Political developments in the UAE and the future of relations with Iran

With the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of the UAE on May 13, 2022 and after 8 years of struggling with the disease caused by a stroke and plant life and the full rise to power of the crown prince and his half-brother Mohamed bin Zayed, many domestic and foreign circles of the UAE were waiting for the introduction of the new crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, who is supposed to succeed Mohammed bin Zayed as the head of the United Arab Emirates.
08 April 2023
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With the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former ruler of the UAE on May 13, 2022 and after 8 years of struggling with the disease caused by a stroke and plant life and the full rise to power of the crown prince and his half-brother Mohamed bin Zayed, many domestic and foreign circles of the UAE were waiting for the introduction of the new crown prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, who is supposed to succeed Mohammed bin Zayed as the head of the United Arab Emirates.

Based on the customary practice in the Emirates, the president of Abu Dhabi is the head of the Emirates while retaining his position, and the president of Dubai is his deputy and not his crown prince. Therefore, whoever is the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, can potentially become the next president of Abu Dhabi and the entire Emirates. Therefore, this point has caused the importance of the crown prince postition in Abu Dhabi.

Since the time of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founder of the new Emirates (died in 2004), the procedure was such that one of the brothers of the current ruler of the UAE was introduced as the crown prince, but the appointment of the new crown prince took about a year. Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed, Chairman of the National Security Council of the UAE and Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Presidency of the UAE (Presidential Institution), among the other brothers of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the current ruler of the UAE, had more luck to be appointed to the position of crown prince. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, after 8 years as crown prince and one year as president of the UAE and consolidating his power and position in recent days, by issuing a decree that was approved by the Supreme Federal Council of this country composed of the heads of the seven emirates of the UAE (Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and so on) appointed his eldest son, Sheikh Khalid bin Muhammad, as the new Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and in fact, like Saudi Arabia, by creating a heresy, he changed the practice of transferring power from brother to brother to the transfer of power from the father to the son.

Khalid bin Mohammed bin Zayed, born in 1982, is the eldest son of the current president of the UAE, who completed his education at Sandhurst Military Academy in England. He was the deputy national security advisor, the head of the country's security apparatus and the head of the executive office of Abu Dhabi. He seems to be a dignified, innovative, educated and decent young man.

After finishing his educations, he entered the security agency of the UAE government and has been the head of this agency since 2016. In the same year, he was elected as the deputy advisor of the Supreme National Security Council of the UAE. On January 21, 2019, Sheikh Khaled was elected a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and then became the head of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office. In this position, he supervised all programs and meetings in the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. He is also a member of the board of directors of Abu Dhabi Investment Holding and Emirates National Oil Company.

Of course, maybe this appointment was not so unexpected. In the last few years, Sheikh Khaled bin Mohammed gradually came out of the shadow of security affairs and in addition to interviews with international media such as CNN, he participated in important meetings and missions; the two most recent examples of which were participating in the funeral of Shinzo Abe, the late Prime Minister of Japan, and leading the emergency aid mission to the earthquake victims of Turkey and Syria.

Of course, Sheikh Mohammed appointed his brother Mansour bin Zayed, the Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and the President of the Presidency of this country, as the Deputy President of the UAE, and also appointed his two other brothers, Tahnoun and Hazzaa, as the Deputy Rulers of Abu Dhabi, and with this, he also gave them some privileges so that he might get more of their support.

Sheikh Tahnoun, as the head of the UAE Security Council, has played a role in the developments of the region for many years. He has also played a role in the reconstruction and improvement of UAE relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey and has been effective in normalizing UAE relations with the Zionist regime in order to form a positive balance in the UAE's foreign policy. Therefore, it is said that he was the main loser of the new political structure of the UAE.

Some believe that the appointment of the new crown prince of the UAE may have been made with the consent of other members of the Sheikh Zayed family, but it will complicate the geometry of power in this sheikhdom. Until now, the brothers of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed were in charge of important political, security and economic cases and were at the head of the affairs related to this sheikhdom and the entire emirate. Now, the role of Sheikh Khalid in the UAE, like Muhammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, who, by creating a heresy in the royal family, was placed in the position of crown prince, will increase in important local, regional and international cases, and reduce the role and importance of the current ruling brothers (Sheikh Tahnoun and Sheikh Mansour).

During the eight years that Sheikh Khalifa was ill, Sheikh Mohammed was able to turn the UAE into an advanced regional power, especially in the field of economy, commerce, technology, etc. Therefore, this remarkable progress of the UAE in recent years has given Sheikh Mohammed the necessary power and legitimacy to appoint the crown prince according to his wishes. Also, considering that Sheikh Mohammed has been able to take over 6 other sheikhdoms of this country with different methods, with or without objection, in the continuation of the work of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, although he may have challenges, however, these challenges will not be like the case of Saudi Arabia with Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed at the helm, unless a new variable enters these equations.

Of course, if we consider Sheikh Tahnoun and Sheikh Mansour as the main contenders for the post of crown prince, considering their political and economic backgrounds, perhaps none of them have acquired enough authority to be the head of the UAE. In the event that Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed does not have a bad reputation in this field, he has more authority for this position, and the young generation of Emirates also favors him more than other contenders.

From the point of view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the changes in the positions of the political officials of the neighboring country and brother of the UAE are an domestic issue of the UAE, and the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been and is based on non-interference in the affairs of other countries, especially its neighbors, and it has always respected their decisions in their domestic affairs.

Considering the decline in the level of relations between Iran and the UAE since 2015, following an incident at the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and on the eve of the departure of the new Iranian ambassador to Abu Dhabi, which will take place after about eight years, it is hoped that political relations will improve and it should be placed according to the large amount of current economic and commercial relations between the two countries, which has placed the UAE in the first ranks of foreign trade partners with our country.

The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomed the return of the UAE ambassador to Tehran after 7 years, which took place about 6 months ago, and hopes that the obstacles in the way of the two neighboring and brotherly countries will be gradually removed with the efforts of the leaders of the two countries, so that the people of the two countries will benefit from the good outcomes of improving bilateral relations. The presence of hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the UAE reveals the necessity of improving bilateral relations even more.

In the past 8 years, the political relations between the two countries had declined to low levels, of course, the execution of Sheikh Nimr in Saudi Arabia and domestic protests in Iran to this action in December 2014, and finally the fire at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and a similar incident at the consulate of this country in Mashhad, as well as the policies of the UAE in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, etc., and disputes of this kind, caused the ambassador of the UAE to be recalled from Tehran by the government of this country. Now, after about 8 years of experience, it has shown that the reduction of relations and measures of this kind are not beneficial, and to maintain brotherly relations, it is necessary to respect the sovereignty, principles, beliefs and values of the Muslim nations of the region more than before.

Hamidreza Badaghi, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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