Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) became the new president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday atfer late President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan died a day earlier.
The state-run WAM news agency said the rulers of the country’s seven sheikhdoms made the decision at a meeting held in Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, the leading emirate of the Gulf nation.
It comes after the late President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan died Friday at age 73. The transition of power marks only the third time this U.S.-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms has selected a president since becoming an independent nation in 1971.
The last, which saw Sheikh Khalifa take over for both his and Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, came a month after his death in 2004. The speed of Saturday’s announcement, just a day after Sheikh Khalifa’s death, appeared designed to show unity and reassure the world of the stability of this crucial oil-and-gas producing nation that hosts Western military forces.
WAM described the vote as unanimous among the rulers of the country’s sheikhdoms, which also includes the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai.
“We congratulate him, and we pledge allegiance to him, and our people pledge allegiance to him,” Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said on Twitter after the vote. “The whole country is led by him to take it on the paths of glory and honor, God willing.”
The UAE as a whole is observing a three-day mourning period which will see businesses shut across the country and performances halted in Sheikh Khalifa’s honor. Electronic billboards all showed the late sheikh’s image in Dubai on Friday night as flags flew at half-staff.
Sheikh Mohammed, 61, had been serving as the UAE’s de facto president since a 2014 stroke saw his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa disappear from public view. Under his leadership, the UAE took on a more military-focused approach in the region, joining Saudi Arabia in their bloody, yearslong war in Yemen that still rages to this day.
MBZ also long has been suspicious of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, likely organizing a campaign targeting conservative groups in the UAE after the 2011 Arab Spring and urging the West to take a harder line toward Tehran over concerns about its nuclear program and its support of paramilitary groups throughout the region. He led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, however, the UAE under Sheikh Mohammed has sought to rehabilitate ties to Iran and Turkey, which are in a regional rivalry.
He also bolstered the military might of the UAE which, coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence in the region and beyond.
Under his low-key direction, the UAE has put a man in space, sent a probe to Mars and opened its first nuclear reactor, while using its oil-funded clout to develop a more assertive foreign policy.
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