UAE ruling council appoints Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as new president
World leaders head to United Arab Emirates to offer condolences following death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed
Dubai — The United Arab Emirates’s (UAE’s) de facto leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was elected president of the Gulf Arab state by a federal supreme council at the weekend, solidifying his rule over the Opec oil producer and key regional player.
He becomes president at a time when the UAE’s long-standing ties with the US have been strained over perceived US disengagement from its Gulf allies' security concerns and as Western countries seek support from the region to help isolate Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
The council, which groups the rulers of the seven emirates of the UAE federation, elected Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, a day after the death of his half-brother, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who was also ruler of Abu Dhabi.
“We congratulate him and pledge allegiance to him as do our people,” said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also UAE vice-president and premier.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country holds lucrative business and military ties with the UAE, told Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi the UAE could “count on France’s friendship” and discussed the Ukraine conflict, the Elysee said on Sunday.
MbZ, 61, has wielded power behind the scenes for years and led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel.
The UAE, a trade and tourism hub, has also deepened ties with Russia and China at a time when Washington’s political capital with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has been eroded by differences over the Yemen war, Iran and US conditions on arms sales.
“Mohammed bin Zayed has set not only the future course for the UAE but for much of the Gulf in his approach to state building and power projection,” said Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“The future direction under him is set and is mirrored in other Gulf leaders adopting state-led and globally orientated economic diversification.”
The Biden administration has moved to mend ties with oil heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both have refused to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and rebuffed Western calls to pump more oil to help tame crude prices.
President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday that he looked forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed “to build from this extraordinary foundation to further strengthen the bonds between our countries and peoples”.
Vice-President Kamala Harris will head a US delegation to the UAE on Monday to offer condolences following Khalifa’s death and will meet MbZ, press secretary Kirsten Allen said.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said before heading to the Emirati capital on Sunday that the establishment of ties between the UAE and Israel two years ago was an asset for the whole region built by “bold and groundbreaking leaders”, including Khalifa.
MbZ as president would not lead the UAE to break with the US or other Western partners though he will diversify the country's international partners, Emirati political scientist Abulkhaleq Abdulla said.
MbZ has shifted away from a hawkish foreign policy and military adventurism, that saw the UAE wade into conflicts from Yemen to Libya, to focus on economic priorities. This has seen the UAE engage with foes Iran and Turkey after years of animosity, as well as Syria's president.
“MbZ will need to take further steps to cement the UAE’s position as the region’s leading financial, logistics, and trading hub,” James Swanston of Capital Economics said in a note, referring to a push by Gulf states to diversify economies amid a global energy transition away from hydrocarbons.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas travelled to the UAE to offer his condolences while Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to arrive later on Sunday.
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