World leaders pay respects to Sheikh Khalifa
An array of presidents and prime ministers continued to descend on the United Arab Emirates Sunday from around the world, to pay their respects to the federation’s late ruler. They also came to praise his successor, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan – a vivid sign of Abu Dhabi’s influence in Western and Arab capitals.
The first Western leader to jet to the oil-rich emirate was French President Emmanuel Macron. He met with Sheikh Mohammed to pay tribute to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the long-ailing ruler who died Friday at the age of 73, after years presiding over the country’s rapid transformation into a global business hub and regional power centre.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived later Sunday to offer condolences, along with other leaders including Israel’s president after the two countries opened formal relations in 2020.
An American delegation, led by Vice-President Kamala Harris, is due to visit the UAE on Monday, a bid to ease tensions and show support as relations between the countries have strained under President Joe Biden.
“He was respected by all for the values of peace, openness and dialogue that he embodied,” Macron wrote on Twitter of Sheikh Khalifa, expressing “full support” for the ascension of his half-brother Sheikh Mohammed after rulers in the federation unanimously appointed him as president.
As crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed has served as the nation’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014.
He has turned the small UAE – population 10 million – into a most-influential state. With Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars and substantial military along with Dubai’s major firms and glitzy hotels, the UAE has come to wield outsized power across the Middle East and Africa.
Even as the country became entangled in the bloody, yearslong conflict in Yemen and a chaotic proxy war in Libya, it positioned itself as a savvy and reliable partner in Western capitals.
Sheikh Mohammed’s assertive foreign policy in the Arab world was on stark display as allied leaders rushed to the capital on Saturday to express sorrow over Sheikh Khalifa’s death and congratulate Sheikh Mohammed on his formal ascension to power.