Lead by Example

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed becomes the third President of the UAE.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed becomes the third President of the UAE, and likely a unique leader in the nation’s history.

Soon after the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was laid to rest in Abu Dhabi on May 14, 2022, members of the UAE’s federal supreme council unanimously elected Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the country’s new president. He was appointed the new ruler of Abu Dhabi the previous day. The 61-year-old is the son of the country’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and the younger brother of the late president, Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed helped run the president’s office during the last few years, when the late Sheikh Khalifa was in poor health following a stroke in 2014. Rulers of the six other Emirates lauded the appointment, with Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum pledging allegiance on behalf of his people and himself to the new UAE president.

The new ruler is by no means new to high-stakes positions; in addition to acting as a special advisor to the previous president, he has been Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi since 2004 and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s armed forces since 2005, among holding several other important offices since 1979.

Sheikh Mohammed is well known across the Gulf region, and around the world people are becoming more familiar with his views and his politics. Sheikh Mohammed is quite an interesting personality in many ways. He has had a long and extraordinary career spanning 40 years that has shaped and informed his political views.

He was sent to school in Morocco in 1975 by his father, the late Sheikh Zayed, and lived a largely independent life there without any royal privileges, in accordance with his father’s wishes. He was then sent to Gordonstoun School in Scotland—a boarding school that is traditionally attended by British and European royals. While many of the alumnus have described their time at Gordonstoun School as challenging, Sheikh Mohammed thrived and went on to attend the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, for the military part of his education. He has been a military man ever since.

Those who have met him often describe Sheikh Mohammed as a friendly and open-minded leader who has no reservations about meeting people face-to-face, often holding traditional receptions knows as majlis, especially during Ramadan. All Emiratis have been welcome to apply to be present at one of his majlis gatherings to voice their opinions or complaints.

As for his politics, Mohammed bin Zayed is believed to be liberal-minded and has demonstrated support for the free market and the GCC project. He will undoubtedly keep the country on the same pro-business trajectory that began with the late Sheikh Zayed and continued under Sheikh Khalifa, which helped the UAE economy outperform every other economy in the region.

Sheikh Mohammed values pluralism greatly. Several Western journalists who have spent time with Sheikh Mohammed in person have pointed out his inclusive approach to governing. Such views will appeal to the foreign workforce, who account for some 70% of the Emirati economy.

Sheikh Mohammed’s personality has yet another important aspect. Holding the rank of Lieutenant General, he has been a military man throughout his adult life. He has served in different branches of service, including the UAE Air Force, where he received his training as a fighter pilot.

In 2005, Sheikh Mohammed was promoted to Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in which capacity he restructured the Emirati Armed Forces, while thoroughly upgrading its equipment. The reforms are widely believed to have increased the military power of the UAE. The new president’s military knowledge is definitely a desirable quality, given the realities of the region and the world in 2022. Despite his enthusiasm about all things military, Sheikh Mohammed also believes in avoiding military confrontations wherever possible.

A few weeks into his presidency, the new president made an impressive appearance at Jeddah Security and Development Summit. He has also received an invitation from the US President, Joe Biden, for a state visit to the US, which will likely include a large number of economic deals. Furthermore, he completed a successful visit to France that concluded with the signing of multiple MoUs.

Back in the capital, he has held productive meetings with rulers of the Emirates. In July, he received Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to discuss the economic renaissance of the UAE, among a dozen other things. Sheikh Mohammed evidently has a tight schedule. At 61— a young age for a head of state in the Middle East—Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan will have a great deal of energy to spend on his many plans for the UAE in the coming years.