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Last updated: December 5, 2012 5:01 pm
Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has trimmed the board of the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund and appointed a new director of his media office.
When combined with the city’s recent eye-catching (or perhaps eyebrow-raising) property and tourist launches, these personnel changes have given the impression that Dubai’s “old guard” are not only back, they are growing in power.
The board of the Investment Corporation of Dubai, a holding body that controls the emirate’s corporate crown jewels, such as Emirates Airlines, has been reduced from six to five members.
Ahmed al-Tayer is no longer part of the board, which is chaired by the ruler and includes three other senior members of the ruling family. The removal of veteran official Mr Tayer is not exactly a surprise, but rather an acknowledgment that he resigned from his government positions after his abrupt departure as longstanding chairman of state-controlled bank Emirates NBD in June 2011.
Mr Tayer, along with ICD board member and chief executive Mohammed al-Shaibani, were called on by the ruler as the city’s property crisis turned into a sovereign debt crisis.
This once-powerful axis oversaw the emergency restructuring of government-related institutions as Dubai stared into the abyss of its $110bn debt cliff. The officials were associated with a tough corruption investigation that targeted the city’s ancien régime.
But as the trade and tourism-based economy bounces back, the mood has turned more optimistic. Despite their association with the creation of Dubai’s vast debt problem, those in charge before the crisis are being seen and heard more often.
That perception was reaffirmed by the announcement that Mona al-Marri would be replacing Ahmad al-Shaikh as director-general of the ruler’s media office.
In 2009, Ms Marri left the media office after her public relations unit, Brand Dubai, was merged into the official government media arm as power swung towards the “clean-up crew” of Mr Shaibani and Mr Tayer.
As a wife of Mohammed Gergawi, one of the ruler’s closest advisers during the boom, Ms Marri’s return to the media office reaffirms the impression that sidelined executives are flexing their political muscle in the court once more.
A troika of officials who had a high profile during boom time – Mr Gergawi of Dubai Holding, Mohammed Alabbar of Emaar Properties and Sultan bin Sulayem of ports operator DP World – have certainly been making their presence felt this year.
Analysts say their return is coming at the expense of Mr Shaibani, against whom many have been plotting as revenge for his tough anti-corruption campaign.
But while Mr Shaibani has lost some influence since the peak of his powers, he remains chief executive of ICD and head of the ruler’s court.
Perhaps his continued position at the top table is as a balancing force, a reality check on the return of the city’s dreamers.
Dubai’s near-neighbour emirate Ras al-Khaimah has also seen a changing of the guard among top officials.
Khater Masaad, a Lebanese-Swiss dual national, stepped down from Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority a couple of months ago.
The northern emirate’s boom-time drive to ape Dubai’s investment and property strategy was driven by Mr Masaad, who initially made his mark at the emirate’s successful RAK Ceramics business.
A spokesperson for Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority, which oversees business parks in the emirate, said an official decree had placed the authority under the control of the government’s Investment and Development Office.
The office, which has been consolidating the emirate’s debt, investment management and audit operations, is run by Jim Stewart, a Scotsman.
Mr Masaad has during this year also stepped down from other positions in government-related and strategic enterprises, including developer Rakeen, RAK Airways and RAK Ceramics.
Officials say Mr Masaad, who was unavailable for comment, has resigned after many years of service.
Shahzad Shahbaz is leaving Doha-based investment bank QInvest and will be replaced as chief executive by Tamim al-Kuwari.
The Qatari investment bank is seeking final regulatory approval for its merger with troubled Egyptian investment bank, EFG-Hermes, after which the Qatari institution will hold a 60 per cent stake.
Other staff are leaving in the wake of the departure of Mr Shahbaz, a Bank of America veteran who will remain temporarily to help the transition to Mr Kuwari, a Qatari, who joined as deputy chief executive in October from Goldman Sachs’ Doha office.
In another sign of the push to promote Gulf nationals, Goldman Sachs has appointed Omar Mohammady, a Saudi national previously with Barclays, to run the US investment bank’s operations in the oil-rich kingdom.
People on the Move is a column by the FT Middle East team. Contributions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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