Given that the UAE had only ever had one president, Sheikh Zayed, and as a result there was no precedent for selecting a new one, the meeting represented something of a watershed in UAE politics. Nevertheless, Sheikh Khalifa had been widely expected to succeed his father, being the ruler of Abu Dhabi – the richest emirate and UAE capital – as well as an experienced statesman: in recent years, he had frequently stood in for Sheikh Zayed at meetings at home and abroad.
Preparations for the post-Zayed era have been gathering pace over the last 12 months. The appointment of Sheikh Zayed’s third son, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, as Abu Dhabi’s deputy crown prince, was seen as the final piece in the emirate’s succession jigsaw. Recent months have also witnessed the younger generation taking on a more prominent economic role, with the Department of Economy and ADDAR Real Estate Services making their mark.
One of Sheikh Zayed’s final acts was to issue a decree on 1 November appointing a new federal cabinet. The biggest reshuffle for over a decade saw an injection of younger blood and the appointment of the UAE’s first female minister. However, it will be a little while before the new ministers will be able to get their feet under their desks. A week-long mourning period for Sheikh Zayed followed by the week-long Eid holiday means that government agencies are not expected to reopen until 20 November.