DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Rulers of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday unanimously appointed Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to head the autocratic country, signaling unity and stability in this energy-rich country that hosts Western armies.
The rise of Sheikh Mohammed, 61, was expected after the death of his half-brother and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Friday at the age of 73.. The transfer of power marks only the third time this US-allied country of seven sheikhdoms has chosen a president since it became independent in 1971.
Under the rule of Sheikh Mohammed, who has been the country’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014, the UAE has tried to project its might militarily across the wider region as it joined the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
But since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, Sheikh Mohammed and the UAE have tried to reset their approach by largely withdrawing from the war and looking for diplomatic means with rivals. The United Arab Emirates has also diplomatically recognized Israel, which shares Sheikh Mohammed’s longstanding suspicion of Iran. However, relations with the United States have soured in recent years — something Washington hopes to address with Vice President Kamala Harris at the head of Monday’s delegation to Abu Dhabi.
The official Emirates News Agency (WAM) described the vote at the Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi as unanimously among the leaders of the genetically governed sheikhdoms in the country, which includes the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai.
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said that “his assumption of the presidency represents a new historical era and a new birth.” “We look forward to accelerating development aimed at consolidating global sovereignty and the leadership of the UAE.”
There has only been one death of a president before Friday in the country’s history, which saw Sheikh Khalifa take over both his father and Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, after his death in 2004. Sheikh Zayed, whose name is famous for a major highway connecting the Emirates and shows His face is ubiquitous in the country, and he is still widely regarded as the country’s founding father.
The UAE as a whole is marking a three-day period of mourning, which will see businesses close across the country and performances halted in honor of Sheikh Khalifa. All billboards featured a portrait of the late Sheikh in Dubai on Friday night while flags were flown at half of the staff. A broader 40-day mourning period will continue thereafter.
The Sultan of Oman was among the first leaders to visit Sheikh Mohammed on Saturday evening. Others are expected to appear in the coming days, including French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday. Harris will also meet with Sheikh Mohammed.
Sheikh Mohammed has been the de facto president of the United Arab Emirates since he suffered a stroke in 2014, which led to Sheikh Khalifa’s disappearance.
Sheikh Mohammed, better known by his acronym MBZ, has forged ties with the West that have proven valuable to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates that holds tens of billions of dollars in wealth money from its oil and gas reserves. A US diplomatic cable from 2004 published by WikiLeaks referred to him as “a charismatic, intelligent, and very comfortable character in the West”. Then-President George W. Bush hosted in 2008 on his desert ranch, a visit complete with Bedouin tents and falcons.
The country hosts about 3,500 US troops, many of them at Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra air base, where drones and fighter jets have flown on missions fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Dubai is also the US’s busiest overseas port. France and South Korea also maintain a military presence here.
The Pentagon said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Sheikh Mohammed on Saturday and said he “looks forward to strengthening the important defense partnership that expanded” under the late president and to “deepening the close ties” between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed trained at the British Military Academy in Sandhurst and is a helicopter pilot. His first military approach saw the UAE join Saudi Arabia in its bloody, years-long war in Yemen that continues to rage to this day. Sheikh Mohammed has a close relationship with the neighboring Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. However, the UAE has largely withdrawn its forces from Yemen.
Sheikh Mohammed has long been suspicious of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, likely campaigning against Islamists in the UAE after the 2011 Arab Spring and urging the West to take a harder line on Tehran over concerns about its nuclear program and support for it. Paramilitary groups across the region. UAE recognition of Israel in 2020while opening new trade and tourism, also acts as a hedge in dealing with Iran.
But since the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE, led by Sheikh Mohammed, has sought to rehabilitate relations with Iran and Turkey, which support Islamists in the region. A quartet of Arab countries, including the UAE, also dropped their boycott of Qatar over a diplomatic row over its support for Islamists, although relations remain tense between Abu Dhabi and Doha.
Anwar Gargash, a prominent Emirati diplomat, said, “The smooth transition of power in the UAE reflects the sobriety of institutional work and the advanced level of governance mechanisms and their stability.”
But tensions have emerged in recent years between Sheikh Mohammed and the United States, which has long been a guarantor of security in the broader Persian Gulf. Emirates tensed. The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 under President Joe Biden has exacerbated concerns about a US withdrawal from the region.
Sheikh Mohammed found himself embroiled in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on then-President Donald Trump and Russian interference in America’s 2016 elections.. The chairman of Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested in 2021 on charges alleging that he secretly conspired to influence US policy on behalf of the UAE..
The planned US sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE appears to have stalled in part due to US concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China. Meanwhile, the UAE has been careful not to isolate Russia while Moscow wages war on Ukraine.
But Biden made a warm statement Saturday saying he wanted to “congratulate my old friend” on his “election.”
“The United Arab Emirates is a key partner of the United States,” Biden said. “I look forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed to build from this extraordinary foundation to further strengthen the bonds between our country and our people.”
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
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