Thursday, May 26

Promoter of the most tolerant Islam


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The President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, passed away yesterday after two decades at the helm of the Gulf country that coincided with the nation’s rapid rise in the international arena. The authorities announced 40 days of mourning, which will begin with a three-day suspension of activities in both the public and private sectors.

The rich oil reserves of the Emirates were undoubtedly one of the factors of the UAE’s success in recent decades, but also the modernizing spirit of the Islamic system promoted by Bin Zayed, far ahead of that of other Arab leaders in the region. President of the Emirates since November 3, 2004, Bin Zayed had suffered a stroke in 2014 that led him to assume a lower profile in State affairs from that moment and hand over his executive powers –although he kept the ceremonial ones– to his stepbrother and current ‘de facto’ leader of the country, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

He plans to formally assume the leadership of the State.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded in November 2004 his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, president and founding father of the United Arab Emirates, a rich Gulf state that groups seven emirates, including Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi. Khalifa began his political career in 1971, with the birth of the federation, when his father appointed him deputy prime minister of the new state. He later presided over the Superior Petroleum Council, a body endowed with broad powers in the energy field. Under the mandate of Sheikh Khalifa, the Emirates experienced rapid economic development, driven by the oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, which concentrates 90% of the federation’s reserves, and which also turned Dubai into a financial center, a luxurious destination tourist and crucial air transport hub.

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In the field of foreign policy, Khalifa however chose to keep a rather low profile, in the shadow of the great power of the region, Saudi Arabia. With stability and economic wealth assured, the role of diplomatic engine was assumed from 2014 by the crown prince, Mohamed bin Zayed, with controversial decisions. One of them was to support Saudi Arabia in establishing an economic boycott of Qatar, in 2017, for its alleged support of ‘terrorism’ and jihadist movements. The latest decision of the Emirates – to sign peace with Israel within the so-called Abraham Accords – has instead led it to clash with the Riyadh regime, which continues to refuse to establish relations with the Jewish state.

Khalifa he will be remembered as an Arab leader who tried to create an Islamic system ‘with a human face’, with norms of social and religious tolerance that do not exist in the rest of the Gulf countries. He also imprinted a relative democratic tone on the authoritarian system, with the establishment of the direct vote of the 40 members of the Federal National Council, a merely consultative body of the leader.

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