Middle East | 27 May 2022

United Arab Emirates (UAE): New president elected to head the country’s growing regional influence

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The death of UAE’s President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan was announced on 13 May 2022 (Haaretz, 13 May 2022). The Federal Supreme council elected his successor, Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (also known as MBZ), the following day.

World Watch Research analyst Michael Bosch comments: “The election of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince comes as no surprise since he has de facto ruled the country after his half-brother suffered a stroke in 2014. Hence, no significant policy changes should be expected, although he will probably encourage Abu Dhabi to further increase its dominant role, at the expense of the other emirates, especially Dubai. More telling than the death of Sheikh Khalifa, is the number of dignitaries that made the effort to bring personal condolences, including France’s President Macron, UK Prime Minister Johnson and USA Vice-president Harris (Haaretz, 15 May 2022UK Government, 14 May 2022The White House, 16 May 2022). It signals the growing global role the UAE is playing, reaching a level where it could almost be termed a regional power.”

Michael Bosch continues: “As highlighted in a recent report by the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, the UAE has recently changed its foreign policy from a more aggressive approach to one ‘focusing on economic development as a path to security’ (MDC, 17 May 2022). The UAE seems to have made the decision that it can no longer lean on the USA for military protection, especially since the latter seems determined to revive the Iran nuclear agreement. Hence, via the Abraham Accords with Israel and an increased cooperation with Egypt, the UAE is trying to build its own security network, with the USA no longer playing a central role. But more importantly, the UAE has ceased to regard Islamist movements, especially the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), as a threat to its own authoritarian rule and like-minded autocracies in the wider region. That is why the UAE feels confident to warm up economic relations with Turkey, the main MB backer, in exchange for a decrease in Turkish support for the MB (Al Jazeera, 15 February 2022AGSIW, 6 May 2022).”

Michael Bosch adds: “Together with an increased emphasis on religious tolerance, including the building of the so-called Abrahamic Family House, which is due to open this year (Khaleej Times, 15 May 2022), the UAE is trying to present itself to the world as a modern Islamic nation, as tolerant and open towards other religions as possible, while not compromising its Islamic culture. This move away from fundamentalist interpretations of Islam is a welcome sign for the many Christian expatriates residing in the country. Yet, although the emphasis on tolerance might change attitudes in the long-term, it is unlikely in the short-term that converts from Islam to Christianity will receive any form of recognition. Hence, Freedom of Religion or Belief will remain limited in the UAE.”


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