Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi rules Ras al Khaimah, the fourth-largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ras al Khaimah is more geographically diverse than its emirate counterparts, resulting in a somewhat cooler climate and year-round sunshine. It’s fitting this hidden gem of the UAE has a ruler like Sheikh Saud, who, in his own way, is just as much a hidden gem as his country.
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi’s birthday is February 10, 1956. He’s the fourth son of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the previous ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.
Sheikh Saud went to elementary and high schools in Ras Al Khaimah, and matriculated to the American University in Beirut as an economics major. Sheikh Saud entered the university in 1973, but in 1975 transferred his credits to the United States when civil war broke out in Lebanon; he went to the University of Michigan, where he received his bachelor’s degree in economics and political science.
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In 1979, Sheik Saud returned to Ras al Khaimah from the United States, and assumed the role of Chief of the Ruler’s Court. In this position, he assisted his father with the administration of his reign.
In 1986, Sheikh Saud became Chairman of the Municipal Council; this council advances the emirate by working with the community to address issues and concerns. In 1989, Sheikh Saud persuaded Swiss-Lebanese engineer Khater Massaad to develop comprehensive industrialization plans for Ras al Khaimah, resulting in the founding of RAK Ceramics. RAK Ceramics is now one of the top ceramics brands in the world. Sheikh Saud was the largest single shareholder in the company until 2014, when the board voted to sell a 30% stake in the company to Samena Capital. Sheikh Saud still remains a shareholder today.
In 2003, Sheikh Saud’s father abruptly dismissed Sheikh Saud’s older brother, Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi as Crown Prince; he reportedly did this because Sheikh Khalid was hostile to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and because Sheikh Khalid’s political views were not in sync with the UAE Supreme Council. Sheikh Saud was then named Crown Prince in his place.
In 2010, upon his father’s death, Sheikh Saud was named ruler of Ras al Khaimah, with the support and backing of the Federal Supreme Council of the UAE. His first official act was to declare forty days of mourning for his father.
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Developing Ras al Khaimah
Sheikh Saud draws on his business experience in the private sector as he reforms the way business is done in Ras al Khaimah; these reforms resulted in a 200% jump in GDP per capita, following unprecedented economic growth for the emirate. Sheikh Saud also leads social reforms, focusing on healthcare and education.
Sheikh Saud encourages students to study abroad; to further this end, he established the Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi Scholarship Award, to financially aid students studying internationally.
Sheikh Saud also believes in conservation; in 2007, the Ras al Khaimah Center for Advanced Materials was formed, with Sheikh Saud as patron. This center researches alternative energy, environmental conservation, and water purification.
Sheikh Saud supports economic diversity; Ras al Khaimah has no oil deposits, but they do have mineral wealth. Sheikh Saud has overseen the industrialization of Ras al Khaimah, but he hasn’t placed all his economic eggs in this basket; he heavily promotes tourism as an additional economic booster. Ras al Khaimah boasts forty miles of coastline on the Persian Gulf, as well as rugged mountains, a desert, and a fertile plain. Ras al Khaimah is becoming an adventure tourism destination, with the world’s longest zip line at the top of Jebel Jais – the tallest peak in the UAE. A new via ferrata climbing tour, in addition to hiking, biking, and driving trails, plus, water sports, including diving and snorkeling expeditions, sailing, and fishing, not to mention skiing all contribute to Ras al Khaimah becoming the vacation destination for the adventurous.
Business and Investing
Sheikh Saud has worked stringently to make Ras al Khaimah a business-friendly environment. Reducing paperwork and regulations, he encourages entrepreneurship and small business. Ras al Khaimah has worked hard to get its debt under control, and it consistently receives an A/A-1 rating from Standard & Poor, and Fitch’s.
Sheikh Saud walks a fine line, as he leads an Islamic nation into the modern world. Tourism means Westerners, who have vastly different ideas on social constructs. Islamic views on female dress codes are modified such that burqas and niqabs are not required, but a modesty dress code exists and must be followed. Public displays of affection are not allowed either; the Westerner who vacations in Ras al Khaimah needs to read up on the emirate’s laws and etiquette before arrival, or said Westerner may find he or she is in violation of the law.
That being said, Ras al Khaimah does make itself as accommodating as it can to foreign visitors; the visitors need to return the favor and respect their host country.