United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has died, state news agency WAM reported on Friday. He was 73.
The UAE’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs announced a 40-day period of mourning and a three-day suspension of work in all ministries and the private sector beginning Friday, including flags to be flown at half-staff.
Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke and underwent emergency in 2014. He has largely been out of public sight ever since.
Sheikh Khalifa succeeded his father and the UAE's founder Sheikh Zayed in 2004.
He used Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth to attract cultural and academic centers, such as branches of the Louvre museum and satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne. He also presided over efforts to move the OPEC country beyond its reliance on petrodollars with investments in renewable energy research, including plans for a futuristic low-carbon desert city known as Masdar.
In 2003, he called for the creation of a new airline, Etihad Airways. In 2007, he made a major gift to the Johns Hopkins Medicine complex in Baltimore.
Abu Dhabi’s big spending overseas during Sheikh Khalifa’s rule also helped push the emirate, which controls the bulk of the UAE’s oil reserves, out from Dubai’s shadow.
Sheikh Khalifa helped boost the UAE’s regional profile with relief missions to Pakistan after devastating floods.
His name is perhaps most familiar around the world for its connection to the world’s tallest building, a nearly half-mile (828-meter) glass-and-steel spire in Dubai.
Sheikh Khalifa took over as the UAE’s president and ruler of Abu Dhabi in November 2004 following the death his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is widely revered by Emiratis as the country’s founding father.
Sheikh Khalifa was born in 1948 in the inland oasis of Al Ain, near the border with the sultanate of Oman, and named after his great grandfather, Sheikh Khalifa bin Shakhbout.
In 1969, while the area was still a British protectorate, Sheikh Khalifa was named as Abu Dhabi prime minister and chairman of the emirate’s Department of Defense, which later became the core of the UAE’s armed forces. After independence in 1971, he became defense minister along with other roles.
Like many in the Gulf, he was passionate about the traditional sport of falconry and was said to enjoy fishing. He was also passionate about poetry.