President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died Friday, was the first person to see the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fly around the world – but he rarely appeared in public himself.
Sheikh Khalifa, who died at the age of 73, succeeded his father, the late UAE president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as governor of Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest man in the seven-member UAE.
Sheikh Khalifa has rarely been seen in public since 2014, after undergoing surgery after a stroke, as his country continued to be recognized around the world.
Khalifa bin Zayed took over as the second president of the UAE in November 2004, succeeding his father as the 16th emperor of the Abu Dhabi emirate, the largest city in seven cities in the country and until 1971 the independent emirate.
Sheikh Khalifa, who had no formal education, was in the control of the UAE as it began its rise in the world, with Dubai focusing on services coming out as a global tourist and trade destination and Abu Dhabi oil pumping as a key player for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting (Opec).
He came to the rescue of Dubai when it was hit by a global financial crisis in 2009, adding billions of dollars to livelihoods to the indebted emirate.
Expressing gratitude, Dubai Governor Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum suddenly announced the world’s tallest fortress, Burj Khalifa, to be named after the president. The castle was originally called Burj Dubai.
With a high level of domestic policy, Sheikh Khalifa was notorious for his embarrassment in the media and was always a political figure in the world.
In a 2009 article to US President Barack Obama published by WikiLeaks, former US ambassador to the UAE Richard Olson described Sheikh Khalifa as “distant and uninterested”.
The leader launched the first UAE election in December 2006, when hand-held election colleges elected half of the 40 members of the National Advisory Council.
Sheikh Khalifa said the election, in which women participated as voters and candidates, would end in direct elections. The UAE still has to hold direct elections.
During the Arab Spring of 2011, the government launched an unprecedented crime against opposing remarks by a large number of its citizens and foreign nationals, mostly Muslims, in the Abu Dhabi security court.
Involvement in the military
In the first years of his rule, Sheikh Khalifa seemed willing to support his father’s foreign policy of non-interference.
But the UAE later became embroiled in a regional conflict, joining a US-led air strike against Islamic State in Syria.
And in early history, the Gulf country in 2015 sent low-level forces to Yemen as part of a Saudi-led coalition against Houthi-backed Houthi rebels.
Sheikh Khalifa’s brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, was behind the decision and was seen as an emirate in recent years.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed was born in Al Ain, his father’s hometown, which had no schools at that time. He studied the Holy Quran.
In 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was named 21-year-old Abu Dhabi Prince. Two years later, he became prime minister of Abu Dhabi.
As president, the sheikh was the chief of staff of the UAE armed forces and led the Abu Dhabi petroleum executive council, wielding considerable power in the energy sector.
Like his late father, Sheikh Khalifa has maintained close ties with the various indigenous peoples, always holding their leaders in his palace.
He was married to Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al Mazrouei. The couple has eight children.