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Cable reference id: #04ABUDHABI3410
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Reference id aka Wikileaks id #21047  ? 
SubjectUae Succession Update: The Post-zayed Scenario
OriginEmbassy Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)
Cable timeTue, 28 Sep 2004 12:33 UTC
References03ABUDHABI4764, 04ABUDHABI1439, 04ABUDHABI165, 04ABUDHABI2254, 04ABUDHABI2566
Referenced by04ABUDHABI3526, 04ABUDHABI3527, 04ABUDHABI3855, 04ABUDHABI3955
Extras? Comments
Hide header S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ABU DHABI 003410 SIPDIS STATE FOR NEA/ARP ALSO FOR INR/B E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/27/14 TAGS: PINR [Intelligence], PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], TC SUBJECT: UAE Succession Update: The Post-Zayed Scenario Ref: (A) Abu Dhabi 2566, (B) Abu Dhabi 2254, (C) Abu Dhabi 1439, (D) Abu Dhabi 165, (E) 03 Abu Dhabi 4764 (U) Classified by Ambassador Michele J. Sison, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). ¶1. (S) Summary: The UAE will likely experience a smooth transition of power once the elderly President Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan leaves the scene. Day-to-day governance of the UAE is now firmly in the grasp of the post-Zayed generation. Sheikh Zayed's decree appointing his son Mohammed as Abu Dhabi Deputy Crown Prince in November 2003 clarified the line of succession. Dubai's dynamic Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has done his part to assure a smooth succession by forging close ties with Abu Dhabi, and especially Mohammed Bin Zayed. Several of our contacts have confided to us that the nonagenarian Sheikh Zayed may only have a few months to live. End Summary. Sheikh Zayed's health watch --------------------------- ¶2. (S) Sheikh Zayed, beset by a variety of health problems in recent years, including a kidney transplant (2000), removal of the gall bladder (2003), minor surgery for a hernia (2003), and a chronic problem with edema in his legs, is weakening markedly, several of our contacts have told us. There are recent uncorroborated reports that he has contracted liver cancer and has only three months to live. His public appearances are rare. A photograph taken by the official UAE news agency in July shows him standing and greeting his son Mohammed upon returning home from Geneva after a private visit to the U.K. and Switzerland. More recent news photographs show him smiling and waving from the passenger seat of his chauffeur-driven car as he tours a project. The photos, which closely resemble each other, have fueled speculation that Sheikh Zayed's health is failing and the newspapers are using file photos. One contact from Al Ain reported widespread dismay there at the fact that Zayed, on his return to the UAE in early July, did not appear to recognize or acknowledge the sons and grandsons who filed up to greet him in a televised reception ceremony. Succession line is clear, for now --------------------------------- ¶3. (C) While it has always been clear that Crown Prince Khalifa, Zayed's oldest son, would succeed his father, until last fall, the succession line after Khalifa was undefined. The principal contenders to succeed Khalifa as Crown Prince were Zayed's second and third oldest sons, Deputy Prime Minister Sultan Bin Zayed and UAE Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohammed Bin Zayed. There were whispers in some quarters about the possibility that Khalifa might attempt to name his oldest son, businessman Sultan Bin Khalifa, to succeed him. ¶4. (C) The speculation dissipated when Sheikh Zayed issued a decree last November appointing Mohammed as Deputy Crown Prince, with the explicit stipulation that Mohammed would become Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi when that post became vacant. Most in this country breathed a collective sigh of relief at the decree. Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum was pleased by the decision because of the close ties he had been forging with Mohammed Bin Zayed. The two have the ability to see the bigger picture and have compatible visions for the country's development. Long-time ruling family advisers Mana's Al Otaiba (a businessman and former UAE oil minister) and Mohammed Habroush Al Suweidi (Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Supreme Petroleum Council member, and a close friend and mentor to Crown Prince Khalifa), have told us that the appointment was in the works for a long time. Habroush described Mohammed as capable, hard working, and a natural leader, and that everyone, including Sultan Bin Zayed, welcomed and accepted the appointment. In addition, we have heard that there was considerable behind-the-scenes lobbying by Sheikh Zayed's current wife, Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, and her six sons, Mohammed, Hamdan, Hazza, Tahnoun, Mansour, and Abdullah. Collectively known as the Bani Fatima, they effectively control the key portfolios: defense, intelligence, information, and foreign affairs. (Note: Currently, the Bani Fatima don't control the purse strings. With Sheikh Zayed's passing, they stand to inherit a considerable portion of his fortune, conservatively estimated at over $60 billion. End note.) ¶5. (C) For most observers, the decree clarified the succession picture. Others familiar with the inner workings of the Al Nahyan ruling family of Abu Dhabi have told us that the decree merely served as a pause, a kind of truce between competing family members. After Zayed leaves the scene, most Embassy contacts predict that the ruling family will respect the succession line, and that Khalifa (DOB 1948) and Mohammed (DOB 1961) will rule the UAE for the next several decades. Some of our contacts have outlined another scenario, which is plausible but we think unlikely, involving a spillover of tensions between Khalifa and Mohammed and a rejiggering of the succession line-up. At that point, each presumably would draw upon his loyalties in the extended family, the military, and the tribes. Even if it were to come to that, no one here imagines a violent showdown. "Draw swords? Not them," said an expatriate historian intimately familiar with the Al Nahyans and family conflict resolution in earlier years. First in the succession line: Khalifa Bin Zayed --------------------------------------------- -- ¶6. (C) When Sheikh Zayed departs the scene, Crown Prince Khalifa will become the UAE's new president and Abu Dhabi's new ruler. For the past 25 years, Khalifa Bin Zayed has effectively held the purse strings for the Abu Dhabi emirate, the wealthiest and most populous of the UAE's seven emirates, but also for the federation. Khalifa also serves as Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, which decides which projects to fund in Abu Dhabi, Chairman of the Supreme Petroleum Council, which formulates oil policy, and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which decides how the richest Emirate will invest its vast wealth. On the federal level, Khalifa is the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. He enjoys strong Al Nahyan extended family support, and has carefully cultivated the major Abu Dhabi tribes, particularly from the Bani Yas strongholds of Al Ain and Liwa. Particularly significant for these tribesmen is the fact that Khalifa is a "full" Al Nahyan i.e. both his father and his mother are Al Nahyan, something that does not hold true for the Bani Fatima. Second in the succession line: Mohammed Bin Zayed --------------------------------------------- ---- ¶7. (C) According to Sheikh Zayed's November 2003 decree, his third eldest son, Mohammed Bin Zayed, is slated to follow in his older brother Khalifa's footsteps when their father leaves the scene. Mohammed, widely regarded as a man of action and vision, already has made his mark in the UAE and abroad. As Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces, he has built his power base in the UAE military and wields considerable influence over the country's military expenditures. He has also sought to build close ties with senior policy makers of the UAE's principal allies, the U.S., France, and the United Kingdom. He visits Washington regularly, meeting with senior Administration officials, and greets foreign civilian and military dignitaries in Abu Dhabi, including Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in July (ref A). Charismatic, savvy, and very comfortable in the West, he possesses many of the qualities Khalifa lacks. Thanks to him, long-pending construction projects, such as the $45 million Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion and a major solid-waste disposal facility, are moving again, and Abu Dhabi's stagnant bureaucracy is being overhauled. "He is a visionary, and very hands-on," said Sukaina Al Wasity, chief engineer at the Abu Dhabi Department of Civil Aviation. "You can feel the difference," she said. He is also paying much closer attention to his Deputy Crown Prince duties, including attendance at weddings and soccer matches in the family stronghold of Al Ain. His influential mother, Zayed's favored wife Sheikha Fatima, has played a key role in promoting Sheikh Mohammed's political fortunes, as well as those of his full brothers. No longer in line: Sultan Bin Zayed and Sultan Bin Khalifa --------------------------------------------- ----------- ¶8. (C) The decree appointing Mohammed as Deputy Crown Prince last November removed two potential heirs to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi: Sultan Bin Zayed, Zayed's second son and Deputy Prime Minister (ref D); and Sultan Bin Khalifa, Crown Prince Khalifa's eldest son and chief of staff. Neither has mounted a challenge to the decree, nor is there any apparent maneuver by either one to get the decision reversed at least not while Zayed is alive, our sources assure us. ¶9. (S) Deputy Prime Minister Sultan Bin Zayed (DOB 1955) has had periodic bouts with substance abuse and gained notoriety for his mismanagement of funds and his failure to successfully complete high visibility projects such as Lu Lu Island or Abu Dhabi's Grand Mosque. (Note: Recently, Sultan Bin Zayed was in Germany again -- to receive further treatment for his substance abuse problem. End note.) Sultan Bin Zayed's foreign policy views (we have been told he vigorously opposed U.S. intervention in Iraq) are at odds with those of his senior relatives. While none of our contacts thought Sultan was capable of mounting a challenge against his half-brother Mohammed, let alone leading the UAE, one contact told us that Sultan has tried to reinvent himself this past year by actually showing up to chair the federal Council of Ministers. Last year, Sheikh Zayed appointed his fourth oldest son, Hamdan, as Deputy Prime Minister. We believe that move was designed to strengthen the Council of Ministers by having it chaired by the very capable Hamdan, who kept his portfolio as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Instead, Hamdan and Sultan (who defied expectations by declining to fade away quietly from his Council of Ministers role) have shared the chairmanship this past year. In actuality, Sultan is a figurehead in this capacity. He also greets visiting Arab heads of state at the airport, and is a member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. ¶10. (S) Another person with a potential claim on the succession is that of Sultan Bin Khalifa (DOB 1965), Crown Prince Khalifa's oldest son and chief of staff of his court. A prominent and reportedly corrupt businessman, Sultan Bin Khalifa serves on the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, and is honorary president of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce. Two different contacts of ours told us that Sultan Bin Khalifa was undoubtedly upset with the presidential decree appointing Mohammed as Deputy Crown Prince. "Sultan was groomed for the last 10 to 20 years for this," one contact said. "He has been waiting in the wings" and no doubt has political ambitions, though he is not likely to pursue them until after Zayed has departed the scene, said the other. Supporting cast --------------- ¶11. (C) Besides Khalifa and Mohammed, there are other rulers and sheikhs who are helping shape the political and economic landscape in the post-Zayed era. As noted earlier, one of the most capable is Deputy Prime Minister and de facto Foreign Minister Hamdan Bin Zayed. In April, Sheikh Hamdan led pioneering trips to East Asia and Germany to cement political and economic ties with the UAE's key trading partners (ref C). In 2003, he concluded an agreement with Oman over a long-standing border dispute (ref E). Hamdan also headed a high-level delegation to Iran in May 2002, and chairs the Red Crescent Authority that took the lead on the UAE's humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinians. There is speculation that after Zayed's death, Crown Prince Khalifa will attempt to appoint his son Sultan Bin Khalifa as Deputy Crown Prince, but there is also speculation that the Bani Fatima will engineer the process so that Hamdan becomes Deputy Crown Prince. ¶12. (C) Younger brother Abdullah, the Information and Culture Minister, is pro-West, articulate, and a rising star. His brothers have entrusted him with the Syria and Lebanon portfolio. We have been told he may be given the Foreign Ministry in the not-too-distant future, to allow Hamdan to expand his role in running the Council of Ministers. Hazza, the State Security Director, is very close to Mohammed and is keen on maintaining close ties with the U.S. Although not one of the Bani Fatima, half- brother Hamed is playing an increasingly significant role in the economic sphere, as illustrated by his appointment to the Supreme Petroleum Council in June. Hamed is young, dynamic and Western-educated, and also chairs the Abu Dhabi Economic Department and sits on the Abu Dhabi Executive Council (ref B). This younger generation is, in turn, "surrounding themselves with can-do people," observed a long-time expatriate who advises Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed. As a result, the UAE "is in good hands with people of vision," he added. Al Wasity, the engineer, agrees with that assessment. "The sheikhs are taking care of things. The rulers have been kind to the people, providing housing, education, jobs and health care." She said Emirati women are hoping that the sheikhs will open up the political space to allow them to participate. Dubai and the Northern Emirates ------------------------------- ¶13. (C) An hour and a half up the freeway from Abu Dhabi, Dubai Emirate is busy shaping its own political and economic future, and in some sense, the image of the federation as well. The dynamic Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, younger brother of Dubai's titular Ruler Maktoum Bin Rashid, effectively rules Dubai, and is credited with having put Dubai on the world commercial and tourism map. Some of Dubai's more controversial plans, like fully legalized land sales to foreigners and (possibly) legalized gambling, have been put on ice due to deference to Sheikh Zayed's wishes. There is much speculation that once Sheikh Zayed departs, Dubai may feel more free to push the limits of what is acceptable to Federal (read: Abu Dhabi) authorities. Dubai had no aspirations to run the UAE, and its leaders appear, if anything, relieved that they do not have to be distracted in their quest for economic development and expanded trade and investment relations by the need to worry about defense and foreign policy matters. ¶14. (C) While Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid has recently made an effort to forge closer ties to Sheikh Khalifa, it seems clear that he is by disposition inclined to ally himself more closely with the younger, more modern and quick- thinking Bani Fatima, particularly Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed. (Note: Sheikh Mohammed is the federation's titular Minister of Defense, but has ceded all control of the armed forces to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed's control. End note.) Dubai has its own succession dilemma to resolve once its Ruler, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, steps down. Like Dubai, the other Northern Emirates have no aspirations to national leadership beyond the ministerial positions that are carefully allotted to each emirate. Thus, while the UAE constitution does not specifically state that the Ruler of Abu Dhabi should also serve as the President of the UAE, there is every reason to believe that it will continue to be the case even after the passing of Zayed. Comment: -------- ¶15. (C) The transition of power from UAE President Sheikh Zayed to the next generation of Emirati leaders has in effect already happened. One key to this smooth transition was the presidential decree issued 10 months ago anointing Sheikh Zayed's third oldest son, Mohammed, as Deputy Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and third in line to the UAE presidency (assuming, per the UAE Constitution, the consent of the other emirates' rulers when that time comes). In keeping with Al Nahyan tradition, the family will not allow the dispute to become public. In our estimation, the current Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed, is the strongest contender to follow Khalifa and Mohammed in the lineup. SISON



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