The first Western leader to fly to the oil-rich emirate was French President Emmanuel Macron. He met with Sheikh Mohammed to pay tribute to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ailing ruler who died on Friday at the age of 73 after years of presiding over the country’s rapid transformation into a global business hub and center of regional power.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived later on Sunday to offer his condolences, along with other leaders including Israel’s president, after the two countries opened formal relations in 2020.
A high-profile US delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, in a bid to ease tensions and show support as relations between the countries have become strained under the presidency of Joe Biden. The delegation will include the US Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the director of the CIA, among others.
“He was respected by all for the values of peace, openness and dialogue he embodied,” Macron wrote on Twitter about Sheikh Khalifa, expressing “full support” for the ascension of his half-brother Sheikh Mohammed after the rulers of the federation unanimously appointed Sheikh Khalifa. him as president.
As the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed has served as the nation’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014. He has turned the tiny United Arab Emirates (population 10 million) into one of the most influential Arab states. With Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars and substantial military alongside Dubai’s major corporations and glitzy hotels, the United Arab Emirates has come to wield outsized power in the Middle East and Africa.
Even as the country became mired in years-long bloody conflict in Yemen and a chaotic proxy war in Libya, it positioned itself as a smart and reliable partner in Western capitals.
Paris and Abu Dhabi have become increasingly aligned in recent years, sharing a deep mistrust of Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, including in Turkey and Libya.
France has opened a major overseas naval base in Abu Dhabi. French fighter jets and personnel are also stationed at a facility outside the Emirati capital. The two governments jointly built a gleaming offshoot of the Louvre museum in the emirate.
During Macron’s visit to Dubai last December, France secured its biggest ever foreign order for its Rafale fighter jet with the UAE: an $18 billion deal that came as the planned US sale of jets Advanced F-35 fighter flights to the UAE stalled in part due to US concerns. on the Emirates’ relationship with China.
British Prime Minister Johnson, for his part, said his visit to mourn Sheikh Khalifa showed that “the deep ties that bind our countries will continue through our cooperation and friendship.”
It marked Johnson’s second trip this year to the desert emirate, a leading UK investor and key export market after Britain’s departure from the European Union. In March, Johnson met with Sheikh Mohammed to persuade him to boost oil production and calm energy markets after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but to no avail.
Queen Elizabeth II also congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on his assumption of power and praised her country’s “strong and historic ties” with the United Arab Emirates, a former British protectorate.
Sheikh Mohammed’s assertive foreign policy in the Arab world was on full display as allied leaders flocked to the capital on Saturday to express sorrow over Sheikh Khalifa’s death and congratulate Sheikh Mohammed on his formal ascension to power.
Among the first was Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian general who, with the support of Arab Gulf states, toppled an elected but divisive Islamist government in 2013.
Emirati-backed Tunisian President Kais Saied, who has amassed near-absolute power in the country since ousting the prime minister last year, also flew in to pay tribute, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and President and Prime Minister of Iraq.
Sudan’s Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the general who led the coup in the strategic East African nation last year, has frequently visited Sheikh Mohamed, one of his main patrons. He posted images on social media on Saturday of running up the stairs to board his plane to Abu Dhabi to honor the late Emirati president.
The UAE’s recent deal to normalize ties with Israel, born of mutual enmity with Iran, is also indicative of Sheikh Mohammed’s quietly assertive foreign policy. Before Israel’s largely ceremonial President Isaac Herzog took off for Abu Dhabi on Sunday, he offered words of thanks to the Emirati leaders.
“The partnership between our countries is an asset for us and for the entire region and has been built and continues to be built by bold and innovative leaders,” he said.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, paid his first visit to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday since 2017, as the Emirates joined the Saudi-led boycott of the small energy-rich state over its support for the Islamists. Arab states lifted their embargo and reopened borders last year, though relations between Abu Dhabi and Doha remain cool.
Meanwhile, Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s own upstart crown prince who has had a close relationship with Sheikh Mohammed, delivered his condolences by phone.