have adopted a bold strategy of investing billions of dollars globally and in different sectors. Sheikh Mansour is no exception. However, he is the first to invest individually, under his own name. Since the death of Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, Sheikh Mansour and his brother, Mohammad bin Zayed (the crown prince), have emerged as two of the most prominent public figures in the Emirates, alongside Sheikh Mohammad of Dubai. The two Mohammads are the face of governance whereas Sheikh Mansour is the face of spending and foreign investments. Sheikh Mansour’s significance is also generational, as he is perceived to represent the younger, more dynamic, more modern and more ‘global’ Emiratis.

There is an old saying in the Arab world that applies perfectly to Sheikh Mansour’s success: he has the ability to turn sand into gold. His work ethic and commitment to his father’s vision is relentless. Alongside his global investments, he also chairs the Ministerial Council for Services, the Emirates Investment Authority and the Emirates Racing Authority. He sits on the board of the Supreme Petroleum Council and numerous other investment companies including the Abu Dhabi Investment Council. He owns stakes in a number of business ventures, including Virgin Galactic and Sky News Arabia, which partners with Britain’s Sky News.

The investment deals with Virgin Galactic, Daimler, the German manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz cars, and Tesla represent Abu Dhabi’s desire to diversify away from its oil economy first and foremost. Furthermore, these plans, headed specifically by Sheikh Mansour, are in line with the course set by the emirates’ new generation of rulers, which is to foster technology research and science at a grassroots level, invest in Emirati youth and become the hub for international tourism in the region.

On the sidelines of the three-day World Government Summit held in Dubai in February 2017, Sheikh Mansour oversaw the signing of two memoranda of understanding between the Emirates Youth Council (EYC), the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Foundation (MISK) and the Jordanian Crown Prince Foundation, with the aim of empowering and motivating young talent to innovate in the areas of education, knowledge, entrepreneurship and social work, and to stimulate communication between youth organizations in the Arab world.

During the closing session of the summit, and as part of the National Arab Youth Strategy, Sheikh Mansour announced the launch of seven initiatives to empower Arab youth. He said that the initiatives, which include building a student exchange programme and establishing youth circles across the Arab world, are the part of the government’s plans to assist young people in achieving their ambitions.

“It is the youth’s responsibility to work on their strategies and initiatives. The future is in the hands of the youth, and our children see [the leadership] as role models. Therefore, it is our responsibility as Arab governments to create hope and open doors of opportunities for them,” he told a crowd of leaders and delegates.

Sheikh Mansour represents a new breed of regional leaders who are aware of the challenges facing Middle Eastern and Gulf societies as they modernize and develop, and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their countries succeed.