- Sheikh Khalifa oversaw much of the country’s blistering economic growth
- He stepped back from the day-to-day affairs of ruling the country after suffering a stroke in 2014
- His half-brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is expected to claim the presidency
Sheikh Khalifa oversaw much of the country’s blistering economic growth and his name was immortalised on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, after bailing out debt-crippled Dubai during its financial crisis.
However, after suffering a stroke and undergoing emergency surgery in 2014, a decade after becoming President, he ceased having any involvement in the day-to-day affairs of ruling the country.
The last several years of his life saw his half-brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, rise to become the de-facto ruler and decision-maker of major foreign policy decisions, such as joining a Saudi-led war in Yemen and spearheading an embargo on neighbouring Qatar.
The crown prince, also the deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, shepherded the UAE’s budding ties with Israel after the two normalised relations in 2020.
Crown prince likely to take over
The UAE has announced a 40-day period of mourning and a three-day suspension of work across the government and private sector. Flags will be flown at half-mast.
There was no immediate announcement on a successor, although Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is anticipated to claim the presidency.
“The UAE has lost a loyal son, and the leader of its blessed empowerment journey,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed wrote on Twitter after his brother’s death was officially announced on state media.
“Khalifa bin Zayed, my brother, supporter and mentor, may Allah Almighty grant you eternal peace.”
US President Joe Biden expressed his and First Lady Jill Biden’s sympathies on social media.
“Jill and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan,” he wrote.
“Sheikh Khalifa was a true partner and friend of the United States, and we will honour his memory by continuing to strengthen ties with the government and people of the UAE.”
Ties have been strained between the Biden administration and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have not joined US efforts in isolating Russia amid its war in Ukraine.
Messages of condolences also poured in from around the region and the world, foremost from leaders of Arab countries supported by Abu Dhabi.
Queen Elizabeth II offered her sympathies through a statement on social media, saying the President “devoted his life to serving the people of the United Arab Emirates and his relationship with its allies and friends”.