Mohammed bin Zayed, strongman of the Middle East takes the reins of the UAE

By Carles Grau Sivera

Cairo, May 14 (EFE).- Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, one of the most powerful men in the Middle East, has become the new emir of Abu Dhabi after the death of his half-brother Khalifa, and now awaits formally being appointed President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, has been the de facto ruler of the small oil-rich country since 2014, when the late President Khalifa suffered a stroke that removed him from public life, as well as from the decision-making process.

MBZ witnessed the Emirates’ transformation from poverty to wealth, and has endeavored in recent years to turn the country into one of the major regional powers in military and economic and political spheres.

His resolute fight against Islamism and religious extremism – both within and outside the UAE’s borders – was one of the main reasons for his intervention to crush pro-democracy protests in the Persian Gulf in 2011, which he believes, they were an ideal breeding ground for radical ideas.

One of his main fears is the destabilization of his country or the entire region, which has led him to order extensive campaigns to arrest dissidents and engage in wars like in Yemen.

In Yemen, he also sees the threat of Iranian presence, which he considers a great regional enemy in the political and religious spheres.

Now, this arms and combat aircraft enthusiast heads a small country of just 9.8 million inhabitants – only 10 percent of whom are Emirati – which he wants to put on the map as a military power, like a sort of Sparta in the Middle East.

MBZ was born on Mar.11, 1961 in Al Ain, in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, before his father, Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, unified the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

During interviews, MBZ has said his father, still revered in the Emirates, has been his main influence, especially with regard to inter-religious tolerance and humility, something he also wants to convey to his children.

After studying for a short time in Morocco, MBZ graduated from the military academy in Sandhurst (UK), became a helicopter pilot and later led the Emirates Air Force, of which he was appointed Supreme Deputy Commander in 2005.

A year earlier, he was named crown prince after the death of his father and the rise of his half-brother Khalifa.

However, Khalifa’s health problems in 2014 gave way to a hyperactive MBZ obsessed with diversifying the country’s economy and, above all, equipping it with the best military technology. It buys massively from the United States, its largest global partner.

Currently, the Emirates has the region’s best-trained and equipped army, behind only Israel, with which it established diplomatic relations for economic, development and security purposes in 2020.

This shift, at the expense of Palestinian claims, was a move to counter Iran.

Under his orders, the UAE embarked on military interventions such as the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, bombings in support of Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya and, above all – in alliance with Saudi Arabia – the war against the Yemeni Houthi that began in 2015.

MBZ distances himself from the more conservative sections of Islam and has tried to check their influence in the region.

In this regard, in 2017, he imposed an embargo on Qatar, together with three other countries, after accusing Doha of funding extremist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

This also led to tensions with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s, although he has started improving ties with both these countries.

He is known to embrace tolerance and has tried to sell the image of the Emirates as a plural and cosmopolitan country with opportunities for men and women.

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