UAE leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed dies at age 73

The UAE government and president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, died on Friday, the government announced in a brief statement. Hey what 73.

Sheikh Khalifa oversaw much of the country’s dizzying economic growth and his name has been immortalized on the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifaafter saving debt-paralyzed Dubai during its financial crisis over a decade ago.

However, after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after he became president, he stopped being involved in the country’s daily government affairs.

The last few years of his life saw his half-brother, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, become the de facto ruler and the decision maker of important foreign policy decisions, such as joining a war led by Saudi Arabia. in Yemen and the driving embargo. on neighboring Qatar in recent years. The Crown Prince, also Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, spearheaded the UAE’s budding ties with Israel following the two normalized relations in 2020.

The UAE has announced a 40-day mourning period and a three-day suspension of work across the government and the private sector, including flags to be flown at half mast.

There has been no immediate announcement of a successor, although Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is expected to reclaim the presidency at a time of high oil prices, which increases the UAE’s spending power.

“The UAE has lost a faithful son and the leader of their blessed empowerment journey,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed wrote on Twitter after his brother’s death was officially announced in state media. “Khalifa bin Zayed, my brother, supporter and mentor, may Allah the Almighty grant you eternal peace.”

Who was Sheikh Khalifa

Sheikh Khalifa was the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, widely revered by the Emirates as the country’s founding father. The federation recently celebrated his 50th anniversary.

Although he had been out of public view since his stroke, the image of Sheikh Khalifa was omnipresent, gracing every hotel lobby and major government office across the country. At times, Emirati state media have published rare photographs and videos of Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Khalifa was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of Al Ain, near the border with the Sultanate of Oman. He was trained at Sandhurst, the royal military academy in England.

In 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was appointed prime minister of Abu Dhabi and chairman of the emirate’s Department of Defense, which later became the core of the UAE’s military.

Khalifa helped strengthen the UAE’s regional profile by bolstering its military with large purchases from US arms manufacturers. In 2011, he launched warplanes for the NATO-led mission against Moammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. In 2014, the Emirates became one of the most prominent Arab participants in the US-led airstrikes against the militant group of the Islamic State in Syria.

The president holds the most powerful position among the UAE’s seven semi-autonomous city-states, which stretch along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Historically, the president is from Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest of the seven emirates. The vice president and prime minister is from Dubai, stocks currently held by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Sheikh Khalifa was believed to be among the richest rulers in the world with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in 2008 at $ 19 billion. He built a mansion in the Seychelles, an island chain nation in the Indian Ocean, and faced complaints there for causing water pollution from the construction site.

His personal life was not much in the public eye. Like many in the Gulf Arab states, he was fond of the traditional sport of falconry and was said to enjoy fishing. He is known for having eight children – two sons and six daughters – with his first wife, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei. He is also survived by several grandchildren.

Absolute power and limited experiments in democracy

Although the ruling sheikhs of the UAE hold near-absolute power, Sheikh Khalifa began an electoral experiment by allowing limited voting – by a personally selected electorate – for half the members of a 40-seat federal advisory body in 2006 Subsequent rounds of elections in 2011 and 2015 failed to attract even two out of five of those who had the opportunity to vote.

The UAE has not witnessed any of the Arab Spring street protests that rocked other parts of the region, although in the wake of those unrest, Sheikh Khalifa oversaw the crackdown on Islamists and other activists in the country, attracting criticism. by international rights groups. The UAE, which sees Islamist movements as a threat to its own system of government, has also supported efforts in the region to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Egypt.

Under his presidency, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia in sending forces to Bahrain to quash an uprising by the country’s majority Shiite population calling for greater rights to the island nation’s Sunni leadership.

During Khalifa’s rule, questions were raised about the UAE’s use of foreign military contractors, including one related to former Blackwater security firm founder Erik Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009.

A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010 non-charitable description of the president as “a distant and not very charismatic character.”

Abu Dhabi in the shadow of Dubai

Despite its size and wealth, Abu Dhabi often finds itself overshadowed by the glitzy emirates of Dubai, the commercial hub that showcases both the bold visions of the UAE and, at times, debt-fueled pipe dreams, including a huge palm-shaped artificial island that remains empty years after its construction.

The UAE’s regional power and influence, however, comes from Abu Dhabi, which owns the majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Dubai offers the UAE a whirlwind of front-page advertising and entertainment and lifestyle stories that human rights groups claim distract from the controversial policies decided in Abu Dhabi.

When Dubai’s fortunes began to falter along with the global economy in 2009, Sheikh Khalifa spearheaded efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars into emergency bailout funds in Dubai. The two emirates do not always see foreign policy decisions in the eye and compete commercially with each other. In 2003, Sheikh Khalifa ordered the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways, which competes with Dubai’s much larger Emirates Air.

Sheikh Khalifa has increasingly used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centers, such as a branch of the Louvre Museum and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne. He also chaired efforts to move the OPEC country beyond its dependence on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research. The UAE announced last year a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, although it expands investments in oil and gas for export.

He is credited with overseeing the creation and growth of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, now one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world with nearly $ 700 billion in assets, according to estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.