BEIRUT, Lebanon — Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan became president of the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, formalizing the rise of a 61-year-old prince who deftly wielded his country’s oil wealth to become one of the most influential in the world. Arab world and a close partner of the United States.
At the head of the Emirati state, Sheikh Mohammed succeeds his older brother, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died Friday at the age of 73 after leading the Persian Gulf country for 18 years.
Sheikh Mohammed, who previously served as crown prince of Abu Dhabi, one of the seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates, was unanimously chosen as president by a council of rulers of the seven emirates, the report said. Emirati state. the agency said.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the other leaders for their confidence and prayed that God would help him “to serve his country and the loyal people of the Emirates”, the news agency said.
Known across the region and in Western capitals for his inquisitive mind and low-key demeanor that masks ambitions that stretch well beyond his country’s borders, Sheikh Mohammed has effectively ruled the Emirates since 2014, when Sheikh Khalifa had a stroke and retired from public life. life.
Often referred to by his initials, MBZ, Sheikh Mohammed has forged close ties to Washington by offering the services of the Emirates and its armed forces to aid Western military efforts in the region. His country has also spent heavily on American-made weapons and lobbyists to ensure his views are promoted in the United States.
Emirati special forces deployed with the Americans in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia and Libya, and the UAE was a member of the international coalition the United States formed to fight Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Syria.
As head of state, Sheikh Mohammed will also oversee the decisions of one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds as well as a major oil and gas producer and member of OPEC at a time of turmoil on global energy markets exacerbated by war in Ukraine. .
In the Middle East, Sheikh Mohammed sees the greatest threats to stability in Iran and its network of armed proxies and political Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood, a Muslim social and political organization linked to political parties in some number of Arab countries.
He is close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the de facto ruler of the kingdom, and has played a significant role in marketing the young Saudi prince to Washington as the future of Saudi Arabia after his father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015. .
Their two countries carried out a military intervention in Yemen soon after, which failed to achieve any of its main objectives, descended into a crushing stalemate and fueled one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings that swept through the region in 2011, Sheikh Mohammed worked behind the scenes to support strongmen and undermine political Islamists in Egypt and Tunisia.
More recently, his government has resisted Western pleas to help isolate President Vladimir V. Putin over his invasion of Ukraine, making the Emirates a haven for fleeing Russian oligarchs and their money.
The United Arab Emirates is a desert country the size of South Carolina on the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. This is the home of Dubai, a flashy and futuristic metropolis. Of the approximately 10 million inhabitants of the Emirates, around 1.2 million are citizens. The others are foreign workers.
Domestically, it is an autocracy with no political parties and where political activists and critics of government policy are closely monitored, have been targeted by sophisticated hacking software and are sometimes imprisoned. But its strong economy has made it one of the most popular destinations for educated professionals from across the region.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, its closest ally, the Emirates allows freedom of religion and is home to mosques, churches, temples and other places of worship. It also has a Ministry of Tolerance, intended to promote acceptance of others, and a woman who serves as Minister of State for Happiness and Welfare.
Sheikh Mohammed’s relationship with the White House has changed in recent years. He privately expressed his frustration with President Barack Obama over his efforts to secure an international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which was signed in 2015. Along with Israeli and Saudi leaders, Sheikh Mohammed felt that focusing solely on Iran’s nuclear program left him free to pursue other activities that destabilized the region, such as arming proxy militias.
After Donald J. Trump’s election, Sheikh Mohammed actively courted the new president and his inner circle, and even canceled a meeting with Mr. Obama in order to meet Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
His ties were much warmer with Mr Trump, who in 2018 withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and, at least initially, applauded a blockade that the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other countries taxed Qatar, another close U.S. partner in the Gulf, in 2017. (The Trump administration then worked to close the gap, which was more or less resolved in 2021.)
In August 2020, the Emirates handed Mr. Trump yet another victory by establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel, making it the third Arab country to open formal relations with the Jewish state and the first new one to do so in 28 years. The Kingdom of Bahrain, an island in the Gulf, followed on the same day, and Morocco and Sudan later.
Sheikh Mohammed’s relationship with President Biden has been less fluid. The Emirates were alarmed by the sudden withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and the rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban.
And Emirati officials have told US interlocutors they believe the US has done too little to protect the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia from attacks by armed Iranian proxies, raising questions about US commitment to for a long time ensuring the security of the Gulf countries and their oil. production.
Sheikh Mohammed is the third president of the Emirates since the country gained independence from Britain in 1971 and named his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, its first head of state.
Sheikh Mohammed is a skilled fighter pilot who, like other members of the Gulf Royal Family, was educated at the British Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.