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Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the state-run WAM news agency says.
The United Arab Emirates’ longtime de facto ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected as president on Saturday a day after the death of its former leader.
Sheikh Mohamed was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, the state-run WAM news agency said, after years of calling the shots from behind the scenes while his half-brother President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was sidelined by poor health.
The rulers of the UAE’s seven sheikhdoms made the decision at a meeting. It comes after Sheikh Khalifa died on Friday at age 73.
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 honour, God willing.”
Widely known as MBZ, Sheikh Mohamed is one of the Arab world’s most powerful leaders. A graduate of Britain’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he commands one of the best-equipped armies in the Gulf region.
Working behind the scenes for years as de facto leader, Sheikh Mohamed, 61, transformed the UAE military into a high-tech force, which coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence internationally.
Sheikh Mohamed began wielding power in a period when his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014. Under his low-key direction, the UAE has put a man in space, sent a probe to Mars, and opened its first nuclear reactor.
MBZ led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel. 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 leadership, the UAE took on a more military-focused approach in the region, joining Saudi Arabia in their bloody, years-long war in Yemen that still rages to this day.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE under Sheikh Mohamed’s leadership has sought to rehabilitate ties with Iran and Turkey.
Perceived US disengagement
The transition of power marks only the third time the UAE has selected a president since becoming an independent nation in 1971. The speed of Saturday’s announcement 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.
MBZ becomes president at a time when the UAE’s longstanding ties with the United States have been visibly strained over perceived US disengagement from its Gulf allies’ security concerns.
Abu Dhabi, which holds most of the Gulf state’s oil wealth, has held the presidency since the founding of the UAE federation by Sheikh Khalifa’s father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 1971.
The UAE as a whole is observing a three-day mourning period that will see businesses shut across the country and performances halted in Sheikh Khalifa’s honour. Electronic billboards showed the late sheikh’s image in Dubai on Friday night as flags flew at half-mast.