Change of guard at the UAE as Shaikh Khalifa passes away



May 22, 2022

Change of guard at the UAE

Noor Israr describes passing away of an aloof ruler

Change of guard at the UAE as Shaikh Khalifa passes away & preferred to remain behind the scenes despite him being the ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the oil rich confederation of the seven states renowned as the United Arab Emirates. Prior to their independence from the UK in 1971 these Trucial States so known as they had entered into a truce with Britain that provided them naval security and also looked after their foreign relations. Actually there were eight Trucial States that the British wanted to come together but at the last minute Qatar withdrew from the proposed union with Abu Dhabi becoming the leading country in the alliance as it had the highest oil reserves, an advantage that the other unifying states lacked. The UAE came into being on 2 December 1971 and it was fortunate to have Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan as head of Abu Dhabi who was given its throne to bring his country into the mainstream.
Shaikh Zayed became the President of Abu Dhabi and he designated his first born Shaikh Khalifa as his heir who accordingly took office when his father passed away in 2004. Sheikh Khalifa took over as the UAE’s second president in November 2004, succeeding his father as the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi. Shaikh Khalifa was by nature a withdrawn, shy one and left most affairs of the state to be run by his younger brother Shaikh Muhammad Bin Zayed who was more than willing to comply. Both brothers proved a good team working in unison and running their patrimony well. As was designed his brother has taken over the position of the ruler of Abu Dhabi and also as President of the UAE. He was otherwise known as the defacto ruler once Shaikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014 and handed over almost all state functions to him.
In the first decade of his rule, Shaikh Khalifa presided over a major restructuring of both the federal government and that of Abu Dhabi but after his stroke, he was rarely seen in public, although he continued to issue rulings. Sheikh Khalifa was born in 1948 in the oasis of Al Ain in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. He was the first son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who would become the Emirates’ first post-independence ruler. At the time, Abu Dhabi was one of a collection of Arab sheikhdoms in southeastern Arabia that had signed protective treaties with the British. Sheikh Khalifa studied at the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. In 1966, the British installed his father as the ruler of Abu Dhabi in a bloodless coup against Sheikh Zayed’s elder brother. His personal wealth was said to have been formidable and it was reported that he was worth $15bn, making him one of the world’s richest monarchs and in 2018, he was placed No. 43 on its list of the world’s most powerful people.
Despite its size and vast oil wealth, Abu Dhabi often found itself overshadowed by the glitzy neighbouring emirate of Dubai, the Middle Eastern commercial hub that showcases the UAE’s bold visions and, at times, its debt-fuelled pipe dreams, including a massive palm-shaped artificial island, Palm Jebel Ali that sits empty years after its creation. In 2009, as Dubai’s fortunes began to falter along with the global economy, Khalifa led efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars in emergency bailout funds into Dubai. The two emirates do not always see eye-to-eye on foreign policy decisions and compete commercially with one another. In 2003, he called for the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways, which competes with Dubai’s successful and much larger carrier, Emirates Air. Khalifa increasingly used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centres, such as branches of the Louvre museum and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne.
The country of 10 million also joined military campaigns in Libya and Yemen and broke ranks with much of the Arab world to establish ties with Israel in 2020. The bearded Sheikh Khalifa had cut a frail figure on his occasional public appearances, while his brother hosted world leaders and led diplomatic forays abroad. The UAE would observe a 40-day mourning period with flags flown at half-mast and suspend work at all public and private sector entities for three days, the ministry said. Abu Dhabi, which holds most of the Gulf state’s oil wealth, has held the presidency since the founding of the UAE federation. Sheikh Khalifa had rarely been seen in public since 2014, after undergoing surgery following a stroke, even as his country continued to gain recognition on the global scene.
Sheikh Khalifa was at the helm of the UAE as it began its global rise, with service-oriented Dubai emerging as a global tourism and trade hub and Abu Dhabi pumping oil as a key player of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). He came to the rescue of Dubai when it was hit by the global financial crisis in 2009, extending a multi-billion-dollar lifeline to the debt-laden emirate. In a show of gratitude, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum suddenly announced the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, would be named after the president. With a level-headed domestic policy, Sheikh Khalifa was notoriously media-shy and remained a marginal figure on the global political scene.
The leader ushered in the UAE’s first-ever elections in December 2006, when handpicked electoral colleges chose half of the 40 members of an advisory Federal National Council. Sheikh Khalifa said the polling, in which women took part both as voters and candidates, would culminate in direct elections. The UAE has yet to hold direct elections. With the 2011 Arab Spring, the state launched an unprecedented crackdown on voices of dissent marked by mass trials of its nationals and foreigners, mostly Islamists, in Abu Dhabi’s security court. During the first years of his reign, Sheikh Khalifa appeared inclined to perpetuate his father’s foreign policy of non-interference but the UAE later became embroiled in regional conflicts, joining the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria.
Rulers in the United Arab Emirates unanimously appointed Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the autocratic nation’s president, signaling both unity and stability in this key energy-rich country. The ascension of Sheikh Mohammed, 61, had been expected after the death of his half-brother and the UAE’s president and 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. Under Sheikh Mohammed, who has been the nation’s de facto leader, the UAE had tried to project power militarily across the wider region as it joined a Saudi-led war in Yemen. But since the lockdowns of the pandemic, Sheikh Mohammed and the wider UAE has tried to recalibrate its approach by largely pulling out of the war and seeking diplomatic détentes with rivals. The UAE also diplomatically recognised Israel, which shares Sheikh Mohammed’s longstanding suspicion of Iran.
Known by the acronym MbZ, Sheikh Mohammed cultivated ties with the West that proved valuable for Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE that commands tens of billions of dollars in wealth funds from its oil and gas deposits. The country hosts some 3,500 US troops, many at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra Air Base, from where drones and fighter jets flew missions combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Dubai also is the US Navy’s busiest port of call abroad. Both France and South Korea also maintained a military presence here. Sheikh Mohammed trained at the British military academy at Sandhurst and is a helicopter pilot. His military-first approach saw the UAE join Saudi Arabia in their bloody, year-long war in Yemen that still rages to this day. Sheikh Mohammed has had a close relationship with neighbouring Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. However, the Emirates have largely withdrawn its troops from Yemen. TW

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Noor Israr has a discerning taste in music and is currently studying development economics at UCF


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