Sheikh Khalifa's life and legacy remembered

A year after the UAE President's death on Friday, May 13, 2022, his contributions to society live on

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It is a year to the day since the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, but the memories of his life and contribution to the nation remain.

His death was announced in the afternoon of Friday, May 13, 2022, and he was laid to rest that evening at Al Bateen cemetery, the last resting place of many prominent members of the Nahyan family.

The exception was his father, UAE Founding President the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who lies in the shadow of the Grand Mosque that carries his name.

His son was only the second President of the UAE, appointed unanimously by the Federal Supreme Council on the death of his father on November 2, 2004.

Sheikh Khalifa was Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and his father's representative when the UAE flag was raised for the first time on December 2, 1971 and lived to see the country celebrate its 50th birthday in 2021.

He was 73 and, despite a long illness, led his country as President to the end.

At his funeral, prayers were led by his brother, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the new Ruler of Abu Dhabi, who was chosen as the third President of the UAE the following day.

Tributes were paid by the other UAE Rulers, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, who called Sheikh Khalifa “a dedicated leader who served and loved his people, a love they reciprocated”.

The significance of his death was felt around the world, no more so than in the Arab regions and the countries of the GCC. King Salman of Saudi Arabia ordered funeral prayers be held at the Prophet's Mosque, calling Sheikh Khalifa a “dear brother” who “devoted his life to serving his people and the advancement of his state”.

In Kuwait, 40 days of mourning were declared, with the Emir Sheikh Nawaf saying: “The Arab and Islamic nations have lost one of their leaders, a great man who devoted his life to serving his country and people and defending Arab and Islamic causes,” and thanking Sheikh Khalifa for his support during the Iraqi occupation.

UAE marks one year since Sheikh Khalifa's death

UAE marks one year since Sheikh Khalifa's death

The Arab League ordered its flag to be lowered for three days, while the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said Sheikh Khalifa had “passed away after long journey of giving”.

Messages of condolence and praise arrived from Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as Israel, where relations with the UAE were normalised under the 2020 Abraham Accords, another achievement of Sheikh Khalifa’s presidency.

In the days after his death, leaders and representatives of governments around the world arrived in Abu Dhabi to pay their respects.

They included the French President Emmanuel Macron, the first to arrive, followed by the British prime minister Boris Johnson, the US Vice President Kamala Harris, King Abdullah of Jordan and Mr El Sisi.

There were memories also of the UAE President’s state visit to Britain in 2013, when he was entertained at Windsor Castle by Queen Elizabeth II, who died in September 2022, just four months after Sheikh Khalifa.

Their passing was a reminder that the world is entering a new phase, with new leaders. The new President, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, named Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed, his son, as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

In the UK, Prince William is now the Prince of Wales, a title held for 70 years by his father, after the latter was crowned King Charles III with Queen Camilla. All require an adjustment that will take time to become familiar.

The legacy of Sheikh Khalifa lives on, in places such as the tallest building in the world — Burj Khalifa — that carries his name, but also in the wider panorama of life in the UAE.

Building on the work begun by his father, Sheikh Zayed, he offered leadership and inspiration to a country that is now home to people from about 200 nationalities.

UAE leaders pay tribute after death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa

UAE leaders pay tribute after death of UAE President Sheikh Khalifa

He authorised major infrastructure development including hospitals, roads and rail, and better housing in all seven emirates, while promoting an environment that is friendly to business investment and tourism.

The result is a country now firmly established on the international stage, with events such as the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, first held in 2009, as well as Expo 2020 Dubai and the Special Olympics. Not to mention numerous cultural, music and sporting legends bringing their talents to the UAE.

His time as President also advanced the standing of the UAE as force for good around the world, whether through international aid, disaster relief or campaigns to eradicate diseases such as polio and malaria.

Out of all the values of the UAE — tolerance, empowerment of women, religious dialogue, sustainability and multiculturalism — perhaps the most significant is continuity.

The principles established by Sheikh Zayed and built on by Sheikh Khalifa are now being nurtured by President Sheikh Mohamed.

Updated: May 13, 2023, 3:39 AM