Sunday May 29, 2022

Mohamed bin Zayed, from power behind throne to UAE ruler

May 15, 2022

ABU DHABI: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was elected as UAE president on Saturday, has long been seen as a strongman who has driven the Gulf country’s rise to greater prominence.

A trained soldier and football fan, Sheikh Mohamed has for years been the quiet power behind the throne of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The 61-year-old took office, as was widely expected, after the death on Friday of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who had led the country since 2004.

Sheikh Mohamed was unanimously elected by the Federal Supreme Council, made up of rulers of the UAE’s seven emirates. He has also been named as ruler of Abu Dhabi, which controls most of the country’s oil wealth. He has long wielded power, however. In a 2009 note to then US president Barack Obama leaked by WikiLeaks, former American ambassador Richard Olson said he was "the man who runs the UAE".

Despite his low profile, and apparent reluctance to speak in public, his ambition has been on display in recent years as the UAE built its profile as a regional player.

He was first Gulf leader to strike a deal normalising relations with Israel, breaking with the decades-old Arab League consensus to isolate Israel until it agrees to the establishment of Palestinian state.

The UAE -- a collection of emirates better known for its skyscrapers, palm-shaped islands and opulent mega attractions -- has in short order built a nuclear power programme and sent a man to space. And in July 2020 it joined another elite club by sending a probe to Mars, to mark the 50th anniversary of its unification.

Sheikh Mohamed, who was named crown prince of Abu Dhabi in November 2004, is the third son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan -- the founder of the UAE.