HH SHEIKH KHALIFA BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, was elected as the new President of the United Arab Emirates on 3 November 2004, to succeed his father, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Sheikh Khalifa has committed himself to continue in the footsteps of his late father, a task that he has set himself for nearly 30 years. Sheikh Khalifa has described Sheikh Zayed as his teacher and commented that he learnt something new from him every day, absorbing his values, ‘and the need for patience and prudence in all things.’
Born in the inland oasis-city of Al Ain in 1948, Sheikh Khalifa was educated in the local school. On 18 September 1966, following his father’s assumption of the post of Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa was appointed as Ruler’s Representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi and as Head of the Courts Department in Al Ain. On 1 February 1969, Sheikh Khalifa was nominated as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. This was followed on 2 February 1969 by his appointment as the Head of the Abu Dhabi Department of Defense, in which post he oversaw the development of the Abu Dhabi Defense Force (ADDF), which later became the nucleus of the UAE Armed Forces.
On 1 July 1971, as part of the restructuring of the government of the Emirate, Sheikh Khalifa was appointed as Prime Minister of Abu Dhabi and Minister of Defense and Finance. On 23 December 1973, Sheikh Khalifa became Deputy Prime Minister in the second UAE Federal Cabinet. Shortly afterwards, when the Cabinet of Abu Dhabi Emirate was dissolved, as part of the process of strengthening the institutions of the UAE Federation, Sheikh Khalifa was appointed, on 20 January 1974, as the first Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, which replaced the Emirate’s Cabinet. Under his direction, and in accordance with the instructions of Sheikh Zayed, the Executive Council oversaw the implementation of a wide-ranging development programme in Abu Dhabi, including the construction of housing, water supplies and other essential services, roads and the general infrastructure that led to the emergence of the city of Abu Dhabi as the modern metropolis that it is today.
Of particular importance in terms of ensuring that citizens were able to benefit from the country’s increasing wealth was the establishment by Sheikh Khalifa in 1981 of the Abu Dhabi Department of Social Services and Commercial Buildings, charged with the provision of loans to citizens for construction. Over Dh35 billion have been lent by this Department, with over 6000 multi-story buildings constructed throughout the Emirate. The establishment of the Department, popularly known as the ‘Khalifa Committee’, followed another decision taken by Sheikh Khalifa in 1979 to alleviate the burden on citizens of the repayment of loans from the commercial banks. This involved a fixing of the interest rate payable by citizens of loans for construction at 0.5 per cent, with the balance of the interest being charged by the banks being paid by government.
A further step to ensure that citizens were able to build the properties that they needed, both for residential and for investment purposes came with the creation by Sheikh Khalifa of the Private Loans Authority, early in 1991. By July of that year, only a few months after the Authority was created, 11,034 citizens had received loans amounting to Dh11.15 billion. The continuing growth of the population, and rising costs, led to a further step in September 2000, when Sheikh Khalifa instructed that the total amount of individual house-building loans should be raised from Dh900,000 to Dh1.2 million.
President HH Sheikh Khalifa has also been involved extensively in other areas of the country’s development. In May 1976, following the unification of the armed forces of the Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa was nominated as Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. In this capacity, he devoted much attention to the building up of the country’s defensive capability, through the establishment of many military training institutions and through the procurement of the latest military equipment and training. He recently noted, ‘the United Arab Emirates is keen that its armed forces are on a par with developments in the military sphere elsewhere in the world, in particular in terms of planning, organization, weaponry and training. We shall continue to strive for this, so that our armed forces attain the maximum efficiency possible.’
Sheikh Khalifa has held a number of other top posts in the Abu Dhabi government. Since the late 1980s, for example, he has been Chairman of the Supreme Petroleum Council, in which capacity he has also sought to ensure that the country diversifies its economy away from reliance on oil and gas production. In particular, he has worked to develop the UAE’s downstream petrochemicals and industrial complex at Ruwais. He is also Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), which oversees the country’s international aid programme, from which over 40 countries have now benefited; the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), which manages the financial reserves and investment; and the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA). Externally, Sheikh Khalifa is 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 amongst its leaders. He is a keen supporter of the regional policy of the late Sheikh Zayed, in particular in terms of promoting solidarity between the Arab States. Sheikh Khalifa is firmly committed to support of the Palestinian people and also of moves designed to promote and restore stability in Iraq and other parts of the region.
His key objectives as the new President of the United Arab Emirates, he says, “will be to continue on the path laid down by his father.” In particular, he says, he will 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.