UAE leader breaks tradition, appoint son as crown prince 10 months after takeover from slain brother
The United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ) has appointed his son as crown prince of Abu Dhabi a complete departure from long practiced tradition of passing leadership succession to another brother.
Sheikh Khaled bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE leader’s eldest son, is now the oil-rich Middle Eastern country’s crown prince, effectively next in line for its leadership.
MBZ the radical power transition 10 months after he became president of the Persian Gulf nation after the death of his brother Sheikh Khalifa.
At the same time, he elevated his brothers to top positions.
Sheikh Mansour — a longtime senior minister, chair of the Mubadala sovereign wealth fund and owner of Manchester City soccer club was appointed as UAE Vice President, alongside already-sitting Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is the ruler of Dubai.
Also, MBZ’s brother Sheikh Tahnoon, the UAE’s powerful national security advisor, was appointed deputy ruler of Abu Dhabi, as was Sheikh Mohammed’s youngest brother Hazza bin Zayed. Sheikh Tahnoon was already named chair of the $790 billion Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the emirate’s main sovereign wealth fund, earlier in March.
The move is widely seen as a clear power consolidation strategy.
Developments in the Gulf state are closely watched in the world’s major capitals, as the UAE’s power and influence has increased dramatically in the past several years — politically, militarily and economically.
The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms and home to roughly 10 million people, some 90% of whom are expats, oversees some of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Its military is one of the most powerful and advanced in the region, and it is a leading OPEC member and longtime ally of the U.S. while also rapidly expanding its diplomatic and trade ties with Russia and China.
MBZ became UAE president and Abu Dhabi ruler in May 2022 following the death of his brother Sheikh Khalifa, having served as crown prince and de-facto ruler of the powerful Gulf state for many years prior.
In a clear demonstration of MBZ’s soft power and global reach, news footage at the time showed top leaders from all over the world lined up to offer condolences and congratulations to the new president in Abu Dhabi, including then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Some analysts view the president’s move as furthering a concentration of power in Emirati capital Abu Dhabi and away from its commercial capital, Dubai.
“There are now two vice presidents of the UAE, it seems, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid of Dubai and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi,” Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Rane, wrote in a post on Twitter. He described the decision as “formalizing the leverage Abu Dhabi has over Dubai, and how little Dubai will be allowed to say in foreign policy.”
Cinzia Bianco, a research fellow on Europe and the Gulf at the European Council on Foreign Relations, described MBZ’s appointment of his son as “a jump towards the next generation,” adding that the move did not come as a surprise.
“As expected, MBZ also appointed his prominent brothers to new roles, keeping some power-sharing balance, but only within the Al-Nahyan clan,” she said, referring to Sheikh Mohammed by his initials.
Other observers disagree with the suggestions that the moves have any impact on Dubai’s power or its ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s role.
“The short answer is nonsense,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor at Emirates University, told CNBC in response to the question of whether the announcements shift power away from Dubai.
Abdulla explained that this is “because the division of labor has been clear from day one. The state is Abu Dhabi’s responsibility, and the government from day one, and forever, will remain Dubai’s responsibility.”
“This is in the constitution,” he added. “Abu Dhabi is not taking away anything from Dubai’s role and Dubai’s domain. So there is no sidetracking or encroaching or centralization.” The vice presidential role is also largely symbolic, he noted.
Oil-rich UAE is a member of the OPEC oil cartel and controls some of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.
The nation is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruling family, which also includes the regional business and tourism hub Dubai.
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