UAE Strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Named New President

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DUBAI — The United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, was elected president of the Persian Gulf state by a federal supreme council on Saturday, cementing his dominance over the OPEC oil producer and actor. key region.

He becomes president at a time when the UAE’s long-standing ties with the United States have been strained by the alleged US withdrawal from the security concerns of its Gulf allies and as Western countries they seek support from the region to help isolate Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

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The council, which groups the rulers of the seven emirates of the UAE federation, elected Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, a day after the death of his half-brother, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who was also ruler of Abu Dhabi.

“We congratulate him and pledge allegiance to him just like our people,” said Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

MbZ, 61, has wielded power behind the scenes for years and led a Middle East realignment that created a new axis against Iran with Israel.

The United Arab Emirates, a hub of trade and tourism, has also deepened ties with Russia and China at a time when Washington’s political capital with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has been eroded by differences over the war in Yemen, Iran and US conditions on arms sales.

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“Mohammed bin Zayed has set the future course not only for the United Arab Emirates, but also for much of the Gulf in his approach to state building and power projection,” said Kristin Diwan, Senior Research Fellow in Residence at the Institute of the Arab States of the Gulf in Washington.

“The future direction under him is set and is reflected in other Gulf leaders embracing state-led, globally-oriented economic diversification.”

‘EXTRAORDINARY FOUNDATION’

The Biden administration has moved to mend ties with oil heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both have refused to take sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and rebuffed Western calls to pump more oil to help control crude prices.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday that he looked forward to working with Sheikh Mohammed “to build on this extraordinary foundation to further strengthen the ties between our countries and peoples.”

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Vice President Kamala Harris will lead a US delegation to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to offer condolences following Khalifa’s death and will meet with MbZ, press secretary Kirsten Allen said.

French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Israeli President Isaac Herzog will arrive on Sunday.

MbZ as president would not lead the UAE to break with the United States or other Western partners, although it will diversify the country’s international partners, Emirati political scientist Abulkhaleq Abdulla told Reuters.

MbZ has turned away from an aggressive foreign policy and military adventurism, which saw the United Arab Emirates plunge into conflicts from Yemen to Libya, to focus on economic priorities. This has seen the United Arab Emirates compromise with enemies Iran and Turkey after years of animosity, as well as with the president of Syria.

“MbZ will need to take additional steps to cement the UAE’s position as the region’s leading financial, logistics and trade hub,” Capital Economics’ James Swanston said in a note, referring to the Gulf states’ push to diversify economies in the midst of global energy. transition away from hydrocarbons.

(Reporting by Enas Alashray, Lisa Barrington, Saeed Azhar, Alexander Cornwell, Steve Holland, and Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Christina Fincher)

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