UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa dies at 73

UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa dies at 73

One of the richest monarchs in the world, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, UAE has died at the age of 73.


Sheikh Khalifa was president of the UAE since 2004, but his role had been largely ceremonial since he suffered a stroke in 2014.


His half-brother, Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is now in charge of state affairs.


The al-Nahyan family is believed to have a fortune of $150bn (£123bn).


As well as being president of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa was also the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich capital of the seven emirates which comprise the UAE.


News of his death was announced by the official WAM news agency.


The ministry of presidential affairs declared 40 days of mourning with flags at half-mast from Friday, and work suspended in the public and private sector for the first three days.


Sheikh Khalifa took over as the UAE’s second president in November 2004, succeeding his father as the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi.


In the first decade of his rule, he presided over a major restructuring of both the federal government and that of Abu Dhabi.


But after his stroke, he was rarely seen in public, although he continued to issue rulings.


US President Joe Biden paid tribute to Sheikh Khalifa, saying he “was a true partner and friend of the United States”.


“We will honour his memory by continuing to strengthen the longstanding ties between the governments and people of the United States and the United Arab Emirates,” Mr Biden said.


Under the UAE’s constitution, the vice-president Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, will act as interim president.


The federal council, which brings together the rulers of the seven emirates, must meet within 30 days to elect a new president.


About Sheikh Khalifa

Sheikh Khalifa was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of al-Ain, near the border with the Sultanate of Oman, and 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, which later became the core of the UAE’s armed forces. After independence in 1971, he became defence minister along with 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, though, in the wake of that unrest, Khalifa oversaw tightening crackdowns on opposition activists, drawing criticism from international rights groups. The UAE also supported efforts in the region to quash the Muslim Brotherhood, including in Egypt.


Sheikh Khalifa increasingly used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centres, 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 beyond its reliance on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research, including plans for a futuristic low-carbon desert city known as Masdar.


Abu Dhabi’s big spending overseas during Sheikh Khalifa’s rule also helped push the emirate, which controls the bulk of the UAE’s oil reserves, out from the shadow of Dubai, the Middle Eastern commercial hub.


As Dubai’s fortunes began to falter along with the global economy in 2009, Sheikh Khalifa led efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars in emergency bailout funds into Dubai. The two emirates do not always see eye-to-eye on foreign policy decisions and compete commercially with one another. In 2003, he called for the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways, which competes with Dubai’s successful and much larger carrier Emirates Air.


Sheikh Khalifa also helped boost the UAE’s regional profile with relief missions to Pakistan after devastating floods and by sending warplanes to the NATO-led mission against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in Libya in 2011.


Questions were raised during Sheikh Khalifa’s rule about 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 programme 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 around the world for its connection to the world’s tallest building, a nearly 828-metre (half-a-mile) glass-and-steel spire in Dubai.


The name of the tower was unexpectedly switched from the Burj Dubai to the Burj Khalifa at its official opening in January 2010 following his decision to funnel billions of dollars to Dubai to save it from a full-scale financial meltdown.


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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