Rulers in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday unanimously appointed Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the autocratic nation’s president, signaling both unity and stability in this key energy-rich country that hosts Western militaries.
The ascension of Sheikh Mohammed, 61, had been expected after the death Friday of his half-brother and the UAE’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the age of 73. The transition of power marks only the third time this U.S.-allied nation of seven sheikhdoms has selected a president since becoming an independent nation in 1971.
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Under Sheikh Mohammed, who has been the nation’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014, the UAE had tried to project power militarily across the wider region as it joined a Saudi-led war in Yemen.
But since the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, Sheikh Mohammed and the wider UAE has tried to recalibrate its approach by largely pulling out of the war and seeking diplomatic detentes with rivals. The UAE also diplomatically recognized Israel, which shares Sheikh Mohammed’s longstanding suspicion of Iran. However, ties to the U.S. have strained in recent years.
The state-run WAM news agency described the vote at Al-Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi as unanimous among the rulers of the country’s hereditarily ruled sheikhdoms, which includes the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai.
“We congratulate him, and we pledge allegiance to him, and our people pledge allegiance to him,” Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said on Twitter after the vote. “The whole country is led by him to take it on the paths of glory and honor, God willing.”
There had been only one death of a president before Friday in the country’s history, which saw Sheikh Khalifa take over for both his and Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, after his death in 2004. Sheikh Zayed, whose name graces a major highway linking the Emirates and whose face appears everywhere in the nation, widely remains viewed as the country’s founding father.
The UAE as a whole is observing a three-day mourning period, which will see businesses shut across the country and performances halted in Sheikh Khalifa’s honor. Electronic billboards all showed the late sheikh’s image in Dubai on Friday night as flags flew at half-staff. A wider mourning period of 40 days will go on beyond that.
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Sheikh Mohammed had been serving as the UAE’s de facto president since a 2014 stroke saw Sheikh Khalifa disappear from public view.
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