UAE strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed named new president By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan speaks during his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street, London, Britain September 16, 2021. REUTERS / Hannah McKay / Pool

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DUBAI (Reuters) – The de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, was elected president of the Gulf Arab state by a federal supreme council on Saturday, cementing his rule over the oil producer. of OPEC and a key regional player.

He becomes president at a time when the UAE’s longstanding ties with the United States are strained due to the perceived disengagement of the United States from the security concerns of its Gulf allies and as the Western countries are seeking support from the region to help isolate Russia in the Ukrainian conflict.

The council, which brings together the rulers of the seven emirates of the federation of the United Arab Emirates, elected Sheikh Mohammed, says MbZ, the day after the death of his half-brother, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, also ruler of Abu Dhabi .

“We congratulate him and pledge allegiance to him, just like our people…and the whole country will follow his direction towards glory,” said Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. a post on Twitter (NYSE:).

MbZ, 61, had already been in power for years in which he led a Middle East realignment that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel and invested in the UAE military, which, together to its oil wealth, extended Emirati influence.

The United Arab Emirates, a trade and tourism hub, has also deepened its ties with Russia and China at a time when Washington’s political capital with Abu Dhabi and Riyadh has been eroded by differences over the war in Yemen, Iran and US conditions on lucrative arms sales.

“Mohammed bin Zayed defined not only the future of the United Arab Emirates, but also that of much of the Gulf in his approach to state building and power projection,” said researcher Kristin Diwan. senior resident at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“The future direction under his leadership is set and reflected in other Gulf leaders’ embrace of state-led, globally-oriented economic diversification and a more assertive foreign policy that looks to the world.” beyond the Gulf and traditional partners.”

The Biden administration has moved to tighten ties with oil heavyweights Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both have refused to take sides in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and have pushed back on Western calls to pump in more oil to help rein in crude prices.

It was unclear whether President Joe Biden would be among world leaders heading to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences over the death of Sheikh Khalifa. French President Emmanuel Macron is due to arrive on Sunday.

MbZ has moved away from a hawkish foreign policy and military adventurism, which has seen the UAE floundering in conflicts from Yemen to Libya, to focus on economic priorities. It has seen the UAE engage with foes like Iran and Turkey after years of animosity, as well as the Syrian president.

“MbZ will need to take further steps to cement the UAE’s position as the region’s leading financial, logistics and trade hub,” Capital Economics’ James Swanston said in a note, referring to Gulf states’ willingness to diversify their economies in a global energy context. transition away from hydrocarbons.

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