Rarely seen in public since a stroke in January 2014, Sheikh Khalifa is expected to be replaced shortly by his half-brother, famed Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, known as ‘MBZ’, who was already seen as the de facto ruler. from the country.
“His positions, his achievements, his wisdom, his generosity and his initiatives can be found in every corner of the country,” Mohammed bin Zayed said on Twitter. “Khalifa bin Zayed, my brother, my mentor and my teacher, may God have mercy on you”.
The government has declared “official mourning and flags lowered” for 40 days, the official WAM news agency said. The next three days from Friday will be non-working, she added.
The Emirati media quickly interrupted their usual programs to broadcast images and articles in tribute to Sheikh Khalifa. His portrait is displayed Friday everywhere in the streets, institutions and even hotels of this Gulf state.
Born in January 1948, Sheikh Khalifa succeeded in 2004 to his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, president and founding father of the United Arab Emirates, a rich oil state in the Gulf comprising seven emirates including Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi.
– Growing influence –
After the establishment of the federation in 1971, Sheikh Khalifa was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the new state. He then chaired the Superior Petroleum Council, a body endowed with broad powers in the energy field.
Under the mandate of Sheikh Khalifa, the Emirates experienced rapid economic growth, driven by the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, which concentrates 90% of the federation’s reserves, and the affirmation of Dubai as a financial hub, a luxury destination tourism or air transport crossroads.
But like its president, the Emirates have remained relatively discreet on the international scene, generally lining up behind its great ally, Saudi Arabia, juggernaut of the Gulf and the Arab world of which it remains the leading economy.
According to observers, it is under the impetus of Prince “MBZ” that the country is gradually emerging from its usual discretion, particularly since the 2010s by gaining growing influence in the Middle East and Africa.
Abu Dhabi even participates in military interventions against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria, then in Yemen alongside the Saudis to fight the Houthi rebels, close to Iran.