Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates, died on Friday at the age of 73, according to state media, after a long battle with sickness.
The oil-rich Gulf state’s president, who was rarely seen in public, is expected to be replaced by his brother, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who was already considered the UAE’s de facto ruler.
“The Ministry of Presidential Affairs has mourned to the UAE people, Arab and Islamic nations and the world the death of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan”, the official WAM news agency tweeted.
Flags will be flown at half-mast beginning Friday, and public and private sector workers will be suspended for the first three days, according to the ministry.
Sheikh Khalifa succeeded his father as the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi, the richest of the federation’s seven emirates, as the UAE’s second president in November 2004.
He hasn’t been seen in public since 2014 when he underwent surgery after suffering a stroke, but he has continued to make decisions. The reason for death was not revealed right away.
The United Arab Emirates, a former British protectorate created in 1971, has grown from a desert outpost to a thriving state in its short history, thanks to its oil wealth and Dubai’s growth as a trading and financial centre.
Behind Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s second-largest economy has begun to exert increasing political influence, filling a vacuum left by traditional powers such as Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
The ten-million-strong country also joined military actions in Libya and Yemen, breaking with the majority of the Arab world in 2020 to forge ties with Israel.
On his rare public appearances, the bearded Sheikh Khalifa cut a feeble figure, while his brother Mohammed bin Zayed hosted international leaders and oversaw diplomatic ventures overseas.
“The Emirates has lost its virtuous son and leader of the ‘stage of empowerment’ and the trustee of its blessed journey”, Mohammed bin Zayed tweeted on Friday.
“his stances, achievements, wisdom, generosity and initiatives are in every corner of the nation.. khalifa bin zayed, my brother… may god have mercy on you and grant you access to paradise“.
Sheikh Khalifa, who lacked formal education, headed the UAE as Dubai grew as a tourism and trade centre and Abu Dhabi pumped oil as a vital OPEC participant.
When Dubai was rocked by the global financial crisis in 2009, he came to its aid, giving a multibillion-dollar lifeline to the debt-ridden city.