A Visit To Dubai Inc.

Steve Kroft Reports On A Success Story In The Middle East

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

This segment was originally broadcast on Oct. 14, 2007. It was updated on July 30, 2008.

Dubai is a tiny sheikdom nestled along the Persian Gulf on the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula and part of a tiny, oil-rich country called the United Arab Emirates. Over the course of just a few decades, it has transformed itself from a spit of sand about the size of Rhode Island into the Singapore of the Middle East.

It's a political, economic and financial success story, in a region torn by conflict, and as 60 Minutes first reported last October, it's all the vision of one man, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. He rarely gives interviews and but he gave one to correspondent Steve Kroft, along with a tour of his sheikhdom.

No matter how many articles you read or how many pictures you see, they don't quite capture the enormity and the energy of Dubai. It is a physical manifestation of Arab oil wealth set in concrete, glass and steel, a place so rich and ambitious that is changing the geography of the world as a business center, transportation hub, and tourist destination.

It's a 21st century city at the crossroads of a new world. Skyscrapers rise in clusters, man-made islands rise from the sea, and entire neighborhoods with hundreds of office buildings and apartments that rise from the sand. And it is all Sheikh Mohammed's vision.

One project, called by some the "largest construction site on earth," was just desert several years ago. The site employs half a million laborers, working 12-hour shifts on a reported $300 billion worth of projects, building Sheikh Mohammed's dream of a modern, efficient and tolerant Arab city with fine restaurants, a vibrant nightlife, that is both the playground and business capital of a new Middle East.

"What are you trying to do here? What do you want this place to be?" Kroft asks.

"I want it to be number one. Not in the region, but in the world," Sheikh Mohammed says.

Asked what he means by "number one in the world," Sheikh Mohammed says, "In everything. High education, health, housing. Just making my people the highest way of living."

At 59 years old, he is one of the richest people in the world, a member of the Maktoum family which has ruled here for nearly two centuries. He is a former air force pilot and an avid horseman who competes in cross country endurance races and is one of the largest breeders of thoroughbred race horses in the world.

By Western standards his marital situation is a little complicated. He's married to Princess Haya, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, but he also has another wife who is rarely seen in public.

He is frequently described as a workaholic and, as 60 Minutes found one morning, always in motion. The sheikh, who likes to stay on his feet, walks around without a security detail.

He is famous for dropping in unannounced at construction sites and government offices to see how things are going.

He uses his cars as mobile offices, traveling most of the time by himself.

There is a little bit of Donald Trump in him, at least when it comes to showmanship and getting people to come to Dubai. "You know this building up here? This is where we have snow skiing," Sheikh Mohammed points out.

The strange looking building the sheikh had pointed out is the world's tallest indoor ski slope. Outside it may be 120 degrees but inside it feels like the Alps.

There is the Dubai World Cup, showcasing the fastest horses in the world running for the world's richest purse. Not to mention the most luxurious hotel in the world, the Burj al Arab, where the cheapest room is $2,000 a night.

"Why do you want everything to be the biggest, the tallest?" Kroft asks.

"Steve, why not? Why not? If you can have it in New York, why can't we have it here?" Sheikh Mohammed asks.

"Why are you in such a hurry? Most people would try and do this in a lifetime, not five years," Kroft asks.

"I want my people to live better now. To go to high school now. To go to good health care now. Not after 20 years," the sheikh explains.