The UAE’s long-time de facto ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected as president on Saturday, official media said, a day after the death of former leader Sheikh Khalifa.
The 61-year-old was unanimously elected by the Federal Supreme Council, WAM news agency said, becoming the ruler of the oil-rich country founded by his father in 1971.
Sheikh Mohamed, often known as “MBZ”, met members of the Federal Supreme Council, made up of rulers of the UAE’s seven emirates, as the country enters a period of mourning for his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa.
Sheikh Mohamed’s ascension, which was widely expected, formalises his position as leader of the desert state of 10 million after years of calling the shots while Sheikh Khalifa was sidelined by poor health.
Under his low-key direction, the United Arab Emirates has put a man into space, sent a probe to Mars and opened its first nuclear reactor, while using its oil-funded clout to develop a more assertive foreign policy.
Closely allied with Saudi Arabia, it has emerged as a leader of a reshaped Middle East since the retreat of traditional Arab powers and the reduced involvement of the United States, forging ties with Israel and joining a war against Iran-backed militants in Yemen.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to offer his congratulations, saying his election would “help reinforce the friendly relations” between the two countries.
Official media had already named Sheikh Mohamed as the ruler of Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s richest emirate, on Friday, inheriting one of the main titles held by Sheikh Khalifa who died at 73.
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