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Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Through his presidency, Sheikh Khalifa exhibited the characteristics inspired by his father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, based on a modest and open management style. He dealt with those who worked with him with dignity and respect, giving them flexibility to take the initiative, skilfully maintaining their trust and motivating them to make constant effort. Image Credit: WAM/Gulf News Archives

The nation is united in grief on the announcement of the death of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

On November 2, 2004, on the death of his father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa was named Ruler of Abu Dhabi. A day later, on November 3, 2004, he was elected President of the UAE and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces by the members of the Supreme Council.

Since then, Sheikh Khalifa had been a source of leadership, wisdom, inspiration, tolerance and national guidance, a gentle hand on the tiller as the ship of state eased through the waters of progress.

Sheikh Khalifa always put the well-being of his nation and its people first, determined that they should enjoy the bounty of the fruits of those who lead.

Sheikh Khalifa was a determined champion of all his people’s needs. He ensured housing was plentiful and available to all citizens and that schools provided the best education to Emirati children so that they had the best foundation possible in life.

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan with his father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Image Credit: WAM

Sheikh Khalifa was also determined to protect the environment and the UAE’s unique natural landscape. He ensured that the rich tapestry of the UAE’s history and heritage was preserved for all.

Sheikh Khalifa also put the UAE at the centre of research and innovation in renewable energy. The UAE’s hospitals and care centres are today counted among the best in the world thanks to his efforts.

Along with securing the economic well-being of his people, Sheikh Khalifa also strengthened the role and resources of the UAE Armed Forces, thereby creating a nation where a just and open government ensures that peace and prosperity go hand in hand with dignity and respect for all.

Across the Arab world, where the virtues he personified can be seen in the charitable and humanitarian works of the UAE government, there is a profound sadness that pervades every place where the black, green, white and red flag of the UAE has flown; over camps for those affected by political strife; over kitchens where the hungry are fed; over hospitals where the sick and desperate are given aid and treatment; and over schools where the previous gift of learning is bestowed on those born in divided and underprivileged societies where education is a luxury and not a fundamental right of all.

Around the world, where roads link isolated communities, where wells are deep and water sweet, where electricity is a constant, where bridges are no longer swept away in spring torrents or winter storms, Sheikh Khalifa touched the lives of tens of thousands of people with his generosity, leadership and belief that the UAE can and does make a difference.

Early years

Sheikh Khalifa was born in Al Muwaiji Fort, Al Ain, in 1948. Though Al Muwaiji village was then a small place compared to the other villages in the cluster of oases dominated by Al Ain and Al Buraimi, it was, nevertheless, a centre of influence for the Al Bu Falah subsection of the Bani Yas tribal confederation and the Al Nahyan ruling family in the numerous oases of the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi as well as in the interior of eastern Arabia.

Sheikh Khalifa spent his early childhood years in this fort, which still stands opposite the Court (diwan) of the Ruler’s Representative on the outskirts of Al Ain, and in which his late father had settled in his youth in 1946 after being assigned by his brother, Sheikh Shakhbout bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to be the Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region.

Our union is the safety valve of our country and our unity is the strong shield of our glorious achievements; in fact, it is the source of our unyielding strength.

- Shaikh Khalifa in December 2012

The oasis of Al Ain, where Sheikh Khalifa spent his early years, was a place of strategic and vital economic significance for Abu Dhabi. It was a main agricultural hub and major strategic centre for the security of the region as it was positioned at the crossroads that linked the coast to the interior of eastern Arabia.

The very difficult task of Sheikh Zayed at that time was to take leadership of the discordant tribes there and in the surrounding region, to ensure internal stability and security, to consolidate state authority, and to bring prosperity to the tribes despite the paucity of resources.

Public office

After Sheikh Zayed became Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, he appointed Sheikh Khalifa as Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region, a delegation of authority that was seen as a mark of the high confidence he had in his son, who started his long career in public service with skill.

On February 1, 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was named Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. He was named a day later to head the defence department of the emirate, coinciding with the formation of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force, which was later to form the nucleus of the UAE Armed Forces. In May 1976, he was named Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.


Sheikh Khalifa’s character and ideals are based on his father, from whom he learnt and gained experience in leadership. Therefore he was well able to take on his new responsibilities when became the ruler of the Abu Dhabi following Sheikh Zayed’s death on November 2, 2004, and the next day was elected UAE President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces by the Supreme Council members.

Throughout his long years in government, Sheikh Khalifa exhibited the same unique characteristics inspired by his father, based on a modest and open management style. In the region, Sheikh Khalifa was a strong supporter of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, believing that the success and achievements of this body reflect the depth of understanding reached among its leaders.

A keen supporter of the regional policy of Sheikh Zayed, in particular in terms of promoting solidarity between the Arab states, Sheikh Khalifa was firmly committed to support of the Palestinian people and also of moves designed to promote and restore stability in Iraq.

His key objectives as UAE President, Sheikh Khalifa said, was to continue on the path set down by his father. In particular, he said, he would continue with the ‘open door’ policy and with the practice of holding regular consultations with the country’s citizens, so that he may become aware of, and follow up on, their needs and concerns.

When the UAE and Dubai were awarded the right to host Expo 2020, Sheikh Khalifa expressed pride at the international recognition in the following words: “It is a day of expressing our gratitude to great men, who laid down the foundation of a successful state whose achievements have taken the world by surprise and for providing its citizens with sources of strength and welfare,” he said.

On his death, his words ring true still.

— With inputs by Gulf News Archives