The late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was a key figure in transforming of his country into one of the most dominant states in the Gulf region.
He died on Friday at the age of 73 and a mourning period will be observed across the UAE for 40 days.
Sheikh Khalifa was born 1948 in the eastern region of Abu Dhabi. In 2004, Khalifa was appointed as the second president of the UAE, succeeding his father and founder of the nation, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan.
As president, he oversaw the country’s extensive economic growth and headed one of the largest investment funds in the world, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.
Prior to his role as president, Khalifa was the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He headed the Supreme Petroleum Council, which regulates gas- and oil-related policies of the Emirates. In this role, he also led efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on petrodollars which included investments in renewable energy research.
The New York Times noted that Khalifa used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centers, such as branches of the Louvre Museum in Paris and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne. Abu Dhabi’s big overseas ventures during Khalifa’s rule also helped push the emirate, which controls the bulk of the UAE’s oil reserves, out from Dubai’s shadow.
Khalifa’s name is perhaps best known internationally for its connection to the world’s tallest building. The Burj Khalifa rises over half a mile (828 meters) above Dubai. The building took on his name after the UAE government bailed out debt-crippled Dubai during the financial crisis over a decade ago, pumping in billions of dollars in emergency funds.
In 2014, Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke and underwent surgery. Since then, his role has been largely ceremonial and he stepped down from many of his public duties. His half-brother, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ) became the de-facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, controlling almost every aspect of UAE policymaking. He made two significant foreign policy decisions in recent years: joining the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen and signing the Abraham Accords peace deal with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his condolences to the crown prince.
“On my behalf and that of the government and citizens of Israel, I express my condolences to my friend Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and to the Government and people of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the passing of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE. Sheikh Khalifa’s great legacy and deeds were appreciated by many in Israel. The State of Israel stands alongside the UAE and its people at this difficult time.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog also expressed his condolences and referred to MBZ as his friend, in a statement issued by the president’s office.
“This is a great loss for our friends in the UAE and for the whole region. Sheikh Khalifa’s bold leadership contributed so much to the advancement of the UAE and its people and to the growing partnership between our countries and is a great legacy for his successors. His life’s work pushed the Middle East to new horizons of prosperity and cooperation,” the statement read.
Herzog is expected to depart for the UAE on Sunday for a few hours where he will meet MBZ and offer condolences on behalf of the State of Israel for the passing of his brother.