Opinion

UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa was a man of honor and a peaceful leader

UAE’s Sheikh Khalifa was a man of honor and a peaceful leader

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The UAE has lost its beloved, widely respected leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the age of 73. He leaves behind a progressive, harmonious country that hosts about 200 nationalities and where people of all different religions, backgrounds and beliefs live peacefully.

The news of the passing of the president of the UAE, who ruled for about 18 years — he came into power in 2004 — was predominately received with sorrow, grief and genuine sadness in the 50-year-old country, while messages of condolence poured in from around the world.

Sheikh Khalifa was only the second president of the UAE and the son of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the founder of the country. Father and son shared many traits and leadership skills, but above all there was a general sentiment within Emirati society that categorized them both as father figures.

They both treated their citizens like their own sons and daughters, listening to their challenges, investing in their well-being and sparing no efforts to develop the country’s infrastructure, housing schemes, healthcare services, education and standard of living. The UAE was ranked the happiest country in the Arab world for the sixth consecutive year in the 2020 World Happiness Report and it also topped the Arab world in the Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum in 2019.

Sheikh Khalifa was a man of honor and a leader of peace. He believed in developing peaceful ties with countries all over the world, including his neighbors, and upholding international law.

“Our relations within the region and international spheres are based on respecting neighbors, staying away from polarization, standing by the righteous, according to the international law and principles,” Sheikh Khalifa told Saudi journalist and current Saudi ambassador to the UAE Turki Al-Dakhil in a rare interview for the UAE-based Al-Roeya newspaper in 2009.

“We think the balanced foreign policy that we are adopting is providing us with a space to have a dialogue with everyone,” he added.

He was a humble man who focused on prioritizing the interests of his country and its people

Ibrahim Shukralla

Al-Dakhil narrated his conversation with Sheikh Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, after the interview. “Sheikh Mohammed told me that his brother is a very patient man. He doesn’t get angry easily and has a high tolerance while dealing with people. However, for him, the red line was corruption, he doesn’t tolerate it,” Al-Dakhil said.

The Saudi journalist then told another story to which he was an eyewitness. “As Sheikh Khalifa invited people for lunch, a man in his 70s stood and said, ‘Khalifa, how are you?’ He then replied with a smile, ‘Hello, how are you? How is your family?’” Highlighting the fact that the man did not call him “your highness,” which is the usual courtesy said out of respect, Al-Dakhil explained: “This was not a conversation between a citizen and the president of his country, this was more of a conversation between two dear friends. Many people there told me this was the norm with Sheikh Khalifa.”

In 2007, the late president ordered a 70 percent pay rise for federal government employees — the highest salary increase in the history of the country. The UAE today has one of the highest gross domestic product per capita rates in the world. 

Forbes magazine named Sheikh Khalifa in its list of the most powerful people in the world in 2018, but he was not very interested in the media attention. He was a humble man who focused on prioritizing the interests of his country and its people.

The UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs said on Friday there will be 40 days of official mourning, with flags flying at half-staff, and three days of closure for ministries and official entities at the federal and local levels, as well as the private sector. 

As we bid farewell to Sheikh Khalifa, it is not only the Burj Khalifa — the tallest building in the world, which bears his name — that will stick in our minds about him, but also his smile, his philanthropy, the bond between him and his people, and everything he has done for his country with absolute passion. Great leaders may leave us physically, but their memory remains perpetual in our conscience.

Sheikh Khalifa, you will be missed.

Ibrahim Shukralla is a Dubai-based Emirati journalist. He has interviewed many heads of state and high-profile political and sporting figures. He holds an MA in media, culture and communications from New York University in the US. Twitter: @shukralla

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Middle East and world leaders mourn death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, praise ‘life rich in achievements’

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Sheikh Khalifa presents a sash to US President George W. Bush Jan. 13, 2008 at the Al Mushref palace in Abu Dhabi. (AFP)
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Oman's Sultan Qaboos (R) receives Sheikh Khalifa in Muscat on bin Zayed al-Nahayan Jan. 9, 2005. (AFP)
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) and Prince Philip welcome Sheikh Khalifa at Windsor Castle during his state visit to Britain on April 30, 2013. (AFP)
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Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan (R) meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy at Al-Mushrif presidential palace in Abu Dhabi on May 26, 2009. (AFP)
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Sheikh Khalifa meeting with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 6, 2009. (AFP)
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Sheikh Khalifa meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) in Abu Dhabi on April 29, 2007. (AFP)
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Updated 14 May 2022

Middle East and world leaders mourn death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa, praise ‘life rich in achievements’

  • Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi, passed away on Friday aged 73
  • Warm tributes signify the high regard in which the departed leader was held

DUBAI: Messages of condolence have poured in from around the Middle East and the world following news of the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the president of the UAE, at the age of 73 on Friday.

“The Emirates lost its righteous son, the leader of the ‘empowerment stage’ and the trustee of its blessed journey,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, said in a tweet. “His stances, achievements, wisdom, giving and initiatives in every corner of the country. May God have mercy on you with his vast mercy and enter you into his paradise.”




Sheikh Khalifa was a man “known for his wisdom and generosity". (AFP)

Throughout the day, Gulf leaders offered messages of condolence to Al-Nahyan family and the Emirati people. In a statement published by SPA, Saudi Arabia’s Royal Court said the news of Sheikh Khalifa’s passing had been “received with great sadness and sorrow.”

King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “expressed their deepest condolences and sympathy to the government of the United Arab Emirates, the honorable Al-Nahyan family, the brotherly Emirati people, and to the Arab and Islamic nations on passing away of a leader who has given a lot to his people, nation and the world.”

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Declaring three days of national mourning, Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tarik said: “The Sultanate shares the grief of the leadership, government and people of the brotherly United Arab Emirates in their great affliction.”

Also ordering three days of official mourning, Bahrain’s Royal Court “paid homage to the late UAE president who passed away after a life rich in achievements to serve the UAE people as well as the Arab and Islamic nations.”

 

 

In a statement issued by the Qatari Emiri Court, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said: “We have lost with his passing a great leader who was wise and moderate, who devoted his life and effort to serve his country and nation.”

Speaking for Kuwaitis, Emir Sheikh Nawaf said: “The Arab and Islamic nations have lost one of their leaders. The great man who devoted his life to serving his country and people and defending Arab and Islamic causes.”

Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), conveyed his heartfelt condolences, saying Sheikh Khalifa had lived “a life full of giving and giving in the service of his people, his homeland and the Arab and Islamic nation.”




Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan (R) receives King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 18, 2005. (WAM / AFP)

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, issued a statement of condolences addressed to the UAE leadership, government and people, adding that the Arab League will observe three days of mourning with flags to be flown at half-mast.

Leaders across the wider Middle East and North Africa also paid their respects. “With sincere sadness and sorrow, I mourn one of the most precious men and one of the greatest leaders,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi tweeted on Friday.

“He gave a lot to his country and his nation, until the Emirates became a model for development and modernity in our region and the world.”

 

 

Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court likewise offered its condolences. “We have lost a dear brother and an outstanding leader who inherited wisdom from his late great father Sheikh Zayed and dedicated his life to serving his country and the Arab and Islamic nations,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II tweeted.

 

 

Iraq’s President Barham Salih said Sheikh Khalifa was a man “known for his wisdom and generosity for the sake of his homeland and the Arab and Islamic nation,” while Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said: “We are confident that the pioneering path that the late great man took will continue with the efforts of his country’s leadership and people.”

Several Lebanese officials expressed their sorrow via Twitter. “Today, the Arab nation lost one of its most prominent men,” Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, said.

Arab leaders were not the only Middle East public figures who offered their condolences. Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Sheikh Khalifa’s legacy and tremendous deeds are greatly admired in Israel. The State of Israel stands alongside the United Arab Emirates at this difficult time.”

 

 

Israel and the UAE established diplomatic relations in 2020 — the first of several US-backed normalization agreements between the Jewish state and Arab countries that year known as the Abraham Accords.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called Sheikh Khalifa’s death “a great loss for our friends in the UAE and for the whole region.”

He added: “Sheikh Khalifa’s bold leadership contributed so much to the advancement of the UAE and its people and to the growing partnership between our countries and is a great legacy for his successors.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered condolences to the UAE leadership and people, noting that Sheikh Khalifa “led the UAE through a significant period of its development, marked by great economic advances and a surge in its regional and global influence.”  

 

 

Meanwhile, in a letter to his UAE counterpart, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed “grief and regret” over Sheikh Khalifa’s death.

Messages also arrived from further afield. The Indian government announced a day of mourning on Saturday.

“As a mark of respect to the departed dignitary, the government of India has decided that there will be one day’s state mourning tomorrow throughout India,” the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted he was “deeply saddened” by the news, saying Sheikh Khalifa “was a great statesman and visionary leader under whom India-UAE relations prospered.”

 

 

US President Joe Biden paid tribute to Sheikh Khalifa, calling the departed Emirati leader a “true partner and friend of the United States.”

“We will honor his memory by continuing to strengthen the longstanding ties between the governments and people of the United States and the United Arab Emirates,” Biden said.

 

 

“Sheikh Khalifa did much to strengthen friendly relations and constructive cooperation,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin, while French President Emmanuel Macron said his “thoughts go out to his brother Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, to his whole family and to the Emirati people.”

Italian President Sergio Mattarella also offered his condolences, saying he would remember Sheikh Khalifa for his “tenacity and farsightedness.”

In a message to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, now the acting president of the UAE, Mattarella said he “learned with sadness the news of the passing of His Highness Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan,” who, he added, had led his country on “an important path” of growth and development.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “saddened” to learn of Sheikh Khalifa’s passing. “He was a wise and respected leader who will be missed enormously. Through his work as president and sheikh he has made a personal contribution to regional stability and conservation which will long be remembered.

 

 

“I know that the long and deep ties which unite our countries will continue and through our cooperation and friendship, we can ensure peace, prosperity and justice in the world.”

Tony Blair, the UK’s former prime minister, who continues to foster a close relationship with the Middle East and its leaders, shared his “deep sorrow” upon learning of Sheikh Khalifa’s death.

“On this sad occasion I recall the president’s long and distinguished career as a public servant. He was respected not only in his country but throughout the wider region and the world.”

Born in 1948, the eldest son of Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa took over as the UAE’s second president in November 2004, succeeding his father as the 16th ruler of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the country’s seven cities and until 1971 an independent emirate.

Sheikh Khalifa led the UAE as it began its rise to become a global oil and commercial power. He leaves behind his wife Sheikha Shamsa bint Suhail Al-Mazrouei and their eight children.

Sheikh Khalifa is likely to be succeeded by Sheikh Mohammed, the crown prince and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces.

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Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

Updated 19 sec ago

Amnesty demands FIFA pay $440m to Qatar’s ‘abused migrant workers’

  • Amnesty described $440 million as “minimum necessary” to cover compensation claims
  • The sum is roughly the total prize money for this year’s World Cup

LONDON: Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged football’s governing body FIFA pay compensation equal to the total 2022 World Cup prize money for migrant workers “abused” in host nation Qatar.
The call, backed by other rights organizations and fan groups, follows allegations that FIFA was slow to safeguard against the exploitation of workers who flooded into the tiny Gulf state to build infrastructure in the years leading up to the tournament that starts November 21.
“FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” Amnesty said in a statement accompanying a report.
The London-based group urged FIFA president Gianni Infantino “to work with Qatar to establish a comprehensive remediation program.”
It alleged that a “litany of abuses” had taken place since 2010, the year FIFA awarded the 2022 tournament to Qatar “without requiring any improvement in labor protections.”
“Given the history of human rights abuses in the country, FIFA knew — or should have known — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded the tournament to Qatar,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary general.
Amnesty said some abuses persist and described $440 million as the “minimum necessary” to cover compensation claims and to ensure remedial initiatives are expanded for the future.
The sum is roughly the total prize money for this year’s World Cup. Amnesty’s call was backed in an open letter to Infantino also signed by nine other organizations, including Migrant Rights and Football Supporters Europe.
When asked for comment, FIFA said it was “assessing the program proposed by Amnesty” for Qatar, highlighting that it “involves a wide range of non-FIFA World Cup-specific public infrastructure built since 2010.”
Qatar’s World Cup organizers said they have “worked tirelessly” with international groups for the rights of workers on stadiums and other tournament projects. Much of the criticism has however been directed at construction outside the official tournament where hundreds of workers are said to have died in the past decade.
“Significant improvements have been made across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, health care provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers,” said a spokesperson for the organizers, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy.
“This tournament is, and will continue to be a powerful catalyst for delivering a sustainable human and social legacy ahead of, during, and beyond the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.”
Workers’ claims range from unpaid salaries, “illegal” and “extortionate” recruitment fees averaging $1,300 to secure jobs, and compensation for injuries and deaths.
Amnesty welcomed initiatives by FIFA and Qatar, including improvements made on World Cup construction sites and labor legislation reforms introduced since 2014.
Qatar in 2017 introduced a minimum wage, cut the hours that can be worked in extreme heat, and ended part of a system which forced migrant workers to seek employers’ permission to change jobs or even leave the country.
Workers can go to labor tribunals and more government inspectors have been appointed.
Foreign workers, mainly from South Asia, make up more than two million of Qatar’s 2.8 million population.
But Amnesty said only about 48,000 workers have so far been green-lighted to claw back recruitment fees.
It said the requested $440 million represents only a “small fraction” of the $6 billion in revenues FIFA is expected to make over the next four years, much of it from the World Cup.


Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

Updated 19 May 2022

Israel fires missile defenses near Lebanon after misidentification

  • “Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” said the military

JERUSALEM: Israel activated its missile defenses on Thursday after mistakenly identifying a threat near the border with Lebanon, the Israeli military said.
The incident also set off air raid sirens in parts of northern Israel.
“Due to a misidentification, the air defense soldiers launched interceptors and as a result an alert was activated,” the military said.

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Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

Updated 18 May 2022

Hamas-backed bloc wins West Bank student elections

  • The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats

RAMALLAH: The Islamic bloc affiliated with Hamas won the student council elections at Birzeit University in the West Bank on Wednesday, defeating their Fatah rivals in the tightly contested vote.

The Hamas-backed bloc with 5,060 votes won 28 seats, while the Fatah-supported bloc with 3,379 votes bagged just 18 seats.

Five blocs contested 51 seats, while the voter turnout was 78.1 percent. 

Students witnessed an intense debate between representatives of the rival blocs the previous day, with both parties’ policies and programs coming in for criticism.

The Islamic bloc has led the student council in recent years.

Their Fatah-backed rivals say they are paying the price for the mistakes of the Palestinian Authority in terms of corruption, nepotism and security coordination with Israel, and losing elections frequently.

A day before the vote, seven senior student members of the Islamic bloc were arrested by an Israeli undercover unit, which generated sympathy for the group and translated into votes, experts told Arab News.

Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of the university, said that the student council vote is an indicator of Palestinian public opinion and political balances in Palestinian society “because of the credibility, integrity and democracy at the Birzeit elections.”

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a senior Palestinian writer, told Arab News that Birzeit students are not influenced by employment interests or work, so the electoral process takes place “in a democratic atmosphere and with great integrity.”

He added: “If Hamas wins, the street is supportive and biased toward it. If Fatah wins, this means that the street is with it.”

Daraghmeh said that both Fatah and Hamas make great efforts to win the students’ backing.

The election “helps Hamas strengthen its political discourse, and show that Palestinian public opinion in the West Bank supports its path and political line,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fatah “wants to defend the legitimacy of the Palestinian political system in light of its inability to organize Palestinian general elections.”

Birzeit elections are held every two years, with about 15,000 students voting for 51 seats. There was no vote in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The secretariat of the administrative body of the council consists of 13 members.

Birzeit was established in 1973 as a public university, and is the only West Bank academic institution that allows Hamas to practice its activities and politics without interference from Israel or the PA.

A number of prominent Palestinian leaders have graduated from the university, which offers 36 bachelor’s degree programs and 13 master’s programs, and employs 500 teachers.

Students from the West Bank and a few hundred Palestinians living in Israel study there.

Basem Naim, a prominent Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, told Arab News that the political group views the student vote as “an essential indicator” because it highlights the direction of future generations.

“The Birzeit University elections constitute an essential platform for Hamas because most Palestinian leaders are university graduates. Therefore, their strength today indicates the type of future leaders of the Palestinian people in all sectors and fields,” he said.


Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

Updated 18 May 2022

Hezbollah chief Nasrallah acknowledges loss of Lebanon parliamentary majority

  • The elections saw gains by anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents
  • The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory”

BEIRUT: The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged his party and its allies had lost their parliamentary majority in elections but said no single group had taken it, in his first televised speech since Sunday’s elections.
“Unlike the situation in parliament in 2018, no political group can claim a majority,” he said.
Hezbollah and its allies scored 62 seats during Sunday polls, according to a Reuters tally, losing a majority they secured in 2018, when they and their allies won 71 seats.
Hezbollah and its ally Amal held on to all of parliament’s Shiite seats. But some of its oldest allies, including Sunni, Druze and Christian politicians, lost theirs.
The elections saw gains by the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces party and more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers, as well as a smattering of independents.
The results mark a blow for Hezbollah, though Nasrallah declared the results “a very big victory.”
Nasrallah called for “cooperation” between political groups including newcomers, saying the alternative would be “chaos and vacuum.”
The results have left parliament split into several camps, none of which have a majority, raising the prospect of political paralysis and tensions that could delay badly needed reforms to steer Lebanon out of its economic collapse.


Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

Updated 18 May 2022

Egypt hands down death sentence for priest’s murder

  • The defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide
  • A court-ordered psychological assessment found him "responsible for his actions"

CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced to death a man accused of the murder last month of a Coptic priest in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, judicial sources said.
The Alexandria court’s ruling is subject to approval by the mufti of the republic.
The sources said the defendant was found guilty of voluntary homicide after a court-ordered psychological assessment found him “responsible for his actions.”
Father Arsanios Wadid died of his wounds in hospital after being stabbed on April 7 on Alexandria’s seafront promenade as he accompanied a group of young parishioners.
The assailant was grabbed by passers-by and handed over to police, who detained him in a psychiatric hospital because of doubts over his mental health.
Coptic Christians, the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, make up roughly 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of more than 100 million.
The community has long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation.
In February, however, Egypt for the first time swore in a Coptic judge to head its constitutional court.
Copts were targeted in a series of sectarian attacks after the military in 2013 deposed Islamist president Muhammad Mursi. Such attacks focused largely on remote villages in southern Egypt.