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UAE’s newly elected ruler sees Iran, Islamists as threat to Gulf safe haven

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DUBAI — United Arab Emirates strongman Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who was formally elected president on Saturday, led a realignment of the Center East that created a brand new anti-Iran axis with Israel and fought a rising tide of political Islam within the area.

Working behind the scenes for years as de facto chief, Sheikh Mohammed, 61, reworked the UAE navy right into a high-tech power, which coupled with its oil wealth and enterprise hub standing, prolonged Emirati affect internationally.

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Mohammed started wielding energy in a interval when his half-brother President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died on Friday, suffered bouts of sickness, together with a stroke in 2014.

MbZ, as he’s identified, was pushed by a “sure fatalistic line of pondering” that Gulf Arab rulers might now not depend on their primary supporter america, in accordance with former U.S. envoy to the UAE Barbara Leaf, particularly after Washington deserted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak through the 2011 Arab Spring.

From his energy base within the capital Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed issued a “calm and chilly” warning to then-President Barack Obama to not again uprisings that might unfold and endanger Gulf dynastic rule, in accordance with Obama’s memoir, which described MbZ because the “savviest” Gulf chief.

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A U.S. State Division official serving within the Biden administration, which has had fraught ties with the UAE in current months, described him as a strategist who brings historic perspective to discussions.

“He’ll speak not solely concerning the current, however return years, many years, in some instances, talking to tendencies over time,” the official stated.

MbZ backed the 2013 navy ousting of Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Mursi, and championed Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he rose to energy in a 2017 palace coup, touting him as a person Washington might take care of and the one one capable of open up the dominion.

Inspired by heat ties with the then U.S. President Donald Trump, the 2 Gulf hawks lobbied for Washington’s most strain marketing campaign on Iran, boycotted neighboring Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and launched a pricey struggle to attempt to break the grip of Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.

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The UAE additionally waded into conflicts from Somalia to Libya and Sudan earlier than upending many years of Arab consensus by forging ties with Israel in 2020, together with Bahrain, in U.S.-brokered offers referred to as the Abraham Accords that drew Palestinian ire.

The accords have been pushed by shared considerations over Iran but in addition perceived advantages to the UAE economic system and fatigue with a Palestinian management “that doesn’t pay attention,” stated one diplomat.


Whereas diplomats and analysts see the alliance with Riyadh and Washington as a pillar of UAE technique, MbZ has not hesitated to maneuver independently when pursuits or financial causes dictate.

The Ukraine disaster uncovered strains with Washington when the UAE abstained from a U.N. Safety Council vote condemning Russia’s invasion. As an OPEC producer, together with oil titan Riyadh, the UAE additionally rebuffed Western calls to pump extra.

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Abu Dhabi has ignored different U.S. considerations by arming and backing Libya’s Khalifa Hafter in opposition to the internationally acknowledged authorities and fascinating with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

With Riyadh, the largest divergence got here when the UAE largely withdrew from Yemen because the unpopular struggle, wherein greater than 100 Emiratis died, acquired mired in navy stalemate.

When Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir reneged on a promise to desert Islamist allies, Abu Dhabi orchestrated the 2019 coup in opposition to him.


Though he says he was interested in their Islamist ideology in his youth, MbZ has framed the Muslim Brotherhood as one of many gravest threats to stability within the Center East.

Like Saudi Arabia, the UAE accuses the Brotherhood of betrayal after it sheltered members persecuted in Egypt within the Nineteen Sixties, solely to see them work for change of their host international locations.

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“I’m an Arab, I’m a Muslim, and I pray. And within the Seventies and early Eighties I used to be considered one of them. I imagine these guys have an agenda,” MbZ stated in a 2007 assembly with U.S. officers, in accordance with Wikileaks.

Educated within the UAE and the navy officer’s school at Sandhurst in Britain, Sheikh Mohammed’s distrust of Islamists heightened after 2001, when two of his countrymen have been among the many 19 hijackers within the Sept. 11 assaults on america.

“He regarded round and noticed that lots of the youthful technology within the area have been very interested in Osama bin Laden’s anti-Western mantra,” one other diplomat stated. “As he as soon as stated to me: ‘If they’ll do it to you, they’ll do it to us.’”

Regardless of years of enmity, MbZ selected to interact with Iran and Turkey as COVID-19 and rising financial competitors with Saudi Arabia turned focus to improvement, pushing the UAE in the direction of additional liberalization whereas maintaining a lid on political dissent.

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Seen as a moderniser at house and a charismatic folks’s man by many diplomats, MbZ doggedly promoted the beforehand low-profile Abu Dhabi, which holds the UAE’s oil wealth, by spurring improvement in vitality, infrastructure and expertise.

As deputy supreme commander of armed forces he was credited with turning the UAE navy into probably the most efficient within the Arab world, in accordance with consultants who say he instituted navy service to instill nationalism fairly than entitlement amongst an prosperous inhabitants.

“He doesn’t beat across the bush … he needs to know what isn’t working nicely, not simply what’s working,” stated a supply with entry to Sheikh Mohammed. (Reporting by Dubai bureau; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Enhancing by William Maclean and Dominic Evans and Jon Boyle)



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