UAE's Long-ailing President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Dies at 73

The UAE announces 40-day mourning period as condolences pour in from across the region. Israel's president hails his 'contribution to the growing partnership between our countries'

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, right, is greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, right, is greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.Credit: Rashed al-Mansoori /AP

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died, the Ministry of Presidential Affairs said on Friday. He was also ruler of Abu Dhabi emirate.

"The Ministry of Presidential Affairs mourns to the UAE people, Arab and Islamic nations and the world the death of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who passed away on Friday," the ministry said in a statement on state media without giving further details.

Under the constitution, vice-president and premier Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, would act as president until the federal council which groups the rulers of the seven emirates meets within 30 days to elect a new president.

Khalifa, born in 1948, had rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2014 and his half-brother Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, has been the de facto ruler of the U.S.-allied UAE, an OPEC oil producer.

"The UAE has lost its righteous son and leader of the 'empowerment phase' and guardian of its blessed journey," the crown prince said on Twitter, praising Khalifa's wisdom and generosity.

The UAE would observe a 40-day mourning period with flags flown at half-mast as of Friday and suspend work at all public and private sector entities for three days, the ministry said.

Condolences started pouring in from Arab leaders including Bahrain's king, Egypt's president and Iraq's prime minister.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said he mourned the death of Khalifa, saying in a condolence statement issued by his office that he "contributed so much to the advancement of the UAE and its people and to the growing partnership between our countries and is a great legacy for his successors."

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also sent their condolences on behalf of the Israeli government and citizens, with Bennett saying that Khalifa's legacy and great actions were deeply appreciated in Israel. Lapid wrote on Twitter that "History is made by people: it is made by people who know history, but are willing to change it. It is made by people who prefer the future to the past."

Khalifa came to power in 2004 in the richest emirate Abu Dhabi and became the head of state. He is expected to be succeeded as ruler of Abu Dhabi by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed.

Abu Dhabi, which holds most of the Gulf state's oil wealth, has held the presidency since the founding of the UAE federation by Khalifa's father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, in 1971.

Historically, the president of the UAE is from Abu Dhabi and the prime minister is from Dubai, with the two overseeing the country’s affairs.

The country's regional power and influence emanates from Abu Dhabi, which has most of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Dubai, however, provides the UAE with a swirl of publicity and headline-grabbing lifestyle and entertainment stories that rights groups say distracts from controversial policies decided in Abu Dhabi.

Despite its size and wealth, Abu Dhabi often finds itself overshadowed by the glitzy neighboring emirate of Dubai, the Middle Eastern commercial hub that showcases both the UAE’s bold visions and, at times, debt-fueled pipe dreams, including a massive palm-shaped man-made island that sits empty years after its creation.

As Dubai’s fortunes began to falter along with the global economy in 2009, Khalifa led efforts to protect the federation by pumping billions of dollars in emergency bailout funds into Dubai.

The two emirates do not always see eye-to-eye on foreign policy decisions and compete commercially with one another. In 2003, he called for the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways, which competes with Dubai’s successful and much larger carrier Emirates Air.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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