UAE’s long-ailing leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed dies at 73

The United Arab Emirates’ long-ailing ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, died Friday, the government announced in a brief statement. He was 73, Associated Press reported.

Khalifa, the president of the UAE, oversaw much of the country’s blistering economic growth and his name was immortalized on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, after bailing out debt-crippled Dubai during its financial crisis over a decade ago.

The UAE’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a 40-day period of mourning and a three-day suspension of work across the government and private sector, including flags to be flown at half-staff. An outpouring of messages of condolences poured in from around the region and world, foremost the leaders of Arab countries supported by Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Khalifa had long ceased having involvement in the day-to-day affairs of ruling the country after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after becoming president.

His half-brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, was seen as the country’s powerful de-factor ruler and the decision-maker of major foreign policy decisions, such as joining a Saudi-led war in Yemen and spearheading an embargo on neighboring Qatar in recent years.

There was no immediate announcement about a successor, although Mohammed bin Zayed is anticipated to claim the presidency as Abu Dhabi’s crown prince.

Sheikh Khalifa’s father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is widely revered by Emiratis as the country’s founding father. The country was founded in 1971, having recently marked its 50-year-anniversary. Sheikh Khalifa, trained at Sandhurst, the royal military academy in England, was his eldest son.

Though he had been out of public sight since the stroke, Sheikh Khalifa’s image was ubiquitous, gracing every hotel lobby and major government office across the country. On occasion, Emirati state media published rare photographs and videos of Sheikh Khalifa.

“The UAE has lost a loyal son, and the leader of its blessed empowerment journey, ” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed wrote on Twitter after news of his brother’s death was officially announced on state media. “Khalifa bin Zayed, my brother, supporter and mentor, may Allah Almighty grant you eternal peace.”

The late president held the most powerful position among the seven semi-autonomous city-states stretching along the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. His role as president derived from his standing as hereditary ruler of Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s largest and richest emirate.

Historically, the president of the UAE is from Abu Dhabi and the vice president and prime minister is from Dubai, currently Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

The UAE’s regional power and influence, however, emanates from Abu Dhabi, which has most of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Dubai provides the UAE with a swirl of publicity and headline-grabbing lifestyle and entertainment stories that rights groups say distracts from controversial policies decided in Abu Dhabi.


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