A stroke suffered by the president of the United Arab Emirates may cement a process that has already seen his brother assume greater responsibility in running the oil-rich nation.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, born in 1948, underwent surgery on Jan. 24 and “his health is now stable,” the state-run WAM news agency reported, citing a statement from the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
Even before the incident, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, 52, had been running the daily affairs of the country’s wealthiest emirate, according to U.A.E.-based political analysts. The crown prince is also the deputy supreme commander of the military, while Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum heads the federal cabinet.
“In practical terms you’re not going to see any dramatic change as Sheikh Khalifa recuperates,” Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East, said by phone from Abu Dhabi. Since Sheikh Khalifa became president, “major decisions are not made by one man. There is a lot of consultation.”
Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohammed reassured heads of states, including Saudi Arabia’s king, that the president was in a stable condition, the state-run news agency reported. The U.A.E. is a federation of seven emirates co-founded in 1971 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was Abu Dhabi’s ruler. The country is the third-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the second-biggest Arab economy.
As crown prince and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, Sheikh Mohammed “has been extremely active in the day-to-day affairs of the U.A.E.’s foreign and domestic policies,” said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai.
Abu Dhabi’s credit risk, measured by five-year credit default swaps, rose two basis points to 58 today, compared with 217 basis points for Dubai, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Sheikh Mohammed has also helped boost closer economic and financial integration with Dubai, the Middle East’s financial and trade hub. Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Development Co., headed by the crown prince, and the Investment Corp. of Dubai, announced in June the creation of Emirates Global Aluminium, a joint venture integrating Dubai Aluminium and Emirates Aluminium.
The merger “would not have happened without Sheikh Mohammed’s blessing,” said Nuseibeh.
Born in March, 1961, Sheikh Mohammed graduated from the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, according to his official website.
He became crown prince in 2004, when Sheikh Khalifa succeeded his late father as Abu Dhabi ruler and was elected as president by the Federal Supreme Council, a body made up of the rulers of the seven emirates. In 2009, the council re-elected him for a second, five-year term.
Sheikh Khalifa is also chairman of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with about $627 billion of assets, according to the website of the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute in California.
“Just as with any leadership, there’s a succession plan,” said Karasik. “It’s ready to be implemented when needed. There is no reason to doubt that the transition will be smooth and that continuity will be preserved.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Alaa Shahine in Dubai at firstname.lastname@example.org