Flush With Cash, Arab Royals Pave Path Of Modernity

Named Crown Prince last February at age 25, Hamdan is chairman of the Dubai Executive Council and engaged in Dubai Cares, a charity aimed at children's development. A modern monarch with a taste for the traditional, he set a world record when he paid a sale price of $2.7 million for a prized camel at a camel beauty pageant.

"He supports camel racing, camel competitions, camel beauty contests -- it's part of supporting our culture," said Sultan Al Qassimi, a writer and businessmen in nearby Sharjah who belongs to one of the UAE's royal families.

"He's not just going for skyscrapers… he was raised in a very traditional way, and we're very happy with that," Al Qassimi, said. "For example, he supports the Emirati tradition of 'yola,' a dance that young people do. The dance was dead until Sheikh Hamdan revived it. It had faded in our Playstation generation."

Arab People Get a Voice With Royalty

Mohammad Al Rahma, a citizen of Dubai, says the fact that Gulf monarchs maintain traditions like the majlis, an open sitting in which rulers hear directly from their citizens, keeps the royals and their subjects connected.

"The culture does not have a power distance. There's a majlis culture, where they hear our requests in an open forum… the ruler or deputy ruler will have a certain time of day when the court is open. You can bring your requests, you can even go just to say hi. You might not go to him with every small request. But you still interact with him in a normal way," said Al Rahma, 28, who works at Dubai's International Financial Center.

"We don't feel there's a barrier between the people and the ruling family, especially the young generation," he added. "We don't find many bodyguards around them, they network and interact freely."

Aside from Hamdan, only one other Gulf royal made it to the Forbes hot list: his sister, Sheikha Maitha. A black-belt beauty, she's a karate champion who took home a silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games. At age 28, Maitha went to this summer's Olympic games in Beijing to compete in Taekwondo, the first Emirati woman to compete in the Olympics. As her country's flag bearer, she helmed the national team as it marched into the Bird's Nest stadium.

"We're very proud as a UAE citizen, an Arab and a Muslim to see Sheikha Maitha carrying the flag," Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the country's Olympic Committee chief said in August.

"Even though most of the other competitors were men, it projects internally and externally that a woman can take a role in leadership," Al Qassimi told ABC News, noting that women hold a number of high posts in federal government. The first woman to hold a cabinet post, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, is a royal from Sharjah currently serving as the UAE's Minister of Economy.

Women Play Role in Public Life

Elsewhere in the Gulf, royal women are taking advantage of 21st century openness and opportunity.  Qatar's Sheikha Mayassa plays an active public role, heading the Qatar Foundation's "Reach Out to Asia" initiative, aimed at disaster relief and supporting the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

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