Analysis: Condolence calls from elite show UAE ruler’s power

May 17, 2022, 11:07 PM | Updated: 11:50 pm
FILE - Newly appointed president of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan re...

FILE - Newly appointed president of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan receives condolences from French President Emmanuel Macron on the death of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan at Al Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 15, 2022. Al Nahyan has been receiving condolence visits from the world's elite for days now in Abu Dhabi. MbZ as he's known has taken on a major influence in the wider Middle East, whether through his longtime relationship with the U.S. military, his opposition to Islamists and his autocratic country's new ties with Israel. (Christian Hartmann, Pool via AP, File)

(Christian Hartmann, Pool via AP, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Coming from around the globe, airplanes carrying world leaders have landed in the capital of the United Arab Emirates to offer condolences for the death of the country’s president — and acknowledge the influence of the man now fully in charge.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan rarely speaks publicly. The new president shies away from the United Nations’ annual summit in New York. And his thoughts on the world around him come filtered through a tight-knit coterie and leaders who interact with him rather than from his pronouncements.

But MbZ as he’s known has become a major influence in the wider Middle East, whether through his longtime relationship with the U.S. military, his opposition to Islamists or his autocratic country’s new ties with Israel.

Following the death of his half-brother, President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Sheikh Mohammed’s new reign comes with the opportunity to cement the rapid advance from villages to skyscrapers made by the UAE since its founding just over 50 years ago.

But it also comes as tough decisions loom for a nation mired in a deadlocked, bloody war in Yemen, facing choices on whether to embrace an America increasingly suspicious of its ties to China and Russia and concerned about an Iran whose nuclear program now races toward weapons-grade levels.

Even before becoming president, Sheikh Mohammed was believed to have been the country’s de facto leader since a 2014 stroke saw Sheikh Khalifa disappear from public view. His mystique and his younger age compared to other regional leaders — today he’s 61 — set him apart.

He’s also a symbol in this young country that is home to Dubai, where his silhouette in aviator glasses remains a popular car window sticker.

“MbZ is a leader not just in the UAE, but more broadly in the Middle East, where he is seen as a particularly dynamic member of the generation succeeding the geriatric cases who have dominated the region for decades,” a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said.

Trained at England’s Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and a fluent English speaker, Sheikh Mohammed’s style also found favor with allied militaries. Today, some 3,500 U.S. troops remain stationed in the UAE. Dubai’s Jebel Ali port is the busiest port of call for the U.S. Navy outside of America.

Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra Air Base hosts American drones and fighter jets that bombed the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. American Patriot missile batteries there defended the capital this year against attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

As part of the relationship with America, the UAE deployed forces to fight in Afghanistan. MbZ also fully backed the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaida. Two of the 19 hijackers had come from the Emirates.

That also marked the hardening of Sheikh Mohammed’s opinions toward pan-Arab Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood members taught in Emirati schools in the 1980s, formative years for a young Sheikh Mohammed.

“I am an Arab, I am a Muslim and I pray. And in the 1970s and early 1980s I was one of them,” Sheikh Mohammed told U.S. officials in 2007, according to another diplomatic cable. “I believe these guys have an agenda.”

After the 2011 Arab Spring, Sheikh Mohammed led a crackdown on members of Islah, a Brotherhood-associated group in the Emirates. Groups like the Brotherhood challenge the hereditary rule of the UAE’s seven sheikhdoms. Political parties and labor unions remain illegal in the country, which has been accused of employing spyware to monitor activists and dissidents.

Former President Barack Obama in his recent autobiography described Sheikh Mohammed as “young, sophisticated … and perhaps the savviest leader in the Gulf.”

But MbZ was critical of Washington’s support of the 2011 protests that toppled Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and briefly installed a Brotherhood member as president.

Obama quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying that the U.S. position “shows that the United States is not a partner we can rely on in the long term.” The UAE backed Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s 2013 coup that brought him into the presidency.

That suspicion has grown. Sheikh Mohammed reportedly described himself as surprised by the U.S. secretly negotiating with Iran on what later became Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The UAE’s diplomatic recognition of Israel, while boosting trade, serves as a hedge against an Iran suspected of attacking shipping in waters just off its shore in 2019. Yet Emirati officials have opened discussions with Iran as well. The country’s foreign minister even offered condolences Monday for Sheikh Khalifa’s passing, the same day as a U.S. delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris.

Dubai and the wider Emirates remain open to Russians despite Moscow’s war on Ukraine. Ties to China grow ever closer, despite Beijing allegedly running a secret prison in the country and concerns over a possible military dimension to its operation at an Abu Dhabi port.

But while described as a tactician, some of Sheikh Mohammed’s larger bets haven’t paid off. He found himself entangled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on former U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia.

An indictment appears to link Sheikh Mohammed to Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee chair, who faces charges alleging he secretly conspired to influence U.S. policy to benefit the Emirates. Meanwhile, a yearslong boycott of Qatar as part of a political dispute ended just before President Joe Biden took office.

Then there’s the war in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, where Iran-backed rebels still hold its capital. The UAE and Saudi Arabia face international criticism over civilian casualties in the war. The war killed dozens of Emirati soldiers and wounded more.

Though the Emiratis largely pulled out of the conflict, the attacks on Abu Dhabi at the start of this year show the country remains a target.

For Sheikh Mohammed, the responsibility for all this now falls solely on him.

“Every decision has risks, undoubtedly,” he once said.


EDITOR’S NOTE — Jon Gambrell, the news director for the Gulf and Iran for The Associated Press, has reported from each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Iran and other locations across the world since joining the AP in 2006. Follow him on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Signs on the wall remind students to keep 6 feet apart during a media tour of the Norris Mid...
Associated Press

CDC drops quarantine, distancing recommendations for COVID

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others. The […]
18 hours ago
Greenwood Police Chief James Ison speak during a press conference at the Greenwood City Center in G...
Associated Press

FBI: Data from mall gunman’s laptop cannot be recovered

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) — Data cannot be recovered from the laptop of the 20-year-old man who allegedly shot five people in a suburban Indianapolis shopping mall, killing three of them, the FBI said Thursday. Agents were unable to recover data from the laptop found in the gunman’s oven, Herb Stapleton, the special agent in charge […]
18 hours ago
Scott Peterson walks into a courtroom at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City, Calif...
Associated Press

Judge to decide if Scott Peterson victim of jury misconduct

Scott Peterson’s trial attorney missed an opportunity to grill a California juror about bias who eventually helped send him to death row for murdering his pregnant wife and unborn child, his appellate lawyer conceded Thursday while arguing the former fertilizer salesman deserves a new trial because of juror misconduct. Attorney Cliff Gardner, who alleges juror […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Packages riding on a belt are scanned to be loaded onto delivery trucks at the Amazon Fulfil...
Associated Press

OSHA investigates deaths of Amazon workers in New Jersey

Federal work-safety investigators are looking into the death of an Amazon worker and an injury that potentially led to the death of another employee, adding to a probe already underway following a third fatality during the company’s annual Prime Day shopping event in mid-July. All three Amazon workers died within the past month and were […]
18 hours ago
FILE - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at New York's Yankee Stadium on J...
Associated Press

Cuomo: Taxpayers should pay sexual harassment legal bills

NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants taxpayers to foot his legal bills as he defends himself against a workplace sexual harassment claim — and he’s suing the state’s attorney general over it. Cuomo filed the suit against Attorney General Letitia James on Thursday. He’s arguing that James violated state law […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Northwestern selects Oregon’s Schill to be next president

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — University of Oregon President Michael Schill will assume that office at Northwestern University this fall, the Evanston school’s board of trustees announced Thursday. Schill has led Oregon since 2015. He previously served as the law school dean at the University of Chicago and at UCLA. He earned a degree in public […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
Analysis: Condolence calls from elite show UAE ruler’s power