United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), who was officially elected president on Saturday, has led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iranian axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam in the Middle East. District.
Working behind the scenes for years as a de facto commander, Sheikh Mohammed, 61, has transformed the UAE’s military into a high-tech force, along with its oil wealth and status as a trading hub, expanding Emirati influence internationally.
Mohammed began exercising power during a period when his half-brother President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died on Friday, suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014.
Mohammed bin Zayed, as he is known, was driven by a “certain fatalistic line of thinking” that the rulers of the Arab Gulf states could no longer count on their main supporter the United States, according to former US envoy to the UAE Barbara Leaf, especially after Washington abandoned Egypt. Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring 2011.
From his base of influence in the capital Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed issued a “calm and cool” warning to then-President Barack Obama not to support uprisings that could spread and jeopardize the rule of the Gulf dynasty, according to Obama’s memoirs that described Mohammed bin Zayed as the “most intelligent Gulf leader.”
A US State Department official working in the Biden administration, which has had fraught relations with the UAE in recent months, described him as a strategist who brings historical perspective to the discussions.
“He will not only talk about the present, he will go back years and decades, and in some cases, talk to trends over time,” the official said.
Mohammed bin Zayed supported the military overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013, and defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he rose to power in a palace coup in 2017, describing him as a man Washington can deal with and is the only one capable of doing so. Open the kingdom.
Encouraged by warm relations with then-US President Donald Trump, the Gulf hawks lobbied for Washington’s maximum pressure campaign on Iran, boycotted neighboring Qatar for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a costly war to try to break the grip of Iran-allied Yemen. Houthis.
The UAE also plunged into conflicts from Somalia to Libya and Sudan before upending decades of Arab consensus by establishing relations with Israel in 2020, along with Bahrain, in US-brokered deals known as the Ibrahim Accords that angered the Palestinians.
One of the diplomats said these agreements were motivated by shared concerns about Iran, but they were also good for the UAE economy and tiredness from the Palestinian leadership “not listening.”
While diplomats and analysts see the alliance with Riyadh and Washington as one of the pillars of the UAE’s strategy, Mohammed bin Zayed did not hesitate to act independently when dictated by interests or economic reasons.
The Ukraine crisis exposed tensions with Washington when the UAE abstained from a vote in the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Russian invasion. As an OPEC producer, along with oil giant Riyadh, the UAE has also rejected Western calls to pump more.
Abu Dhabi has ignored other American concerns by arming and supporting Khalifa Haftar in Libya against the internationally recognized government and engaging with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
With Riyadh, the biggest rift came when the UAE largely withdrew from Yemen as the unpopular war, in which more than 100 Emiratis were killed, was mired in a military stalemate.
When Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir reneged on his promise to abandon his Islamist allies, Abu Dhabi orchestrated the 2019 coup against him.
Although he says he was drawn to their ideology in his youth, Mohammed bin Zayed has portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the most serious threats to stability in the Middle East.
Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE accuses the Brotherhood of treason after harboring persecuted members in Egypt in the 1960s, only to see them work for change in their host countries.
I am Arab, Muslim and original. And in the seventies and early eighties I was one of them. “I think these guys have an agenda,” Mohammed bin Zayed said in a 2007 meeting with US officials.
Educated in the United Kingdom
Educated in the Emirates and Military Officers College at Sandhurst in the UK, Sheikh Mohammed’s distrust of the group increased after 2001, when two of his countrymen were among the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Another diplomat said, “He looked around and saw that many of the younger generation in the region were very drawn to Osama bin Laden’s anti-Western slogan.” As he once said to me: ‘If they can do it to you, they can do it to us.’
Despite years of hostility, MbZ has chosen to engage with Iran and Turkey as the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and increased economic competition with Saudi Arabia have shifted the focus to development, pushing the UAE towards further liberalization while maintaining a lid on political opposition.
With Mohammed bin Zayed seen by many diplomats as an insider and a charismatic man, he has persistently promoted Abu Dhabi, which had the oil wealth of the United Arab Emirates, by stimulating development in the areas of energy, infrastructure and technology.
As deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he has been credited with transforming the UAE military into one of the most effective armed forces in the Arab world, according to experts who say he set up military service to instill nationalism rather than entitlement among the affluent population.
A source familiar with Sheikh Mohammed said, “He’s not outperforming the bush… He wants to know what doesn’t work well, not just what works.”
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”