The ruler and president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has died at the age of 73.

Sheikh Khalifa oversaw much of the country’s breakneck economic growth and his name was immortalized on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, after rescuing debt-crippled Dubai during its financial crisis.

However, after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after assuming the presidency, he ceased to be involved in the day-to-day running of the country.

In the last years of his life, his half-brother, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, rose to become the de facto ruler and responsible for major foreign policy decisions, such as joining a Saudi-led war. in Yemen and spearheading an embargo on neighboring Qatar.

The crown prince, also deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, guided the UAE’s fledgling ties with Israel after the two relations normalized in 2020.

Sheikh Khalifa (right) was considered one of the richest men in the world.(AP: United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs)

The crown prince is likely to take over

The United Arab Emirates has announced a 40-day mourning period and a three-day work suspension across government and the private sector. Flags will be flown at half-staff.

There was no immediate announcement of a successor, although Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is expected to claim the presidency.

Charging

“The UAE has lost a loyal son and the leader of its blessed journey of empowerment,” 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 Almighty grant you everlasting peace.”

Charging

US President Joe Biden expressed his condolences and those of First Lady Jill Biden on social media.

“Jill and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan,” he wrote.

“Sheikh Khalifa was a true partner and friend of the United States, and we will honor his memory by continuing to strengthen ties with the government and people of the United Arab Emirates.”

Ties have been strained between the Biden administration and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have not joined US efforts to isolate Russia amid its war in Ukraine.

Messages of condolences also arrived from all over the region and the world, mainly from the leaders of the Arab countries supported by Abu Dhabi.

Queen Elizabeth II offered her condolences in a statement on social media, saying the president “dedicated his life to serving the people of the United Arab Emirates and his relationship with his allies and friends.”

Two standing men shake hands in front of the photographers.
Dignitaries from around the world have offered their condolences. (AP: John Stillwell)

The son of the founding father of the country secured the military might of the United Arab Emirates

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

Although he had been out of the public eye since his stroke, Sheikh Khalifa’s image was everywhere, adorning the lobby of every hotel and major government offices across the country.

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 Defense Department, which later became the core of the United Arab Emirates armed forces.

During his tenure, Sheikh Khalifa helped boost the UAE’s regional profile by augmenting its military with heavy purchases from American arms manufacturers.

The United Arab Emirates did not see any of the Arab Spring street protests that rocked other parts of the region, though in the wake of those unrest, Sheikh Khalifa oversaw a crackdown on Islamists and other activists in the country, drawing criticism from international human rights groups.

Soldiers carry the body of the late president through the honor guard.
UAE Guard of Honor pallbearers carry the body of the late president.(Reuters: UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs)

One of the richest men in the world.

Under his presidency, the United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia in sending forces to Bahrain to put down an uprising there by the country’s largely Shiite population demanding greater rights from the island nation’s Sunni leaders.

Questions arose during Sheikh Khalifa’s government about the UAE’s use of foreign military contractors, including one linked to former Blackwater security company founder Erik Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009.

A US diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks in 2010 mercilessly described the president as “an aloof and uncharismatic character.”

Sheikh Khalifa was believed to be among the world’s wealthiest rulers, with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in 2008 at $19 billion.

His personal life was not much in the public eye. Like many in the Arab Gulf states, he was passionate about the traditional sport of falconry and was said to enjoy fishing.

He is known to have had eight children, two sons and six daughters, with his first wife, Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei. He is also survived by several grandchildren.

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Reference-www.abc.net.au

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