The United Arab Emirates’ president named his eldest son as crown prince of Abu Dhabi late on Wednesday, making him the oil-rich Gulf monarchy’s likely next leader and cementing his family’s hold on power.
President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan tapped Sheikh Khaled, 41, his jiu-jitsu-loving son, as the crown prince of the UAE’s richest emirate — a position traditionally held by the leader-in-waiting.
It was part of the biggest political shake-up since Sheikh Mohamed, 62, sometimes known as “MBZ” and the UAE’s long-time de facto ruler, became president last May following the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa, who had been sidelined by ill health for years.
MBZ’s brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the owner of Manchester City football club, became vice president, joining Dubai’s ruler and UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the role.
Two other brothers of the president — Tahnoun bin Zayed, the UAE’s national security adviser and chairman of the ADQ sovereign wealth fund, and Hazza bin Zayed — became deputy rulers of Abu Dhabi, which controls the bulk of the country’s oil reserves.
MBZ’s ascension to the presidency last year prompted speculation over who would succeed him as Abu Dhabi crown prince, with Sheikh Khaled and Tahnoun both tipped for the honour.
The UAE, one of the world’s biggest oil producers and an ally of the United States, Russia and China alike, has become a major power in the Middle East as traditional heavyweights such as Egypt and Iraq fell back in recent years.
Sheikh Khaled’s appointment was welcomed by other Gulf rulers including fellow energy giants Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as leaders of the UAE’s six other emirates.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also congratulated Sheikh Khaled and Sheikh Mansour.
“May this new chapter be filled with success and prosperity for the UAE and its people,” he said.
PM Shehbaz further said that as a brotherly country, Pakistan looked forward to continuing “our strong partnership and working together towards a brighter future for our people and the region”.
‘Consolidation of power’
Gulf commentator Bader Al-Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University, said the series of changes shored up power among MBZ’s close family.
“This move (appointing his son rather than a brother as crown prince) has been anticipated. It follows (the) lineal model apparent elsewhere in the Gulf… provides for more stability and smoother successions,” he said in a tweet.
“Consolidation of power among MBZ’s full siblings is no secret. Today’s decrees reaffirm it,” he added.
Sheikh Khaled has served as a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and as chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, and sits on the board of state oil giant ADNOC.
He has been closely involved in youth and environmental projects as well as sports, promoting jiu jitsu and helping bring NBA basketball games to Abu Dhabi.
Abdul Khaleq Abdallah, a professor of political science from the UAE, said Sheikh Khaled had already represented his father on trips abroad as part of his preparations for leadership.
With his father still in the early days of his presidency, Sheikh Khaled still has time to learn, he said.
“He was being groomed for this job. Everybody that closely watched him over the years knows that he’s ready for it and he’s fit for the job,” Abdallah told AFP.
“He’s earned the trust of his father. He comes across as very easy with people, he mingles well which is very important for a future leader. “