Analysis: Elite condolence calls show UAE leader’s power

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Airplanes carrying world leaders from around the world have landed in the capital of the United Arab Emirates to offer condolences on the passing of the country’s president — and acknowledge the man’s influence now fully charged.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan rarely speaks in public. The new president avoids the annual United Nations summit in New York. And his thoughts on the world around him are filtered through a tight-knit coterie and leaders who interact with him rather than from his statements.

But MbZ, as he is known, has become a major influence in the wider Middle East, whether through his longstanding relationship with the US military, his opposition to Islamists or his autocratic country’s new ties with Israel.

After the death of his half-brother, President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Sheikh Mohammed’s new reign is an opportunity to cement the rapid advance of skyscraper villages achieved by the United Arab Emirates since its founding there. is just over 50 years old.

But it also comes as tough decisions loom for a nation mired in a bloody war and stalemate in Yemen, facing choices about whether to embrace an America increasingly wary of its ties to China and Russia and concerned about an Iran whose nuclear program is now rushing to arms. – school levels.

Even before becoming president, Sheikh Mohammed would have been the country’s de facto leader since a stroke in 2014 saw Sheikh Khalifa disappear from public view. His mystique and his young age compared to other regional leaders – he is now 61 – set him apart.

He is also a symbol in this young country that is home to Dubai, where his figure in aviator glasses remains a popular sticker for car windows.

“MbZ is a leader not just in the UAE, but more broadly in the Middle East, where he is seen as a particularly dynamic member of the generation taking over from geriatric cases that have dominated the region for decades,” a diplomatic cable posted. 2009 American. by WikiLeaks said.

Educated at England’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and fluent in English, Sheikh Mohammed’s style also found favor with the Allied military. Today, some 3,500 American troops remain stationed in the United Arab Emirates. Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port is the United States Navy’s busiest port of call outside the United States.

Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi is home to US drones and warplanes that have bombed the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. US Patriot missile batteries have defended the capital there this year against attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

As part of the relationship with America, the United Arab Emirates has deployed forces to fight in Afghanistan. MbZ also fully supported the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda. Two of the 19 hijackers were from the Emirates.

It also marked the hardening of Sheikh Mohammed’s views towards pan-Arab Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood members taught in Emirati schools in the 1980s, formative years for a young Sheikh Mohammed.

“I am Arab, I am Muslim and I pray. And in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was one of them,” Sheikh Mohammed told US officials in 2007, according to another diplomatic cable. “I believe these guys have an agenda.”

After the 2011 Arab Spring, Sheikh Mohammed led a campaign of repression against members of Islah, a group associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Emirates. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are challenging the hereditary rule of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Political parties and unions remain illegal in the country, which has been accused of using spyware to monitor activists and dissidents.

Former President Barack Obama, in his recent autobiography, described Sheikh Mohammed as “young, sophisticated…and perhaps the most discerning leader in the Gulf”.

But MbZ criticized Washington’s support for the 2011 protests that toppled Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and briefly installed a Muslim Brotherhood member as president.

Obama quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying that the US position “shows that the United States is not a partner we can count on in the long term.” The UAE backed Egyptian General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s 2013 coup that brought him to the presidency.

This suspicion grew. Sheikh Mohammed reportedly described himself as surprised by the US’ secret negotiations with Iran over what later became Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015.

The UAE’s diplomatic recognition of Israel, while boosting trade, serves as a cover against an Iran suspected of attacking shipping in the waters just off its coast in 2019. Yet Emirati officials have also opened talks with Iran. The country’s foreign minister even offered his condolences on Monday for the death of Sheikh Khalifa, the same day as a US delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Dubai and the wider Emirates remain open to Russians despite Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Ties with China are growing ever closer, although Beijing runs a secret prison in the country and concerns about a possible military dimension to its operation in an Abu Dhabi port.

But despite being described as a tactician, some of Sheikh Mohammed’s most important gambles have not paid off. He got entangled in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report about former US President Donald Trump and Russia.

An indictment appears to link Sheikh Mohammed to the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee in 2017, who faces charges alleging he secretly conspired to influence US policy for the benefit of the Emirates. Meanwhile, a years-long boycott of Qatar amid a political dispute ended just before President Joe Biden took office..

Then there is the war in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, where Iranian-backed rebels still hold its capital. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia face international criticism over civilian war casualties. The war has killed dozens of Emirati soldiers and injured more.

While the Emiratis have largely withdrawn from the conflict, the Abu Dhabi bombings earlier this year show that the country remains a target.

For Sheikh Mohammed, the responsibility for all this now rests solely with him.

“Every decision has risks, no doubt about it,” he once said.


EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon Gambrell, Gulf and Iran news director for The Associated Press, reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006. Follow him on Twitter at

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