Under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has prospered like never before in its 7,000-year history of human habitation.
The fourth son of Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammad al-Qasimi, who ruled RAK from 1949 until 2010, Sheikh Saud — the familiar name by which his subjects and family members know him — was born in 1956. From an early age, he showed uncommon promise; in hindsight, his accession was all but foreordained. Today, Sheikh Saud is recognized as an innovative leader of an ascendant emirate — a model for modern heads of state across the Middle East.
Who is His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi?
Following the completion of his primary and secondary studies in Ras Al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud decamped for Lebanon in 1973 and enrolled at the American University of Beirut. By 1975, Lebanon had tipped into civil war, and Sheikh Saud transferred to the University of Michigan, where he completed his studies. He left Ann Arbor with two bachelor’s degrees, in economics and political science.
Sheikh Saud returned to RAK in 1979, ready to lend his talents to the administration of his home state. His father, Sheikh Saqr, soon appointed him Chief of the Ruler's Court, a position not dissimilar to the chief of staff role common in Western political contexts.
Sheikh Saud’s Early Career in RAK
Sheikh Saud spent the next several years in close professional contact with Sheikh Saqr’s staff, working on a number of initiatives to modernize and grow RAK’s economy. He would later remark that this was a formative, educational period for him, one that prepared him well for the leadership role he’d assume in turning RAK to the wider world.
By the mid-1980s, Sheikh Saud was recognized as one of RAK’s most innovative and talented young leaders. As Chairman of the Ras Al Khaimah Municipal Council from 1986 on, he was instrumental in building out RAK’s industrial base — the foundation upon which later efforts to diversify the emirate’s economy would rest.
Undeterred by the emirate’s lack of hydrocarbon resources, it was resolved to capitalize on one resource that RAK did have in abundance: the mineral raw materials for ceramics, a vital resource in a rapidly developing Arabian Peninsula. RAK Ceramics is one of the most dynamic companies in the entire UAE (and remains the world’s foremost producer of tile and sanitary ceramics). Key to Sheikh Saud’s vision was the need for the government of RAK to have “skin in the game” in RAK Ceramics and other state-directed enterprises; today, the RAK government retains a stake of approximately 5% in the company, creating a vital stream of revenue that lessens the fiscal burden on the emirate’s individual taxpayers.
In the years since, Sheikh Saud has been instrumental in other key economic and business milestones for RAK. He is particularly proud of his role in the revitalization of Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar), which employs more than 5,000 workers and serves as a model for other advanced pharmaceutical enterprises in the Middle East and northern Africa. Sheikh Saud’s guidance is also responsible in great part for RAK’s now-legendary fiscal stability; Standard & Poor’s has rated the emirate’s issues at A/A-1, denoting a strong capability to repay obligations.
The Later Years: Sheikh Saud’s Leadership in RAK
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi was appointed the Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah in 2003. Although wholly deserved, his accession was somewhat unexpected, as his half-brother would customarily have been in line for the eventual rulership of RAK. However, his brothers' opposition to U.S.-led military operations in Iraq was disfavored by his fellow Emirati heads of state at the time; Sheikh Saud, for his part, remained above the political fray and cultivated a reputation for decisive leadership.
Sheikh Saud served as Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of RAK for seven years. Upon his father’s passing in late 2010, he became the emirate’s ruler with the full blessing of the federation of the United Arab Emirates.
Today, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi is known as a hands-on leader who has done more than any other individual to transform RAK into a destination of choice for tourists, businesses, and investors. In addition, Sheikh Saud has overseen major improvements in research, healthcare, and education for the people of RAK, positioning the emirate as a role model for forward-looking states across the Middle East and beyond.
Sheikh Saud’s achievements since ascending to the role of Crown Prince and later Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah are neatly encapsulated in the emirate’s impressive growth in wealth and economic output. Since 2001, RAK’s GDP per capita has risen from an estimated AED 35,000 in 2001 to approximately AED 104,680 in 2018, a threefold gain.
“I am proud to say that Ras Al Khaimah has now emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in the region,” says Sheikh Saud.
Opening Ras Al Khaimah to the World
In his years as Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi has proven himself to be a leader who not only cares about his own people but generously welcomes the rest of the world to take advantage of RAK’s many opportunities. Indeed, Sheikh Saud has been his emirate’s most vocal advocate — and its most prominent. He is proud to extol RAK’s virtues and has thrown open its doors to business and leisure visitors from all over the world.
“In addition to being a tourist haven, Ras Al Khaimah has evolved into a magnet of business and industrial investments from all corners of the world, while opening new gateways for people from different countries and cultures to experience the unique and exciting lifestyle offerings of the emirate,” he says.
Sheikh Saud Promotes Green Tourism in RAK
Although Sheikh Saud has devoted much of his energy and talent to a long-range initiative to establish RAK as a heavy industrial powerhouse for the Arabian Peninsula and wider Middle East, he has been careful to balance this effort with the imperative to preserve and protect his emirate’s natural resources and environment.
To that end, Sheikh Saud has invested considerable financial and political capital in positioning RAK as a haven for green, culturally authentic tourism — a clear juxtaposition with regional alternatives.
From the very beginning of his reign, Sheikh Saud has invited people from all over the world to experience the beauty of Ras Al Khaimah and experience the hospitality of the people of Ras Al Khaimah. Because of the beauty of Ras Al Khaimah and the death of distance, we see an opportunity for us to bring Ras Al Khaimah to Europe, to different parts of Asia, and to America, Sheikh Saud says.
Today, he and the people of RAK are closer than ever to realizing that grand vision. Tourist volumes have increased significantly in recent years as RAK has gained recognition for its natural beauty, wildlife, and authentic cultural amenities.
“Ras Al Khaimah has achieved considerable progress in the tourism sector, doubling the number of people visiting the emirate from around 400,000 to over 1 million over the past seven years,” Shiekh Saud told an investment conference in 2018.
The tentpole initiative of RAK’s green tourism initiative is the development of a major luxury tourist camp on the upper slopes of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountains and one of RAK’s most scenic locations. The camp will serve as a model for eco-tourism, with a host of systems designed to minimize energy and water usage and a design made for the unique natural contest of the emirate’s arid interior mountains.
The luxury camp will complement several existing tourist attractions in the surrounding mountains. The area is already home to the Gulf region’s first commercial “iron path,” a viewing deck with stunning vistas of the mountains and adjacent lowlands, and the world’s longest zip line.
Elsewhere in RAK, Sheikh Saud’s economic development team aims to replicate the upland area’s eco-tourism success with resorts and hotels near the emirate’s extensive coastal mangrove wetlands, which harbor dozens of threatened or endangered species. In 2018, Sheikh Saud formally decreed the creation of a three square kilometer wetland reserve near Khor Mazahmi, the emirate’s first. Known as Jebel Ali Wildlife Sanctuary, it’s home to some 500 maritime species, including the mottled eagle ray, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, green turtles, and hawksbill turtles — all of which are under serious threat from climate change and habitat encroachment.
Cultivating a Business-Friendly Climate in RAK
Tourism is just one aspect of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi’s efforts to open RAK’s economy to the wider world. Under Sheikh Saud’s leadership, RAK has taken dramatic steps to improve its internal business climate and welcome international firms, and there’s much more to come.
Economic data bears out this success story. Beyond the more than threefold increase in RAK’s GDP from the turn of the century to the present day, RAK’s economy is more diverse and dynamic than ever.
What’s the secret to RAK’s economic success under Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi?
For starters, Sheikh Saud and his economic advisors have taken pains to cultivate economic diversity — a crucial attribute in a region that has historically been dependent on a handful of industries, such as energy production.
“We have adopted an integrated approach that has made Ras Al Khaimah one of the most diverse economies in the region, where the participation of all sectors does not exceed more than 30 percent of the emirate’s gross domestic product” Sheikh Saud said at an investment conference in 2018.
RAK’s strong education system, which offers first-rate instruction to children of citizens and foreign nationals alike, is the engine that drives a highly skilled workforce. Sheikh Saud credits his father with spurring the education “revolution” that underpins RAK’s thriving contemporary economy.
“The revolution that my father initiated began with education,” wrote Sheikh Saud in The Business Year. “He was acutely aware of its ability to transform lives, and through it, he wanted the people of the Emirate to be empowered.”
Today, RAK is regarded as a regional center of excellence for professional education, thanks to homegrown institutions such as the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and the Medical and Health Sciences University.
Meanwhile, RAK is home to thriving free trade zones which collectively house some 12,000 companies across a wide range of industries. These thriving firms depend, in turn, on Saqr Port, the Middle East’s largest bulk-handling port by volume — another key element of the long-term vision first sketched by Sheikh Saud in the 1980s and 1990s.
RAK’s thriving commercial infrastructure complements an unusually potent package of business services and business-friendly policies. The Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) is more than a free trade facilitator — it’s a sprawling organization that manages free trade areas and industrial parks across the emirates, connects foreign and domestic entrepreneurs with corporate licensing services, and provides equity and investment advisory services for select direct investment initiatives. Under Sheikh Saud, RAKIA’s reach and sophistication have greatly increased, setting the tone for state-directed investment in the wider MENA region.
Meanwhile, the establishment of RAK’s commercial court, another long-held goal for the emirate, finally came to fruition under Sheikh Saud. The court, which began operation in September 2019, was hailed by the World Bank as “another improvement in rankings for the emirate” and a boon for “the efficiency in the process to resolve a commercial dispute in Ras Al Khaimah’s courts.”
The court provides a framework for those with business interests in RAK — including foreign firms and those chartered within the emirate — to resolve disputes efficiently. The court is modeled after similar structures in countries with long commercial traditions, including the Netherlands, Belgium, and Singapore. It’s intended to further Sheikh Saud’s meritocratic vision — that it is best to resolve commercial disputes on their merits, rather than on the basis of any particular party’s favor.
His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi: Committed to Making RAK a Great Place to Live and Work
Under the leadership of Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ras Al Khaimah has emerged as a popular destination for expatriates and economic migrants from throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and beyond. Many who visit RAK for business or pleasure find themselves staying longer than they intended — in some cases, establishing part-year or permanent residences in communities here.
Despite its modest size, RAK has an impressive diversity of communities, many developed or expanded in the past decade. Areas popular with locals and expatriates alike include Al Hamra Village, The Cove, and Al Nadiyah.
As Sheikh Saud continues to prioritize excellence in healthcare and education, residents of these and other communities have access to some of the finest hospitals, clinics, and schools in the United Arab Emirates. With nearly 20 primary care facilities in the emirate, no community is more than 15 minutes by road from a hospital or clinic.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Saud’s global perspective on higher education has led to the establishment of a number of international university satellite campuses within the emirate — including outposts for the University of Pune (India), the University of Bolton (United Kingdom), and Tufts University (United States), along with homegrown institutions such as the American University of Ras Al Khaimah and RAK Medical and Health Sciences University.
Whether they’ve lived in the emirate for their entire lives or recently relocated from abroad, RAK residents under Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi enjoy world-class shopping and culture opportunities. In September 2019, Sheikh Saud presided over a ribbon-cutting at the ambitious new Grove Village Mall at Corniche Alqawasim — a two-story, 11,612 square meter lifestyle center replete with luxury stores, high-end dining, family entertainment, and a host of additional amenities against the stunning backdrop of the Jebel Jais mountains. Grove Village is merely the latest entrant in RAK’s thriving shopping and dining scene — one that, under Sheikh Saud, has come to rival those of nearby emirates.
Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi has presided over a renaissance in RAK’s high culture scene, as well. Just south of RAK City, the historic RAK town of Al Jazirah Al Hamra plays host to the annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival, an initiative of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research that’s now in its seventh year. Set amid a stark backdrop of disused historic buildings, the festival features more than 70 artists from all over the world, including a number from RAK and nearby emirates. It’s proof positive that, under the wise leadership of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, RAK is truly on the rise.