DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The rulers of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday unanimously appointed Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of Abu Dhabi, as president of an autocratic nation, signaling both unity and stability in the power-hosting Western military.
Under Sheikh Mohammed, who has been the country’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014, the United Arab Emirates joined the Saudi-led war in Yemen and sought to project military power across a wide area.
But since the lockdown of the coronavirus epidemic, Sheikh Mohammed and the wider United Arab Emirates have largely withdrawn from the war and sought to restore its approach by trying to hold diplomatic talks with rivals. The UAE has also given diplomatic recognition to Israel, which has shared Sheikh Mohammed’s longstanding suspicions about Iran. However, relations with the United States have been strained in recent years.
The state-run WAM news agency described the vote at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Musharraf Palace as unanimous among the country’s hereditary Sheikhdom rulers, including the skyscraper city of Dubai.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, said: “His assumption of the presidency represents a new historical epoch and a new birth.” “We look forward to consolidating global sovereignty and accelerating the UAE’s progressive development.”
Only one president has died before Friday in the country’s history, with Sheikh Khalifa taking over both his and Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, since his death in 2004. The main highway connecting the emirate and whose face is displayed all over the country is widely regarded as the founding father of the country.
The UAE as a whole is observing a three-day mourning period, with business closed across the country and performances in honor of Sheikh Khalifa. Electronic billboards show pictures of the late Sheikh in Dubai on Friday night, while the flag was flying with half the staff. A larger mourning period of 40 days will follow.
One of the first leaders to meet Sheikh Mohammed on Saturday night was the Sultan of Oman. Others are expected in the coming days, including French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday.
Sheikh Mohammed has been the de facto president of the United Arab Emirates since the 2014 stroke of Sheikh Khalifa disappeared from public view.
Known by the acronym MbZ, Sheikh Mohammed developed a relationship with the West that proved invaluable to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which manages billions of dollars in wealth from its oil and gas deposits. A U.S. diplomatic cable from 2004 published by WikiLeaks described him as “charismatic, intelligent and very comfortable in the West.” He hosted then-President George W. Bush in his desert in 2008, completing a visit with the Bedouin Tent and the Falcon.
The country has about 3,500 U.S. troops, many at Abu Dhabi’s al-Dhafra air base, from where drones and warplanes carry out operations against Islamic State groups in Iraq and Syria. Dubai is also the busiest port of call for the US Navy abroad. Both France and South Korea maintain a military presence here.
Sheikh Mohammed trained at the British Military Academy in Sandhurst and is a helicopter pilot. His military-first vision saw the UAE join Saudi Arabia in their years-long bloody war in Yemen, which is still raging today. Sheikh Mohammed has a close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the upstart of neighboring Saudi Arabia. However, the UAE has withdrawn its troops from Yemen.
Sheikh Mohammed, a longtime skeptic of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, may have organized a campaign targeting Islamists in the UAE after the 2011 Arab Spring and called on the West to take a tougher line on concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program and its support. Paramilitary groups throughout the region. The UAE’s recognition of Israel in 2020, when opening new trade and tourism, serves as a hedge against Iran.
However, since the coronavirus epidemic, the UAE under Sheikh Mohammed has sought to restore relations with Iran and Turkey, which have supported Islamists in the region. A quarter of Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, have withdrawn their boycott of Qatar over a diplomatic dispute over support for Islamists, although relations between Abu Dhabi and Doha remain strained.
“The smooth transfer of power in the UAE reflects the moderation of institutional work and the level of governance and their stability,” said Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati diplomat.
In recent years, however, tensions have risen between Sheikh Mohammed and the United States, which has long been a guarantor of security in the Persian Gulf. The emirate was shocked when then-President Barack Obama and the world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015. The chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 under President Joe Biden has exacerbated concerns about US withdrawal from the region.
Sheikh Mohammed himself was implicated in a report by then-President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election. The chairman of Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested in 2021 on charges that he secretly conspired to influence U.S. policy for the benefit of the UAE.
A planned U.S. sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE also appears to have been partially halted due to American concerns over the UAE’s relationship with China. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates has warned Moscow not to isolate Russia as it is waging war against Ukraine.
But Biden said in a warm statement on Saturday that he wanted to “congratulate my longtime friend” on his election.
“The UAE is an essential partner of the United States,” Biden said. “I look forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed to build on this remarkable foundation to further strengthen the bonds between our country and our people.”
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.