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MbZ: the man, the leader and the economic vision

Abu Dhabi's new ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan Thomson Reuters
Abu Dhabi's new ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan

The new president of the UAE is set to continue to build on the progress he has made as de facto leader in recent years 

The UAE is expected to “unswervingly continue” to implement its vision to build a sustainable knowledge-based economy for generations to come under the leadership of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Sheikh Mohamed was elected as the country’s third president by a federal supreme council on Saturday.

According to state news agency WAM, his economic vision will be centred around accelerating growth for the next 50 years under the Centennial 2071 plan.

MbZ, as he is known, is focused on “relying on knowledge, innovation and investment in people, enhancing the role of the private sector as an active partner in the economic landscape, promoting investment incentives, and ensuring more economic diversification, while continuing to maximise utilisation of oil and gas resources and enhancing the nation’s ability to produce more renewable and clean energy in the coming decades,” WAM said.

It added that Sheikh Mohamed’s vision stems from the efforts of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to “tap into new resources and utilising potential”. 

His ambitions were expressed during a speech at the opening of the 2015 World Governments Summit when he said: “We think and plan for the next 50 years, and for the benefit of the next generations, by building a diversified, solid and sustainable economy that does not depend only on traditional resources and opens promising prospects that contribute to strengthening the foundations and capabilities of the nation.”

As Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, his directives were crucial in advancing the growing worldwide reputation of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), developing the energy sector with initiatives such as the UAE Retreat on Post-Oil Phase in 2016, which was a pillar in the UAE’s plans for the next decades.

Driving force for economic growth

MbZ has also been the driving force behind many initiatives that contributed to supporting the economic growth and diversity of Abu Dhabi, in addition to the construction boom in the emirate. 

In September 2021, Sheikh Mohamed tweeted: “The UAE has succeeded in establishing its status as an economic capital in the region and an ideal business landscape with world-class digital infrastructure, services, security and competitive investment benefits.

“The launch of our new economic campaign aims to secure the UAE’s position as one of the strongest global economies over the next 50 years.”

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Sunday congratulated MbZ on his election, saying: “I am confident that under his dynamic and visionary leadership, our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership will continue to deepen”.

The deal signed recently between the two countries covers 11 service sectors and is expected to increase UAE imports from India by $14.3 billion by 2030.

“MbZ will need to take further steps to cement the UAE’s position as the region’s leading financial, logistics, and trading hub,” James Swanston of Capital Economics said in a note, referring to a push by Gulf states to diversify economies amid a global energy transition away from hydrocarbons.

“Mohamed bin Zayed has set not only the future course for the UAE but for much of the Gulf in his approach to state building and power projection,” said Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“The future direction under him is set and is mirrored in other Gulf leaders adopting state-led and globally-oriented economic diversification.”

Born on March 11 1961, MbZ is the third son of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

He was educated at schools in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi until the age of 18. In 1979, he joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK, where he trained in armour, helicopter flying, tactical flying and paratroops. 

After graduating in April 1979, MbZ returned home to the UAE to join the Officers’ Training Course in Sharjah, and has held a number of roles in the UAE military including officer in the Amiri Guard, the UAE’s elite security force, and pilot in the UAE Air Force.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed helped develop the UAE Armed Forces in terms of strategic planning, training, organisational structure and promoting defence capabilities. 

Finger, Person, HumanThomson Reuters
Sheikh Mohamed will aim to build on his predecessor’s work to build a sustainable economy

Commitment to education

He is also known for his unwavering commitment to enhance educational standards in Abu Dhabi and raise them to be on par with the best international standards. 

Since MbZ took on the chairmanship of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, he has forged partnerships with world-class educational institutions and think-tanks, a number of which have subsequently announced plans to either establish a base in the emirate or join joint ventures with existing academic establishments.

He believes that investing in education is the most valuable investment for delivering the future of a nation and is a big fan of technology to achieve this.

Environmental protection has also received attention from Sheikh Mohamed and he was instrumental in establishing the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, and has led significant conservation efforts to protect falcons and houbara bustards in the UAE and internationally.

Another key milestone, Sheikh Mohamed announced in 2008 that the Abu Dhabi Government would contribute $15 billion to Masdar, the renewable energy initiative and developer of the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero waste city.

According to WAM, Sheikh Mohamed “always seeks to revive the noble human values ​​of religion, and strengthen the spirit of fraternity among human beings”.

After the UAE named 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, he received Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and the Grand Imam, Dr Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Sheikh Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, and the meeting resulted in the signing of the Human Fraternity Document. 

He has been dedicated to serving humanity and has directed the nation’s humanitarian arm, Emirates Red Crescent, along with other charitable societies, to provide help to people affected by wars, disasters and crises.

Working behind the scenes for years as de facto leader, Sheikh Mohammed began wielding power in a period when his half-brother President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who died on Friday, suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum affirmed that the election of MbZ as the UAE’s President represented “a new historic era of accelerating development aimed at consolidating the global sovereignty and pioneering of the Emirates”.

Sheikh Mohammed, also Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, added in a statement: “For many years, the people of the Emirates have loved His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for his generosity and kindness. They saw him visit them in their homes, motivate them in their fields of work, and they witnessed the launching of development projects, new industries, and the construction of national economic sectors through many years of service to his country and people.

“Today, the people pledge allegiance to him and follow his guidance to lead them into a new historical path in the UAE.”

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said: “Under your leadership, we embark on a new historical path full of achievements and hopes.”

MbZ also received a phone call from Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, congratulating him on the election, while Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa sent a cable, stressing his keenness to continue strengthening ties and cooperation.

MbZ as president would not lead the UAE to break with the United States or other Western partners though he will diversify the country’s international partners, Emirati political scientist Abulkhaleq Abdulla told Reuters.

He has shifted away from a hawkish foreign policy and military adventurism, that saw the UAE enter into conflicts from Yemen to Libya, to focus on economic priorities. This has seen the UAE engage with foes Iran and Turkey after years of animosity, as well as Syria’s president.

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