The United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was elected president of the Gulf Arab state by a federal supreme council on Saturday, solidifying his rule over the OPEC oil producer and key regional player.
The council, which groups the rulers of the seven emirates of the UAE federation, elected Sheikh Mohammed, known as MbZ, a day after the death of his half-brother, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who was also ruler of Abu Dhabi.
“We congratulate him and pledge allegiance to him as do our people…and the entire country will follow his leadership to glory,” Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also UAE vice-president and premier, said in a Twitter post.
MbZ, 61, had already been wielding power for years in a period when Sheikh Khalifa suffered bouts of illness, including a stroke in 2014.
He becomes president at a time when the UAE’s long-standing ties with the United States have been visibly strained over perceived U.S. disengagement from its Gulf allies’ security concerns.
MbZ led a realignment of the Middle East that created a new anti-Iran axis with Israel. He also bolstered the military might of the UAE which, coupled with its oil wealth and business hub status, extended Emirati influence in the region and beyond.