Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates, has named his eldest son crown prince of Abu Dhabi as part of a series of changes to the oil-rich Gulf state’s top leadership.
The appointment of Sheikh Khaled as heir apparent was widely expected as he has taken on more prominent roles in recent years and it will end speculation about the succession, particularly the potential for a power struggle.
Sheikh Mohammed also promoted three of his full brothers, naming Sheikh Tahnoon, who is the UAE’s national security adviser and also oversees a sprawling business empire, and Sheikh Hazza, who is deputy chair of Abu Dhabi’s powerful executive council, as deputy rulers of the emirate.
Sheikh Mansour, the UAE’s deputy prime minister and best known outside the Gulf for owning English football club Manchester City, was appointed vice-president of the state. That will mean he will serve alongside Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the prime minister and the ruler of Dubai.
The changes come almost a year after Sheikh Mohammed, known as MBZ, became president of the UAE, a federation of seven emirates, and the ruler of Abu Dhabi after the death of his half brother, Sheikh Khalifa.
MBZ had already been the Gulf state’s de facto leader for almost a decade as Sheikh Khalifa’s health declined, and he is regarded as one of the Arab world’s most influential leaders. The UAE has pursued an assertive foreign policy under his watch.
Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East programme at think-tank Chatham House, said MBZ had “formalised multiple appointments to show confidence and capacity”.
“The moves also institutionalise a succession process which is important to build confidence about the UAE’s continuity and governance model,” she said.
The appointments cement the influence of MBZ and his five full brothers, known as the “Bani Fatima six” in reference to their mother.
Sheikh Khaled, the crown prince, is in his early 40s and was educated in the US before starting his formal government career within the security services. He has taken on increasingly senior posts in recent years and is a member of Abu Dhabi’s executive council, the capital’s top decision-making body, and chair of the Abu Dhabi executive office.
His public profile has also been raised as he has inaugurated projects, hosted chief executives of multinational companies and met foreign dignitaries.
Signs of changes to senior positions came earlier this month when Sheikh Tahnoon was named chair of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia) the emirate’s $790bn sovereign wealth fund, replacing the late Sheikh Khalifa.
He was already one of the UAE’s most influential figures and chairs ADQ, a state investment company, First Abu Dhabi Bank, the country’s largest lender, and International Holding Company, a listed conglomerate that has a market capitalisation of about $236bn.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Mansour replaced MBZ this month as chair of Mubadala, one Abu Dhabi’s most active state investment funds, which manages assets of about $284bn.
Gulf experts said those moves were a sign of MBZ stepping back from some of his roles as he settles into the presidency and elevates his most trusted lieutenants.
Abu Dhabi is by far the most powerful of the seven emirates that make up the federation, each with its own ruling family, and it steers the UAE’s foreign and defence policies.
MBZ’s appointments come at time when Abu Dhabi is enjoying a petrodollar windfall from last year’s oil boom and is becoming an increasingly active global investor through its stable of sovereign wealth funds.