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From childhood in Al Ain to revered leader: Sheikh Khalifa’s path to UAE presidency

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It was on November 3, 2004, that Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in his 57th year, took over as the United Arab Emirate’s second-ever president and leader of the nation.

He succeeded his father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Al Nahyan, as the 16th ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the country’s seven cities and until 1971 an independent emirate, a day after the founding father’s passing.

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Just a few weeks later, in a poignant speech on his first National Day as President, Sheikh Khalifa spoke of the “deep sense of sadness and bereavement that has filled our hearts over the passing of our father, leader and Founding Father of our nation.”

Sheikh Zayed, he said, had “cherished a dream and devoted his life to achieving that dream, using the oil wealth to build a modern state in which both UAE nationals and resident expatriates enjoy a decent living. His deep sense of commitment to the welfare of his people enabled him to overcome the hurdles that stood in his way, ultimately succeeding in bringing the country to where it is today.”

Sheikh Khalifa turned to his goal of carrying on in his father’s footsteps to chart the UAE towards a path of progress and prosperity.

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan (Supplied: WAM)
President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan (Supplied: WAM)

At that time, he was already accustomed to a life of public service, which first began in his teenage years.

Born in 1948 in al-Muwaiji fort, Sheikh Khalifa was trained at the first local school in al-Ain, which had also been established by his father.

It was on September 18, 1966, when he was aged just 18, that Sheikh Khalifa was appointed Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region and Head of the Courts Department in al-Ain.

Over the years his responsibilities extended.

On February 1, 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was nominated as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and on the next day, he was appointed Head of the Abu Dhabi Department of Defense. In that post, he oversaw the build-up of the Abu Dhabi Defense Force, which after 1971 became the core of the UAE Armed Forces.

Following the establishment of the UAE in 1971, Sheikh Khalifa assumed several positions in Abu Dhabi: Prime Minister, head of the Abu Dhabi Cabinet (under his father), Minister of Defense, and Minister of Finance. After the reconstruction of the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi Cabinet was replaced by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and Sheikh Khalifa became the second Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (December 23, 1973) and the Chairman of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi (January 20, 1974).

In 1976, following the decision by the Federal Supreme Council to create a unified military force for the new nation, he was appointed as Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with responsibility for training and the introducing modern equipment.

Some of Sheikh Khalifa’s most prominent roles were his chairmanships of Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council, founded in 1988, and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which he was instrumental in creating in 1976 and has since grown to become the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.

After being named the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on November 3, 2004, he was reelected in 2009 for a second five-year term, a term which was renewed again until his passing.

Away from public duties, Sheikh Khalifa – whose full name is Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa bin Shakhbout bin Theyab bin Issa bin Nahyan bin Falah bin Yas – was married to Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail al-Mazrouei, and together they have eight children: two sons and six daughters.

Widely loved and revered, Sheikh Khalifa was renowned for being a good listener, modest, affable and interested in his people, and was known for his regular tours of the regions and other emirates.

He was reputed to have had many hobbies, including fishing and falconry, both pastimes he developed a love for from his father, the late Sheikh Zayed.

Like his father, Sheikh Khalifa had a vision for the future. In October last year, he issued a decree on the adoption of the country’s ten principles for the next fifty years.

Read more: UAE president issues decree to adopt country’s ten principles for next 50 years

These included strengthening the Union, its institutions, legislature, capabilities and finances.

Another principle was for the UAE over the upcoming period build the best and most dynamic economy in the world.

Sheikh Khalifa had rarely been seen in public since 2014 after undergoing surgery following a stroke, even as his country continued to gain recognition on the global scene.

Read more:

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed dies at age 73

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed: UAE ‘lost its righteous son’ following Sheikh Khalifa death