National Geographic : 2007 Jan
Another of the chosen, Mohammad Alabbar, grew up, like many Dubai ans, in a tent made of palm fronds. His father supported a wife and 12 children with his fishing net. Then, in 1966, Dubai struck oil, and Alab bar went to college in the United States on a government scholarship paid for by oil revenues. (Though a windfall early on, Dubai's modest oil reserves now account for only 6 percent of GDP.) After graduation, he impressed Sheikh Mo during a six-year stint in Singapore, where he turned stagnant retail enterprises into thriving businesses. That led to a posting as Dubai's director of economic development, a role that showcased his ability to boost commerce by cutting red tape. As a reward, the govern ment granted him land at little or no cost, and he started building. Today he travels the world in a private jet and oversees Emaar, one of the richest real estate development companies in the world. "We have come a long way," Alabbar told me at the project site of the Burj Dubai, a towering, torpedo-like structure that will be the tallest building on the planet when it's finished in 2008. "But we must always remember where we came from. Our kids must know that we worked very, very hard to get to where we are now, and there's a lot more work to do."