Tributes pour in for UAE leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi (centre), attends the burial of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Tributes have poured in from around the world after the United Arab Emirates announced the death of its president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. He was 73.
Sheikh Khalifa died on Friday after a years-long battle with illness, triggering a period of mourning and a handover of power in the oil-rich Gulf state.

Sheikh Khalifa, who was in office during a time of rocketing fortunes for the UAE but was rarely seen in public, was laid to rest in Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Cemetery just hours after his death was announced, in accordance with Muslim tradition.

Emirates Leader Obit

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in this file photo from Monday, 5 February 2007. Credit: AP

His funeral prayers were conducted by his expected successor and half-brother Mohamed bin Zayed, who has long been viewed as the country’s de-facto ruler.

“The people of the Emirates are united in grief as we mourn the loss of our leader and President, Khalifa bin Zayed,” tweeted Mohamed bin Zayed, often known as “MBZ”.
The most visible testament to Sheikh Khalifa is the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which was renamed after he bailed out the debt-hit emirate when the global financial crisis struck in 2009.
Flags flew at half-mast above the interior ministry in Abu Dhabi and other landmarks at the start of 40 days of official mourning, with work suspended in the public and private sectors until Tuesday.
Emirati men in traditional dress attended sombre funeral prayers at Abu Dhabi’s enormous, white-marble Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where the imam’s voice brimmed with emotion over the loudspeaker.

As tributes poured in from abroad, US President Joe Biden called Sheikh Khalifa “a true partner and friend of the United States”.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia suspended sports and entertainment events, and Oman, Lebanon, and Kuwait also ordered three days of mourning.
In a condolence message to the crown prince, Queen Elizabeth said: “Your distinguished brother devoted his life to serving the people of the United Arab Emirates and his relationship with its allies and friends. He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.”
In a demonstration of the UAE’s diverse allegiances, Russian President Vladimir Putin also paid tribute, as did Iran’s foreign minister and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he was “deeply saddened” over the news, saying Sheikh Khalifa “was a great statesman and visionary leader under whom India-UAE relations prospered” while Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted he was “grieved to hear about the passing” of Sheikh Khalifa, adding: “UAE has lost a visionary leader & Pakistan a great friend.”
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 had made few public appearances since 2014, when he had surgery following a stroke, although he has continued to issue rulings. The cause of death was not immediately released.

UAE Honor Guard pallbearers at the funeral prayer for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 13 May 2022.UAE Honor Guard pallbearers at the funeral prayer for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on 13 May 2022.

UAE Honor Guard pallbearers at the funeral prayer for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Friday. Source: AAP / EPA

Frail figure

The UAE, a former British protectorate that was founded in 1971, has gone from a desert outpost to a booming state in its short history, fuelled by its oil wealth and Dubai’s rise as a trading and financial centre.
The Arab world’s second-biggest economy behind Saudi Arabia is now wielding growing political influence, filling a space ceded by traditional powers such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria.
The country of about 10 million also joined military campaigns in Libya and Yemen and broke ranks with much of the Arab world to establish ties with Israel in 2020.
As the changes unfolded, the bearded Sheikh Khalifa had cut a frail figure on his occasional public appearances, while his half-brother hosted world leaders and led diplomatic forays abroad.
Sheikh Khalifa, who had no formal higher education, came to the rescue of Dubai when it was hit by the global financial crisis, extending a multi-billion-dollar lifeline to the emirate.
Dubai’s ruler, UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, said the country mourned “with hearts filled with sadness”.
The official WAM news agency named Mohamed bin Zayed as the new ruler of Abu Dhabi, and said the leaders of the other emirates would meet him at the capital’s Al Mushrif Palace on Saturday.

The leaders of the seven emirates elect the UAE’s president for five-year, renewable terms, according to the country’s constitution.

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