UAE president and pro-West moderniser Khalifa dies

Brother Sheikh Mohammed will formally become Gulf state’s next leader

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates' president and ruler of oil-rich Abu Dhabi since 2004, has died aged 73, with his powerful brother set to become the Gulf state's next leader.

Sheikh Khalifa, who presided over the UAE’s rapid economic transformation, had retired from public life after suffering a stroke in 2014. He had handed over decision-making to his half-brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince. Sheikh Mohammed is poised to become the next president.

“The UAE has lost its righteous son and leader of the ‘empowerment phase’ and guardian of its blessed journey,” Sheikh Mohammed said on Twitter.

‘Generous’ and ‘decent’

The son of the UAE’s founding president Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa was “known for his modest style and generous, decent nature”, said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor. “And thanks to his capable crown prince, the country was not at a loss when he had to step back with illness. The de facto leader now becomes the de jure leader.”


Sheikh Mohammed’s complete control over political and economic affairs removes any questions about policy direction during the succession period. Under Sheikh Mohammed’s leadership, the UAE has become a more prominent geopolitical player in the Middle East, intervening in an effort to check the rise of Islamism and plug a perceived gap in US commitment to the Middle East. The Gulf monarchy has also become a leading global investor while building domestic industry and financial services as it seeks to diversify away from hydrocarbons.

Leading force

His ascent to the positions of ruler of Abu Dhabi and then president of the UAE creates an opening for a new crown prince. It is unclear whether he will follow tradition and choose a brother or, as many believe, pick his eldest son for the role.

In the 1990s, as his father’s health declined, Sheikh Khalifa acted as effective president. During that period, the energetic Sheikh Mohammed emerged with his five full brothers as the leading force within the government. The grouping includes national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoon, Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour and the foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah.

The ministry of presidential affairs has announced a 40-day mourning period, with flags raised at half-mast and three days’ closure for government entities and the private sector. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022