Mohamed bin Zayed, the strong man of the Middle East, takes the reins of the United Arab Emirates

Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyanone of the most powerful men in the Middle East, has become after the death of his half-brother Khalifa in the new Emir of Abu Dhabiand president of United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that has already been ruling in the shadow of its predecessor for a decade.

Mohamed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, has been de facto ruling the small oil-rich country since 2014, when the late President Khalifa suffered a stroke that removed him from public life, and also from the decision-making process.

MBZ witnessed the transformation of the Emirates From rags to richesand has been determined in recent years to turn the country – initially insignificant in geopolitical terms – into one of the greatest regional powers, both at a military, economic and political level.

His declared fierce fight against Islamism and religious extremism – inside and outside the borders of the UAE – was one of the main reasons that motivated him to intervene to crush the pro-democracy protests in the Persian Gulf in 2011 which, in his opinion, were an ideal breeding ground for radical ideas.

They have declared a fierce fight against Islamism and religious extremism

One of his main fears is that his country or the entire region will be “destabilized”, for which MBZ ordered extensive arrest campaigns against dissidents and to participate in wars such as the one in Yemen, where he also perceives a threatening Iranian presence, his great regional enemy. politically and religiously.

Now, this enthusiast of weapons and combat aircraft is at the head of a small country of just 9.8 million inhabitants -of which only 10% are Emiratis-, which he wants to position on the map as military powerlike a sort of Sparta in the Middle East.

A fan of the military

MBZ was born on March 11, 1961 in Al-Ainin the emirate of Abu Dhabi, before his father, Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, unified the seven emirates that make up the UAE.

His father, still revered in the Emirates, is Bin Zayed’s main influence, especially with regard to tolerance between religions and humility, something he also wants to pass on to his children, as he has said in interviews.

He became a helicopter pilot and later led the Emirati Air Force, of which he was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander in 2005.

After studying for a short period in MoroccoMBZ graduated from the sandhurst military academy (UK), became a helicopter pilot and later led the emirate air forceof which he was appointed deputy supreme commander in 2005.

A year earlier he was named heir Prince after the death of his father and the rise of his stepbrother Khalifa, who after suffering health problems in 2014 disappeared from the scene, giving way to a hyperactive MBZ obsessed with diversifying the country’s economy and, above all, endowing it with the best military technology, which it buys massively from the US, its largest global partner.

Today, the Emirates has the best trained and equipped army in the region, only behind Israel, a country with which it established diplomatic relations in 2020 for economic, development and security purposes.

This change, at the expense of the claims of Palestinehe did it to counteract Iran, a country that he also does not want to see reach any “thaw” with the West such as the one that could bring a new nuclear deal.

Under his orders, the Emirates embarked on military interventions such as the war against the Islamic State in Iraq; the bombings in support of Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces in Libya and, above all – in alliance with Saudi Arabia – the war against the Houthis in Yemen that began in 2015.

A “liberal” autocrat

MBZ exhibits distance from currents more conservative of Islam and has tried to wipe its influence off the map, real or perceived. That is why in 2017 he imposed an embargo on Taste along with three other countries, after accusing Doha of financing extremist groups, in relation to the Muslim Brotherhood. That also led to tension with the Turkey of Recep Tayyib Erdogan, although he has already begun to improve his relations with both countries.

MBZ exhibits distance from the most conservative currents of Islam and has tried to erase its influence from the map, real or perceived.

In return, he embraces “tolerance” and has tried to sell the image of the Emirates as plural and cosmopolitan country and with opportunities for men and women. He also dedicated great efforts to diversify the federation’s economy, which is heavily dependent on oil, and promote digital administration.

He directly supervises the investment funds of the small emirate, amounting to a whopping 1.3 billion dollars, and has consolidated the country as one of the most important business destinations (and tax haven) in the world.

MBZ also has a close relationship with the Spanish King Emeritus Juan Carlos, with whom he has appeared on numerous occasions in public meetings and whom he has welcomed since the monarch settled in Abu Dhabi after being investigated by the Spanish prosecutor for tax crimes.

Despite its apparent efforts, the lack of freedom of expression and the repression against dissidents, as well as its penchant for wars, separate the UAE from international standards to which the new Emirati leader is not willing to give in.


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