World leaders descend on the United Arab Emirates to pay their respects to the late ruler

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A string of presidents and prime ministers continued to arrive in the United Arab Emirates from around the world on Sunday to pay their respects to the federation’s late ruler. They also turned out to praise his successor, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a clear sign of Abu Dhabi’s influence in Western and Arab capitals.

The first Western leader to fly into the oil-rich capital of Abu Dhabi was French President Emmanuel Macron. He met Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday to pay tribute to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the country’s ruler who died on Friday at the age of 73.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to arrive later on Sunday to offer his condolences, along with other leaders including Israeli President Isaac Herzog, after the two countries opened formal relations in 2020.

An American delegation led by Vice President Kamala Harris will visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, in a bid to show support after relations between the countries have recently been strained.

Arab heads of state including close allies Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and King Abdullah II of Jordan traveled to the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.

“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 built the small United Arab Emirates into a highly influential state, wielding military might and huge trade in the Middle East and Africa. .

Even as the country became embroiled 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 major 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.

Sheikh Mohammed’s assertive foreign policy was on full display as allied Arab leaders flocked to the capital to express sorrow over Sheikh Khalifa’s death and congratulate him on his formal ascension to power. Among the first was el-Sissi, the Egyptian general who, with the support of Gulf Arabs, toppled an elected but divisive Islamist government in 2013.

Emirati-backed Tunisian President Kais Saied, who has amassed almost absolute power in the country since ousting the prime minister last year, also flew in to pay tribute, along with Iraq’s president and prime minister.

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 Saturday of running up the stairs to board his plane to Abu Dhabi to pay tribute to the late president.

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