UAE enters 40 days of mourning after president Sheikh Khalifa dies aged 73

The United Arab Emirates’ president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died aged 73, after ruling the nation for 18 years.

News of his death meant the country entered a 40-day period of mourning, with private and public workplaces taking a three-day break from Friday.

Sheikh Khalifa oversaw much of the country’s blistering economic growth and was seen as a pro-Western moderniser who aligned the Gulf Arab state closer to the US.

His name was immortalised on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, after bailing out debt-crippled Dubai during its financial crisis over a decade ago.

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.

Sheikh Mohammed became a decision-maker of major foreign policy moves, such as joining a Saudi-led war in Yemen and spearheading an embargo on Qatar in recent years.

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.

There was no immediate announcement on a successor, although Sheikh Mohammed is anticipated to claim the presidency at a time of high oil prices, which boost the UAE’s spending power.

‘The UAE has lost a loyal son, and the leader of its blessed empowerment journey,’ Sheikh Mohammed 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.’

Queen Elizabeth II expressed her condolences in a message to Sheikh Mohammed, writing: ‘Your distinguished brother devoted his life to serving the people of the United Arab Emirates and his relationship with its allies and friends.

‘He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.

‘I offer Your Highness my sincere condolences and I extend my sympathy to the people of the United Arab Emirates.’

Boris Johnson said Sheikh Khalifa was a ‘wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously’.

He said he ‘made a personal contribution to regional stability and conservation that will long be remembered’.

Former prime minister Tony Blair said he felt ‘deep sorrow’ on hearing the news of Sheikh Khalifa’s death.

He described him as being ‘respected not only in his country, but throughout the wider region and the world’.

Mr Blair added: ‘He will be deeply missed and mourned and my thoughts and sympathy are with the royal family and the people of the UAE.’

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described Sheikh Khalifa ‘as a true friend of the United States’.

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.

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