Apr 5, 2023 - World

UAE succession uncertainty put to rest as MBZ names son crown prince

Sheikh Khaled bin Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2018. Phot: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) appointed his eldest son Khaled as crown prince last week, elevating him above an older generation of senior royals and ending the uncertainty about the kingdom's line of succession.

Why it matters: It took MBZ 10 months to announce this decision after succeeding his late half-brother last May, suggesting he needed time to build internal consensus and reach an understanding with his five full brothers, some of whom were perceived as potential candidates for the crown prince position.

  • Sheikh Khalid, who is in his early 40s, has held senior positions as the head of the UAE’s domestic security service, deputy national security adviser and a member of the Abu Dhabi executive council, but he has kept a relatively low public profile.

Driving the news: His elevation was part of a broader reshuffle within the ruling family that included promotions for three of MBZ's brothers.

  • Mansour bin Zayed was appointed as vice president alongside Dubai ruler Mohammed bin Rashid, who already held that title.
  • Two other brothers, Hazza bin Zayed and Tahnoon bin Zayed, were named deputy rulers of Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Tahnoon, the UAE's power national security adviser, had been seen as a possible contender to become crown prince.
  • The ruling family presented a unified front after the announcements. Sheikh Khalid's uncles congratulated him and pledged their support, as did regional leaders, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Between the lines: The UAE constitution doesn’t clearly define the succession process.

  • “Along history, the succession of Abu Dhabi rulers was the opposite of being systematic or peaceful. The rule was inherited by brothers, nephews, cousins and sons, and in many cases, the transfer of power entailed significant rifts within the ruling family," said Moran Zaga, a researcher from the University of Haifa who specializes in the UAE.
  • MBZ, 62, was named crown prince in 2004 and became the kingdom's de facto ruler after his brother suffered a stroke a decade later.
  • “The transfer of power vertically, to his son, means that the next generations of MBZ’s brothers will be further away from the center of power. That is why MBZ made sure to distribute economic, political and symbolic power to his brothers in the framework of the same succession announcement, not one minute later," Zaga told Axios.

Between the lines: In recent months, Sheikh Khalid raised his public profile by participating in international conferences in Abu Dhabi, going on official trips abroad and meeting with visiting leaders. Government-affiliated Instagram and Twitter accounts also started to share reports, photos and videos of Sheikh Khalid.

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