ABU DHABI: President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who died on Friday, was a reserved figure who saw the United Arab Emirates skyrocket on the global scene. Sheikh Khalifa, who died at the age of 73, succeeded his father, the late UAE founding president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, as ruler of Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the seven-member UAE.
Khalifa bin Zayed took over as the UAE’s second president in November 2004, succeeding his father as the 16th ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the country’s seven cities and until 1971 an independent emirate. Sheikh Khalifa was at the helm of the UAE as it began its global rise, with service-oriented Dubai emerging as a global tourism and trade hub and Abu Dhabi pumping oil as a key OPEC player. He came to the rescue of Dubai when it was hit by the global financial crisis in 2009, extending a multi-billion-dollar lifeline to the debt-laden emirate.
In a show of gratitude, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum suddenly announced the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, would be named after the president. The tower was initially dubbed Burj Dubai. The leader ushered in the UAE’s first-ever elections in December 2006, when handpicked electoral colleges chose half of the 40 members of an advisory Federal National Council. Sheikh Khalifa said the polling, in which women took part both as voters and candidates, would culminate in direct elections.
During the first years of his reign, Sheikh Khalifa appeared inclined to perpetuate his father’s foreign policy of non-interference. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed was born in the oasis of Al-Ain, his father’s hometown, which did not have schools at the time. He studied the Holy Quran. In 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was named crown prince of Abu Dhabi at the age of 21. Two years later, he became Abu Dhabi’s prime minister. As president, the sheikh was commander in chief of the UAE’s armed forces and headed Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council, which exerts wide powers in the energy sector. Like his late father, Sheikh Khalifa maintained close links with various local tribes, often hosting their leaders in his palace.
Sheikh Khalifa, who succeeded founder of UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan on November 4, 2004, took the country from the phase of foundation to empowerment. During his 18-year reign, Sheikh Khalifa contributed to improvement of competitiveness index of nation which became the second largest economy in the Arab region. The UAE took large strides towards achievements, becoming the first Arab and Islamic country to reach Mars and one among very few to reach space. Sheikh Khalifa launched, shortly after assuming office, his first government strategy for a balanced and sustainable development to achieve prosperity for citizens.
Sheikh Khalifa, who continued the legacy of his father Sheikh Zayed for security and stability, supervised development of sectors of oil and gas, and manufacturing industries which diversified economy. The late President also launched housing, road, educational and social projects, as well as proposing an initiative to develop the legislative authority by allowing elections of half of the Federal National Council. He was re-elected as president in 2009 and continued his contributions to a multi-faceted development. Sheikh Khalifa was named Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in 1969, became Prime Minister of Abu Dhabi district in July 1971 and named Deputy Commander of UAE Armed forces in 1976. – Agencies