Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

UAE: New Arrangement of Power Transition

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is starting a new phase of power transition in the United Arab Emirates.

UAE New Power Transition
A photo taken on 11 November 2019 of the new crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khaled bin Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. KARIM SAHIB/ AFP

Khaled Mahmoud

Following the appointment of Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, it appears that the UAE is adopting a similar approach to Saudi Arabia regarding power transition from brothers to sons.

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed has recently promoted his sons to key official posts, solidifying his rule over the country and securing his sons’ futures.

Breaking Power Inheritance Pattern

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE President and ruler of Abu Dhabi, made a bold move by setting aside his late father’s will regarding the succession of the Abu Dhabi emirate. Instead of choosing one of his five full brothers, collectively known as “Bani Fatima,” for the Crown Prince role, Sheikh Mohammed appointed his son Khalid.

The UAE president appointed his brother Mansour bin Zayed as Vice President, alongside Dubai’s rulers and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. His brothers Hazza bin Zayed and Tahnoun bin Zayed were also named Deputy Rulers of Abu Dhabi.

It was notable that Abu Dhabi’s ruler did not follow the customary tradition of passing down the leadership among Sheikh Zayed’s sons. Appointing Sheikh Khalid as Crown Prince seems to have been planned for years.

Now, he is set to become the expected heir to the throne of the oil-rich UAE, especially since the rulers of Abu Dhabi have been the only ones to hold the country’s presidency since its foundation in 1971.

The latest decisions indicate that Abu Dhabi is gaining more control over the country’s internal affairs and foreign policies. These decisions also strengthen Abu Dhabi’s political authority, which is not only derived from its position as the nation’s political capital or its vast size and oil riches, but also due to the financial support it has been providing to Dubai since 2009.

With his father’s age and health in consideration, Sheikh Khalid’s recent appointment offers him a favourable opportunity to establish himself as the potential future president of the UAE, both locally and globally. However, this move is seen as a significant deviation from traditional power dynamics in the UAE. It indicates Mohammed bin Zayed’s desire to establish his dynasty.

Appointing Sheikh Khalid altered the traditional succession process from brother to brother, as it now appears to be passed from father to son. This change has given new roles to Bani Fatima, who was Sheikh Zayed’s favourite wife.

The succession issue was determined to ensure a peaceful and seamless power transfer and end “the game of musical chairs” over the Emirati throne. Reports had indicated that there was a conflict between his Tahnoun and Khalid, who sought to enhance his power and influence.

Overall, Sheikh Khalid’s rise to power quenched the hidden struggle over power by casting Tahnoun aside. It also signals stability in Abu Dhabi, and ends the speculation about succession in the oil-rich emirate.

Regional and Domestic Approbation

The recent decisions may appear surprising as they introduce a new hierarchy to the country’s traditional power dynamics. However, according to the Emirati newspaper AlKhaleej, these decisions have garnered “national consensus”. According to the newspaper, the decisions demonstrate “unity in supporting the country’s leadership and furthering its stability.”

Likewise, the Federal National Council considered these decisions as “building upon the legacy of the country’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed”. According to the council, the decisions “will contribute to more achievements.”

An Arab diplomat told Fanack that the diplomatic lobbies welcomed this change. The source, who wanted to be anonymous, said that appointing Sheikh Khaled as Abu Dhabi’s crown prince was expected since Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed became the UAE president in May 2022.

The new appointments received immediate support from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said he hopes the recent UAE decisions would “further progress prosperity.” Other Arab leaders also sent congratulatory messages to Abu Dhabi welcoming the decisions, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and other Gulf leaders, including Qatar.

The recent events in the UAE are reminiscent of what happened in Saudi Arabia in 2017. At that time, King Salman bin Abdulaziz appointed his son Mohammed as crown prince, effectively transferring power from the siblings’ generation to the next generation of sons.

Who is Khalid?

Selecting Sheikh Khalid as the new Crown Prince of the UAE was not surprising to those who are familiar with the internal workings of the UAE. Sheikh Khalid, who served as the Deputy National Security Advisor and Head of State Security, was being considered among four candidates.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Chairman of its Executive Council from 2004 to 2022.

Khalid is one of the most prominent leaders of the country’s security and economic institutions. In 2016, his late uncle, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, appointed him head of State Security with a minister’s rank. Later he was appointed as the Deputy National Security Advisor with a minister’s rank. In early 2019, He was appointed to the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi.

Born on January 8, 1982, Sheikh Khalid obtained his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the American University of Sharjah. He also acquired a PhD from the Department of War Studies at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst King’s College London in 2014. In 2015, he was appointed as the Chairman of the National Electronic Security Authority.

A year later, Sheikh Khalid began his official professional career in the security field as Head of the State Security apparatus with a minister’s rank. He played a key role in public life in Abu Dhabi, where he is believed to be tasked with pushing the emirate towards a better future.

Sheikh Khalid’s expertise in the Emirati-Iranian conflict is evident in his 2013 book, which delves into the details of Iran’s occupation of the three Emirati islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs.

Sheikh Khalid is also a strong advocate for renewable energy. He has been overseeing a new global renewable energy and green hydrogen project between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) since 2021. The project aims to make Abu Dhabi a leader in energy transformation with a clean energy plant that will generate 30 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030.

As a family man, Sheikh Khalid has three children with his wife, Sheikha Fatima bint Suroor Al Nahyan. He is actively involved in various youth, environmental, and sports projects. He has previously promoted jiu-jitsu in the country and helped bring NBA matches to the UAE.

Emirati political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla told Agence France-Presse that Sheikh Khalid has already represented his father on several foreign tours, indicating that he has been groomed for leadership.

Unlike many Emirati officials who seek the spotlight, Sheikh Khalid has chosen to stay out of it. His quiet ascent in the state has been deliberate, as he has no official or personal social media accounts.

In an increasingly multipolar world, the newly appointed Crown Prince is in a prime position to significantly influence the Gulf state’s economic development and strategic diversification.

Sheikh Khalid’s appointment paves the way for a young politician to assume future leadership of the wealthy Gulf state. It is particularly significant as the UAE has gained greater influence on the global stage, being closely watched for developments in major world capitals.

Domestically, Sheikh Khalid is seen as a young, ambitious, and nationally consensual leader. As such, he will need to carefully present himself not only as the ruler’s son and successor but also as a qualified leader to steer the country in the future.

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