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Crown prince, longtime de facto ruler Mohamed bin Zayed elected UAE president

Succeeds half-brother Sheikh Khalifa day after his death; MBZ led push for Gulf nation’s normalization with Israel

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, on November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates at the presidential palace, in Ankara, Turkey, on November 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

ABU DHABI — The UAE’s long-time de facto ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected as president on Saturday, official media said, a day after the death of former leader Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Mohamed was elected by the Federal Supreme Council, WAM news agency said, becoming the ruler of the oil-rich country founded by his father in 1971.

WAM described the vote as unanimous among the rulers of the country’s sheikhdoms, which also 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.”

Sheikh Mohamed, often known as “MBZ,” met members of the Federal Supreme Council, made up of rulers of the UAE’s seven emirates, as the oil-rich country enters a period of mourning for his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa.

His ascension, which was widely expected, formalizes his position as leader of the desert state of 10 million after years of calling the shots while Sheikh Khalifa was sidelined by poor health.

This photo made available by the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, shows Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, front left, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, front right, carry the body of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, with other members of royal family at Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed The First mosque, in Abu Dhabi, May 13, 2022. (Hamad Al Kaabi/Ministry of Presidential Affairs via AP)

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

He has rarely been seen in public since 2014, when he had surgery following a stroke, although he has continued to issue rulings. The cause of death was not immediately released.

The UAE, a former British protectorate, has gone from a desert outpost to a booming state in its short history, fueled by its oil wealth and Dubai’s rise as a trading and financial center.

Under Sheikh Mohamed’s low-key direction, the United Arab Emirates has put a man in space, sent a probe to Mars and opened its first nuclear reactor, while using its oil-funded clout to develop a more assertive foreign policy.

In 2020, Sheikh Mohamed led the process to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the latter’s Abu Dhabi palace on December 13, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Israeli leaders expressed their condolences to the UAE over the president’s death.

“Sheikh Khalifa’s legacy and tremendous deeds are greatly admired in Israel,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “The State of Israel stands alongside the United Arab Emirates at this difficult time.”

Closely allied with Saudi Arabia, it has emerged as a leader of a reshaped Middle East since the retreat of traditional powers and the reduced involvement of the United States, joining a war against Iran-backed militants in Yemen and urging the West to take a harder line toward Tehran over concerns about its nuclear program.

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