Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the long-sick ruler of the United Arab Emirates, died on Friday, the government announced in a brief statement. He was 73 years old.
The President of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa, oversaw much of the country’s economic development and his name was immortalized on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, after bailing out debt-ridden Dubai during the financial crisis a decade ago.
The UAE’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced 40 days of mourning and a three-day suspension of work in the public and private sector, including the hoisting of flags at half-staff. A flood of condolence messages poured in from the region and the world, most prominent among the leaders of Arab countries backed by Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Khalifa ceased to be involved in the day-to-day affairs of governing the country after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after becoming president.
His half-brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, was seen as the country’s powerful de-factor ruler and decision-maker of major foreign policy decisions, such as engaging in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and on neighboring countries. banning Qatar in recent years
No immediate announcement was made about a successor, although Mohamed bin Zayed is expected to claim the presidency as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Khalifa’s father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is widely respected by the emirate as the country’s founding father. The country was founded in 1971, which recently marked its 50-year anniversary. His eldest son was Sheikh Khalifa, who trained at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England.
Although he had been out of public sight since the stroke, the image of Sheikh Khalifa was ubiquitous, adorning every hotel lobby and major government office across the country. On this occasion, Emirati state media published rare photographs and videos of Sheikh Khalifa.
“The UAE has lost a faithful son and leader of its blessed empowerment journey,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed wrote on Twitter after his brother’s death was officially announced on state media. “Caliph bin Zayed, my brother, supporter and protector, may Allah Almighty grant you eternal peace.”
The late president held the most powerful office of the seven semi-autonomous city-states stretching along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. His role as President derives from his standing as the hereditary ruler of Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest emirate of the United Arab Emirates.
Historically, the President of the United Arab Emirates has been from Abu Dhabi and the Vice President and Prime Minister are from Dubai, currently Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
However, the regional power and influence of the United Arab Emirates derives from Abu Dhabi, which has most of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Dubai provides the UAE with hype and headline-grabbing lifestyle and entertainment stories that rights groups say distract from the controversial policies set in place in Abu Dhabi.
Despite its size and wealth, Abu Dhabi often finds itself overshadowed by the luxurious Emirate of Dubai, the commercial hub that showcases the UAE’s bold vision and sometimes debt-laden pipe dreams, with a vast Palm-sized man-made island is also included. which sits vacant years after its construction.
As Dubai’s fortunes began to falter in 2009 along with the global economy, Sheikh Khalifa led Dubai’s efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars into emergency bailout funds. The two emirates are not always face-to-face on foreign policy decisions 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.
The Caliph increasingly used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and educational centres, such as a branch of the Louvre Museum and the satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne. He also presided over OPEC efforts to move the country beyond its reliance on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research, including the vision of a future low-carbon desert city known as Masdar. The UAE last year announced a net-zero emissions pledge by 2050, even as it expands investments in oil and gas for export.
Abu Dhabi’s large overseas spending during the Caliphate’s reign helped shape its investment strategy. According to estimates by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority is now one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, with assets of around $700 billion.
Khalifa helped boost the regional profile of the United Arab Emirates in 2011 by sending warplanes for a NATO-led mission against the regime of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. In September 2014, the Emirates became one of the most prominent Arab participants in US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State terrorist. In Syria, the group is deploying its first female Air Force pilot on the initial raid.
Khalifa was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of Al Ain near the border with the Sultanate of Oman, and was named after his great-grandfather, Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbout.
In 1969, while the region was still a British protectorate, Khalifa was named Prime Minister of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of the Emirate’s Department of Defense, which later became the center of the UAE Armed Forces. After independence in 1971, he became the Defense Minister.
Although the ruling sheikh of the United Arab Emirates holds absolute power, the caliphate began an experiment with elections in 2006 by allowing limited voting for half the members of the 40-seat federal advisory body. The subsequent round of elections in 2011 and 2015 failed to attract even two of the five who were given the chance to vote.
The UAE saw none of the Arab Spring street protests that rocked other parts of the region, although in the wake of that unrest, Khalifa cracked down on Islamists and other activists in the country, drawing criticism from international rights groups. The UAE, which sees Islamic movements as a threat to its regime, also supported efforts in the region to dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Egypt.
Under his presidency, the United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia in sending forces to Bahrain, seeking more authority from the island-nation’s Sunni leadership by the country’s majority Shia population.
Questions were raised during Khalifa’s regime about the UAE’s use of foreign military contractors, including former Blackwater security firm founder Eric Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009. Prince was involved in a multi-million dollar program for training. Soldiers fighting pirates in Somalia, according to an official who spoke to the Associated Press in early 2009.
A US diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks in 2010 described the president as “a distant and uncharacteristic figure”. The final year of his presidency is likely to be tied to that of his half-brother, Mohamed bin Zayed, who is also the deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and who has steered the UAE’s budding ties with Israel after two normalcy in 2020 .
Sheikh Khalifa was considered one of the world’s richest rulers with a personal net worth estimated by Forbes magazine in 2008 at $19 billion. He built a palace in the Seychelles, an island-chain nation in the Indian Ocean, and faced complaints there because of water pollution from the construction site.
Khalifa’s personal life was not much in the public eye. Like many people in the Gulf, he was fond of the traditional sport of falconry and was said to enjoy fishing. He is known to have eight children – two sons and six daughters – with his first wife, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei. He also has many grandchildren in his family.
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