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France’s President Emmanuel Macron, centre, and Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, right, offer their condolences to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, at Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi on May 15. Photo: Ministry of Presidential Affairs - Abu Dhabi / AFP

World leaders arrive in UAE to pay respects after death of president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed

  • French President Emmanuel Macron told new leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi that the UAE could ‘count on France’s friendship’
  • US President Joe Biden will be represented by Vice-President Kamala Harris, expected to visit on Monday
Middle East

World leaders descended on the United Arab Emirates on Sunday to offer condolences to new leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in a show of support to a key regional player.

Sheikh Mohammed, now ruler of wealthy Abu Dhabi emirate, steered the Western-allied Gulf state, an OPEC oil producer and regional business hub, for years before being named the UAE’s third president by a federal supreme council on Saturday.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country holds lucrative business and military ties with the UAE, told Sheikh Mohammed in Abu Dhabi that the UAE could “count on France’s friendship” and discussed the Ukraine conflict, the Elysee said.

Members of the UAE royal family at Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on May 15. Photo: United Arab Emirates Ministry of Presidential Affairs/ Handout via Reuters

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said before heading to the Emirati capital that the establishment of ties between the UAE and Israel two years ago was an asset for the whole region built by “bold and groundbreaking leaders”, including Sheikh Khalifa.

The UAE, along with Bahrain, upended decades of Arab consensus by forging relations with Israel, creating a new anti-Iran axis in the region and drawing Palestinian ire.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas travelled to the UAE to offer his condolences while Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to arrive in Abu Dhabi later on Sunday.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani also visited and met Sheikh Mohammed, the Qatari Amiri Diwan said, in a first such a visit since 2017 when the UAE and Saudi Arabia imposed a boycott on Doha.

Doha and Abu Dhabi had been for years locked in a bitter rivalry over the role of political Islam in the Muslim world. The rift was partially resolved last year.

UAE’s ailing President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed dies at 73

US President Joe Biden, whose administration has had fraught ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, will be represented by Vice-President Kamala Harris, expected to visit on Monday.

Several Arab leaders paid respects on Saturday. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, whose father King Salman entered hospital a week ago, sent a delegation.

Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, has been a driving force in Middle East politics, championing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the West as he rose to power and combating political Islam, seen as a threat to Gulf dynastic rule, around the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron offers condolences to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan at the Mushrif Palace in Abu Dhabi, UAE on May 15. Photo: EPA-EFE / WAM

MbZ deepened ties with Russia and China as Gulf states increasingly questioned the regional commitment of traditional security guarantor the United States. Strains in US-Emirati ties were highlighted by the Ukraine conflict as Gulf states refused to side with Western allies in isolating Russia.

After years of enmity Abu Dhabi has also moved to engage with Iran and Turkey as the UAE doubles down on economic growth amid rising regional competition and a global push away from hydrocarbons, the lifeblood of Gulf economies.