DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the United Arab Emirates, appointed his eldest son Khaled as crown prince of Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, placing him as next in line to take over as the leader of the federation.
The state-run WAM news agency announced the appointment of Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as crown prince late Wednesday, without providing further details.
After Sheikh Mohammed, 62, who is commonly known as MBZ, ascended to the presidency last year, rumors swirled about whether he would make one of his brothers his heir.
In that case, the front-runners would have been Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, the powerful national security chief, Sheikh Mansour, the owner of the Manchester City football club, or the foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah.
Instead, he appears to concentrating power within his immediate family, as Saudi Arabia's King Salman did by delegating wide-ranging powers to his son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.
A separate announcement said Sheikh Mohammed had appointed Sheikh Mansour as vice president of the UAE with the approval of the Federal Supreme Council. Sheikh Tahnoun and another brother, Sheikh Hazza, were appointed deputy rulers of Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Khaled, 41, the new crown prince, has risen to prominence at the country’s state security service and as chairman of the powerful Abu Dhabi Executive Office.
The United Arab Emirates, a close U.S. ally, is best known as the home of Dubai, a major international hub for business and travel.
The federation of seven emirates, including oil-rich Abu Dhabi, has rapidly transformed itself over the past half-century from a desert region sparsely populated by Bedouin tribes into a political and economic powerhouse with state-of-the-art infrastructure, including the world's tallest skyscraper.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE and the driving force behind its creation, ruled from 1971 until his death in 2004. He appointed his eldest son Khalifa as his successor and MBZ as deputy crown prince.
Sheikh Mohammed has been the nation’s de facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in 2014. Sheikh Khalifa, for whom the world's largest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, is named, died eight years later, in May 2022.
During Sheikh Mohammed's rule, the UAE cultivated close ties with neighboring Saudi Arabia, initially joining it in its war against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels before largely exiting the conflict years later. The UAE has sought to project military power across the region as it has opposed the rise of Islamist groups.
In 2020, the UAE normalized relations with Israel in the first of the so-called Abraham Accords, followed by Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The UAE and other Gulf Arab nations had quietly maintained ties with Israel for years befoe then, drawn together by mutual suspicions of Iran.
The UAE hosts some 3,500 U.S. troops, many at Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafra Air Base, from where drones and fighter jets flew missions combating the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. Dubai is the U.S. Navy’s busiest port of call abroad.
But strains have emerged in recent years between Sheikh Mohammed and the U.S., long a guarantor of security in the wider Persian Gulf. The UAE and Saudi Arabia were alarmed by the 2015 nuclear deal reached among Iran, the U.S. and other world powers. The chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 further fueled fears that the U.S. was pulling back from the region.
A planned U.S. sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the UAE appears to be stalled in part over American concerns about the Emirates’ relationship with China. Meanwhile, the UAE has been careful not to alienate Russia as Moscow wages war on Ukraine.