United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died. Emirati state news agency WAM reported that he was 73.
Sheikh Khalifa had been battling illness for several years.
“The Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a 40 days official mourning with flags at half-mast. A three days closure of ministries and official entities at the federal and local levels and the private sector,”
The agency wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Sheikh Khalifa was rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2014. His brother, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), is seen as the de facto 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.
“The UAE has lost its righteous son and leader of the’ empowerment phase’ and guardian of its blessed journey,” MBZ said on Twitter. He praised Khalifa’s generosity and wisdom.
Under the constitution, Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, would act as president.
The federal council, the rulers of the seven emirates, meet within 30 days to elect a new president.
Condolences poured in from Arab leaders, including Bahrain’s king, Egypt’s president, and Iraq’s prime minister.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed his condolences on the death of Sheikh Khalifa. He described Sheikh Khalifa as “a true friend of the United States.”
“We deeply valued his support in building the extraordinary partnership our countries enjoy today.
We mourn his passing, honor his legacy, and remain committed to our steadfast friendship and cooperation with the United Arab Emirates,” he said.
Sheikh Khalifa came to power in 2004 in the wealthiest emirate Abu Dhabi and became the head of state. Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed is expected to succeed as ruler of Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi holds most of the Gulf state’s oil wealth. It has held the presidency since 1971. Sheikh Khalifa’s father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founded the UAE federation.
Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s rule
He was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of al-Ain near the border with the Sultanate of Oman. He was named after his great grandfather, Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbout.
In 1969, while the area was still a British protectorate, Khalifa was named Abu Dhabi’s prime minister and chairman of the emirate’s Department of Defence.
The core of the UAE’s armed forces. After independence in 1971, he became defense minister and other roles and became president in 2004.
Although the UAE’s ruling sheikhs hold near-absolute power, Sheikh Khalifa began an experiment with elections by allowing limited voting – by a hand-picked electorate – for half the members of a 40-seat federal advisory body in 2006.
Subsequent rounds of elections in 2011 and 2015 failed to attract even two out of five of those given a chance to vote.
The UAE saw none of the Arab Spring street protests that shook other parts of the region.
In the wake of that unrest, Khalifa oversaw tightening crackdowns on opposition activists, drawing criticism from international rights groups.
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The UAE also supported efforts to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood, including Egypt.
Sheikh Khalifa increasingly used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to bring in cultural and academic centers; such as branches of the Louvre Museum and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne.
He also presided over efforts to move the OPEC country past its reliance on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research; including projects for a futuristic low-carbon desert city known as Masdar.
Abu Dhabi’s big-spending overseas during Sheikh Khalifa’s rule also helped drive the emirate; which controls the bulk of the UAE’s oil reserves, out from the shadow of Dubai. Dubai is the Middle Eastern commercial hub.
Dubai’s fortunes began to stutter with the global economy in 2009. Sheikh Khalifa led efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars in emergency bailout finances into Dubai.
The two emirates do not always see eye-to-eye on foreign policy decisions and compete commercially. In 2003, he called for making a new airline, Etihad Airways.
Etihad competes with Dubai’s successful and much larger carrier Emirates Air.
Sheikh Khalifa also helped grow the UAE’s regional profile with relief missions to Pakistan after devastating floods; and sent warplanes to the NATO-led mission against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya in 2011.
Sheikh Khalifa’s rule saw the UAE’s use of foreign military contractors. Including one linked to the founder of the former Blackwater security firm, Erik Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009.
Prince was involved in a multimillion-dollar program to train troops to fight pirates in Somalia; according to an official who spoke to The Associated Press news agency in early 2009.
Sheikh Khalifa’s name is perhaps most familiar worldwide for its connection to the world’s tallest building; a nearly 828-meter (half-a-mile) glass-and-steel spire in Dubai.
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The tower’s name was unexpectedly swapped from the Burj Dubai to the Burj Khalifa at its official opening in January 2010; following his decision to channel billions of dollars to Dubai to save it from a full-scale financial meltdown.
He was among the world’s wealthiest rulers, with a personal fortune estimated by Forbes magazine in 2008 at $19bn.
Several grandchildren survive him, and eight children – two sons and six daughters.
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