The longtime President of the United Arab Emirates died on Friday at the age of 73. The state news agency WAM reported the death of Khalifa bin Sajid Al Nahjan († 73) on Friday. Sheikh Khalifa has headed the country since 2004 and was also Emir of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the country’s seven emirates.
Sheik Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014. At the time, it was said that he was in stable condition after undergoing surgery. He was rarely seen by the public after that. Around two years ago, WAM released pictures showing him visiting the Ghanadha Reserve in Abu Dhabi.
The real strongman of the oil and gas-rich Emirates is his brother, Mohammed bin Sajid, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Observers expect him to become the new president. However, the head of state must be elected by the seven Emirates.
Khalifa leaves a great legacy
The government declared a 40-day national mourning, as WAM further reported. She also ordered work to be suspended for three days in all ministries, public institutions and the private sector.
Numerous Arab states and Israel expressed their condolences. Israeli President Izchak Herzog said Khalifa’s “courageous leadership” has “contributed much to the growing partnership between our countries” and is a great legacy. In 2020, the Emirates and Bahrain became the first Gulf states to sign an agreement establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
US President Joe Biden (79) also praised Sheikh Chalifa as a “true partner and friend of the United States”. The US government wants to honor his memory by further strengthening the long-standing relationship between the US and the United Arab Emirates.
He had been in power practically since the 1990s
Khalifa was the eldest son of Sajid bin Sultan, the founder and first ruler of the UAE after independence from Britain in 1971. He studied at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, south of London, and became Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in 1969. Because of his father’s illness, he became the de facto ruler of the country in the 1990s.
Two years after his official assumption of power, elections were held in the Emirates for the first time in 2006. More than half of the 40 members of the Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory body, voted. In general, the country made an effort during his rule to show itself to be tolerant and open. At the end of 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors to visitors.
However, human rights organizations also repeatedly complain about human rights violations. As part of the Saudi-led coalition, the UAE is also militarily active in Yemen’s civil war.
The long-serving UAE President will also be remembered for a building in the Emirate of Dubai. There the tallest building in the world, the 828 meter high Burj Khalifa, is named after him. In 2010, Dubai thanked the neighboring emirate for billions in support during the financial crisis.