The President (Head of State) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Emir (Head of State) of Abu Dhabi, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died today, 13 May 2022.
During his time as President of the UAE and Emir of Abu Dhabi, the UAE and Abu Dhabi became world leaders in everything from business to tourism to entertainment to religion to sports to art to healthcare and even to things such as space exploration.
Since the 1990s, Sheikh Khalifa has ran many of the day to day affairs of the UAE and Abu Dhabi while as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, but in 2004, after the death of his father HH Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa became the President of the UAE and Emir of Abu Dhabi formally.
Sheikh Khalifa had a long career in government before this starting off early as the Rulers’ Representative for the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi, now called the Al-Ain Region of Abu Dhabi, in 1966. Sheikh Khalifa was born in Al-Ain in 1948 so he knew the area well.
In 1969, he became the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and would become Head of the Abu Dhabi Department of Defense. During this time, Abu Dhabi was still under the Trucial States, a protectorate of the United Kingdom.
In 1971, the UAE would gain independence with Abu Dhabi (City) becoming the capital of the newly independent state of six emirates, the seventh joining in 1972.
Post 1971 independence, Sheikh Khalifa would hold many titles for both Abu Dhabi (Prime Minister, Head of Cabinet, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Finance) and the UAE (Deputy Prime Minister, Chairman of the Executive Council, Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces, Head of the Supreme Petroleum Council now called Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and the Chairman of the Environmental and Wildlife Development Agency). Eventually, he would become the President of the UAE, Emir of Abu Dhabi, and Commander of the Armed Forces.
He was also the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which is the sovereign wealth fund for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Khalifa banked his governing strategy on fighting Islamic extremism in the region and on opening the UAE up to more liberalization, as well as overseeing greater relations with the USA and NATO, in addition to closer relations with other world powers including Russia and the People’s Republic of China, plus France and the United Kingdom (also NATO members).
The United Arab Emirates became a place where the co-existence of the Abrahamic Faiths are paramount, with the historic concordats and treatise made with Holy See and Israel. It is in these deals where the UAE saw Pope Francis visit in 2019, and where President Trump (USA) and Sheikh Khalifa oversaw a transition among other Arab and Muslim nations including the UAE to recognizing and establishing formal ties with the State of Israel in 2020. This created the project known as the Abrahamic Family House, to be built in Abu Dhabi.
Many people worry if the liberalization and increasing freedoms in the UAE will subside with the death of Sheikh Khalifa, but luckily for the UAE, HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been running much of the day to day functions of both the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the UAE since 2014. And thus, these deals that led to greater cooperation with the USA and NATO, Israel, the Holy See, and the greater liberalizations and freedoms that Emiratis have earned will most likely continue with a smooth transition to Sheikh Mohamed as the new President of the UAE and Emir of Abu Dhabi. Already, Sheikh Mohamed is formally the Emir of Abu Dhabi, but he is likely to formally become the President of the UAE per tradition of the presidency belonging to Head of State of Abu Dhabi.
As for the present, the current acting president is HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai, as he was the Vice President of the UAE.
When Sheikh Zayed died, then Emir of Dubai, HH Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, served as acting president for one day.
Memories Will Live On:
The memories of Sheikh Khalifa will live on throughout the UAE, Middle East, and the world as Sheikh Khalifa’s rule saw the UAE become a major hub for the world. In just 50 years time, the UAE went from a newly independent state to the country known by all in the world for its spectacular sites and forward looking leaders.
The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is named after Sheikh Khalifa due to Abu Dhabi paying off some of Dubai’s debt and will be forever a reminder of the quests undertaken by Emiratis under Sheikh Khalifa’s rule.
How should the UAE move forward?
The UAE has a unique nation in transition from one of immense wealth concentrated in the Emirati citizenry and one of impoverished conditions of many of the migrant workers, to one where these migrant workers will be making a healthy living. These migrant workers living conditions have been becoming better under Sheikh Khalifa’s reign, especially with the new permanent residency laws. In order for the UAE to continue to be a stable country in the midst of a unstable region, the new leader of the UAE will have to continue this trend of higher living standards for the most poor in the UAE, while also balancing the demands of the local Emiratis. This will curb any revolutionary fervor.
The UAE needs to continue their revolutionary policies with regards to the sciences in terms of agriculture, weather, and space. The UAE has been heavily investing in cloud seeding to increase rain and aquaculture to increase agriculture and this needs to continue for the UAE to become more self-sufficient. As for space, the UAE needs to solidify itself among the world leaders in space exploration following their 2021 successful drone mission to Mars.
The UAE is a place that has defeated Islamic extremism in its borders, and has embraced religious pluralism. For the UAE to continue to be seen as a leader, the UAE needs to continue to fight off any attempts to make the country a hub for Islamic extremism and needs to embrace their Christian and Jewish connections as well to become a center of religious dialogue on the Arabian Peninsula. This will better connect the UAE to the rest of the world. Sheikh Khalifa had to dismantle a Muslim Brotherhood aligned Islamist group coup in 2006, and Sheikh Mohamed has been very key in fighting Islamic extremism since he effectively took control in 2014.
The UAE has been moving toward a more democratic system of government for some positions, and this is good for the country. The UAE needs to beware of becoming too democratic, but the UAE often suffers from a lack of constructive criticism. For the UAE to advance in the world, their leaders need to have incentives to do good. But, at the same time, the UAE needs stability. So, the current system is sufficing, and just a little more democracy could go a long way in transforming the losing sectors of the UAE into winning sectors. Going to the UAE, you see that the nation has a lot of room to grow, and injecting more democracy can lead to more policies on how to do this.
The UAE needs to continue to expand the role of women in its society. Imagine a world in which 50% of your country cannot participate in the economy or civil society? Unfortunately for a lot of the Islamic world, this is the case, but the UAE has been changing this within their own borders, especially in the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This needs to continue for the UAE to prosper, as the UAE still is not quite there yet in terms of releasing its collective women power.
The UAE should continue to invest in transportation, education, health, and technology. The UAE is embarking on a new railroad that will transverse all emirates and will boost both industry and tourism, while the UAE continues to open up and partner with new universities and hospitals. The UAE is also embracing more advancement in a plethora of technologies, such as nuclear and solar energy, and desalinization plants. This should continue so the UAE can become more advanced.
English and Constitutional Law might be most important for the growth of the UAE though. In order for the UAE to reach its next level of success, creating guarantees in the law, and embracing its already English language dominated society in the major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will make the UAE more connected to the Western world and thus the centers of finance. Investors need to know that their private property and investments will be protected according to the law, even if they fall out of favor with the ruling class, or else they will not fully invest as much as they could in the UAE. Plus, they also need to know what they are investing in, which is why the use of the English language is so important. The UAE has already been adapting laws and using the English language officially to benefit investors, but more can be done.
Lastly, the UAE needs to continue to exploit its federal system to allow for internal competition among the seven emirates. This will in turn, boost the UAE’s place among Qatar, Bahrain, and other countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, and Oman. The UAE is competing with the world, and each emirate needs to contribute both industrial and human capital to the UAE’s goals of towering over the rest. They might have done this literally already with the Burj Khalifa, but they need to continue this with advancing their society.
How should the rest of the world respond?
The rest of the world should respond with condolences. Whether ally or foe, the new leadership, even if only in name, creates a time to re-engage and re-start relations.
The USA, Russia, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, France, and other world players like the Holy See and Israel should feel comforted by the fact that HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will most likely be taking over, since he has been the day to day ruler since 2014 anyway. However, the USA are in desperate need for a leader Sheikh Mohamed respects like President Trump. The USA should not be afraid to use the former president to their liking in dealing with Sheikh Mohamed, as both share a very cordial relationship unlike President Biden and Sheikh Mohamed.
But, those like the Islamic Republic of Iran, Qatar, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq should embrace a change of leadership, even if only formally, because this represents a time that they could restart their former friendship with the seven emirates. Already, Syria appear to be growing closer, and the Qatar’s and the UAE’s friendship has been rebounding as of late.
The country that should really take this time to change up their relationship with the UAE is Palestine. Palestine felt betrayed by the UAE when the UAE established formal relations with Israel, but this did not mean an abandonment of the Palestinians. The UAE could become the Muslim representatives for Palestine due to their friendship with Israel, and might be able to get concessions out of both to make the region more peaceful, that is if Palestine engages the UAE on this issue.
Sheikh Khalifa will go down as one of the best Heads of State in the Middle East by all accounts from human prosperity to human freedom to stability and to strength during the period in which he lived. The Emirati ingenuity found its place under Sheikh Khalifa, as Dubai and Abu Dhabi transformed themselves into world cities, and places such as Sharjah and Ajman supplemented this growth. The UAE saw incredible growth in tourism, business, industry, education, health, living standards, rights, religious freedom, female empowerment, and so much more. Sheikh Khalifa’s reign ended with historic deals with Israel and the Holy See, as well as the historic mission to Mars and Expo 2020 Dubai. The UAE became the home of many sporting events and the sport of cricket itself. The UAE become an entertainment hub with movie franchises such as Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible making the UAE prime location scenes.
The future is bright post-Sheikh Khalifa, but only if the UAE can continue the brilliance that happened under his rule.