Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi

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Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan - 2021 (51683733605) (cropped).jpg
Born (1961-03-11) 11 March 1961 (age 61)
Al Ain, Trucial States
(now United Arab Emirates)
Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan
(m. 1981)
Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa bin Shakhbut bin Dhiyab bin Issa Al Nahyan Al Falahi
Arabicمحمد بن زايد بن سلطان بن زايد بن خليفة بن شخبوط بن ذياب بن عيسى آل نهيان الفلاحي
HouseAl Nahyan
FatherZayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
MotherFatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi
Military career
AllegianceUnited Arab Emirates
Service/branchUnited Arab Emirates Air Force
Years of service1979–present
Commands heldDeputy Commander-in-Chief
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces
Commander of the Air Force and Air Defence
WebsiteMohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Twitter

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (Arabic: محمد بن زايد بن سلطان آل نهيان; born 11 March 1961), colloquially known by his initials as MBZ,[1] is the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces and the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi. He is seen as the driving force behind the UAE's interventionist foreign policy and is a leader of a campaign against Islamist movements in the Arab World.[2][3]

Since January 2014, when his half-brother Khalifa, the president of the UAE and Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, suffered a stroke, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, controlling almost every aspect of UAE policymaking.[4] Mohamed bin Zayed was entrusted with most day-to-day decision making of the emirate of Abu Dhabi as the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.[5] In 2019 the New York Times named him as the most powerful Arab ruler and one of the most powerful men on Earth.[6][7] He was also named as one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2019 by TIME magazine.[8]

Academics have characterized Mohamed bin Zayed as the strongman leader of an authoritarian regime.[9][10][11][7]

Early life

Mohamed bin Zayed was born in Al Ain on 11 March 1961 in what was then the Trucial States.[12] He is the third son of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, and his third wife, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi.[13][14] Mohamed's brothers are: Khalifa (the current Ra'is of the UAE), Hamdan, Hazza, Saeed, Isa, Nahyan, Saif, Tahnoun, Mansour, Falah, Diab, Omar, and Khalid (as well as three deceased brothers, Sultan, Nasser, and Ahmed). In addition to these, he has a few sisters.[15] He has five younger full-brothers: Hamdan, Hazza, Tahnoun, Mansour, and Abdullah.[16] They are referred to as Bani Fatima or sons of Fatima.[17][18]

Al-Nahyan was educated at The Royal Academy in Rabat until the age of 10, where he was a classmate of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.[19] His father Sheikh Zayed sent him to Morocco intending for it to be a discipline experience. He gave him a passport showing a different last name, so that he would not be treated like royalty. Al Nahyan spent several months working as a waiter in a local restaurant. He made his own meals and did his own laundry, and was often lonely. Al Nahyan described his life back then by saying “There’d be a bowl of tabbouleh in the fridge, and I’d keep eating from it day after day until a kind of fungus formed on the top".[20]

He was further educated at schools in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and a summer at Gordonstoun until the age of 18. In the Emirates, his father Sheikh Zayed put a respected Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Islamic scholar named Izzedine Ibrahim in charge of his education.[20][21] In 1979, he joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst graduating in April 1979.[22] During his time at Sandhurst, he completed a fundamental armor course, a fundamental flying course, a parachutist course, and training on tactical planes and helicopters, including the Gazelle squadron.[15] During his time in Sandhurst, he met and became good friends with Al-Sultan Abdullah, who would later become the King of Malaysia. They were both officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.[23]

In the 1980s as a young military officer on holiday in Tanzania, he met the Masai people and saw their customs and the extent of poverty in the country. Upon his return he went to see his father Sheikh Zayed. His father asked him what he had done to help the people he had encountered. Al Nahyan shrugged and said the people he met were not Muslims. Al Nahyan said, “He clutched my arm, and looked into my eyes very harshly. He said, ‘We are all God’s creatures.’ ”[20]

He then returned home to the UAE to join the Officers' Training Course in Sharjah. He has held a number of roles in the UAE military, from that of an Officer in the Amiri Guard (now called Presidential Guard) to a pilot in the UAE Air Force.[24]

Political career

Emirate of Abu Dhabi

Al Nahyan and George W. Bush at Camp David

In November 2003, his father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan appointed Sheikh Mohamed as Deputy Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.[13][25] Upon the death of his father, Sheikh Mohamed became Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in November 2004 and was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces in January 2005.[26] Later that month, he was promoted to the rank of General. Since December 2004 he has also been the Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, which is responsible for the development and planning of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is a member of the Supreme Petroleum Council.[27] He also serves as a special adviser to the President of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, his older brother.

As a result of the ill health of his brother, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, who is the President of the UAE, Al Nahyan is the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi and is responsible for welcoming foreign dignitaries in the capital district of the United Arab Emirates in the city of Abu Dhabi.[28][29][30]

UAE foreign policy

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi being received by Sheikh Mohamed in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Mohamed representing the United Arab Emirates in the NSS 2012

In 2018, he traveled to Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ahead of the first installment of a $3 billion donation from the UAE to Ethiopia, intended to tide over its foreign exchange shortage. The UAE under Al Nahyan's encouragement and initiative, raised funds to provide aid to Somalia during periods of drought.[31][32][33]

Al-Nahyan is a supporter of Yemen's internationally recognized government after the Yemen civil war and supported the Saudi-led, western-backed intervention in Yemen to drive out Houthi militants after the Houthi takeover in Yemen.[34] During Al-Nahyan's visit to France in November 2018, a group of rights activists filed a lawsuit against the crown prince accusing him of "war crimes and complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen". The complaint filed on behalf of the French rights group AIDL said: "It’s in this capacity that he has ordered bombings on Yemeni territory."[35]

United States
Al-Nahyan with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Abu Dhabi, February 2017

Al Nahyan regards the United States as his chief ally and has a strong relationship with United States diplomats including US former Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis and US former national security advisor and counter-terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. As unpaid advisers, Al Nahyan consults them and follows their advice on combating terrorism and enhancing the UAE's military strength and intelligence. During the Obama administration, Al Nahyan had an initially good relationship with the administration but the relationship deteriorated when Obama had not bothered to consult or even inform the UAE about the Iran nuclear deal. The UAE had a lot at stake, having forced Dubai traders to give up their lucrative business with Iran to comply with the sanctions. According to an Emirati senior adviser “His Highness felt that the U.A.E. had made sacrifices and then been excluded”. Al Nahyan continued talking to Obama regularly and offered him advice. He warned him that the proposed remedy in Syria — Islamist rebels — could be worse than Assad's tyranny. He also urged Obama to talk to the Russians about working together on Syria. The relationship deteriorated further when Obama made dismissive comments in a 2016 interview in The Atlantic, describing the gulf's rulers as “free riders” who “do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own”. After the election of Donald Trump, Al Nahyan flew to New York to meet the president-elect's team and canceled a parting lunch with Obama.[20][36]

With Donald Trump in office, Al Nahyan shared similar ideas with Trump regarding Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Trump has sought to move strongly against both.[37] As a child, Al Nahyan's father Sheikh Zayed unknowingly assigned a prominent Muslim Brotherhood member, Ezzedine Ibrahim, as Mohamed's tutor. His tutor attempted an indoctrination that backfired. As Sheikh Mohamed explains, “I am an Arab, I am a Muslim and I pray. And in the 1970s and early 1980s I was one of them,” Prince Mohamed told visiting American diplomats in 2007 to explain his distrust of the Muslim Brotherhood, as they reported in a classified cable released by WikiLeaks. He stated “I believe these guys have an agenda.”[6] Trump also shared Al Nahyan's views over Qatar, Libya and Saudi Arabia, even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff.[38] In August 2020, Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu and Al Nahyan jointly announced the establishment of formal Israel–United Arab Emirates relations.[39]

Russian president Vladimir Putin meeting with Sheikh Mohamed in Abu Dhabi in October 2019

Al Nahyan maintains a strong relationship with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, and has brokered talks between Russia and the Trump Administration. In 2016, Mohamed bin Zayed was found involved in the Russian meddling of the US presidential elections, where his adviser George Nader arranged a meeting for him and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Seychelles with the US and Russian delegates, including Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev.[40] On 3 June 2019, Nader, who lobbied for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.[41] A year later, he was sentenced to ten years in prison on child sex charges.[42] Al Nahyan was named in the final report of special counsel Robert Mueller III on the alleged collusion between Trump campaign and Russia, which the investigation later concluded that there was no collusion between the meeting that occurred with Al Nahyan.[43] Al Nahyan's strong relationship with both Russia and the United States, as well as the influence he wields across both of the superpowers, has led to The New York Times to label him as the Arab World's "most powerful ruler".[37]

Putin calls Al Nahyan an "old friend", calling him "a big friend of our country, a big friend of Russia". Putin and Al Nahyan talk with each other on the phone regularly.[44] In an official state visit to the Emirates, Putin gifted Al Nahyan a Russian gyrfalcon. The UAE also trained the first two Emirati astronauts Hazza Al Mansouri and Sultan Al Neyadi, and successfully launched the first Emirati and first Arab Astronaut Hazza Al Mansouri to the International Space Station with Russian help.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Al Nahyan refused to take phone calls with U.S. President Joe Biden when Biden was trying to build international support for Ukraine and encourage greater oil production to contain a surge in oil prices.[45]


In August 2021, Mohammed Al Nahyan held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss reinforcing relations between their two countries.[46] This came after years of each state supporting opposing sides in regional conflicts, such as that in Libya.[47] Relations started to improve between the two regional rivals – the UAE and Turkey – following the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the withdrawal of the US troops.[48]

Nuclear energy

Under the leadership of Al Nahyan, the UAE built the first peaceful nuclear power reactor, the Barakah nuclear power plant, in the region.[49] The UAE and US signed a bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation that enhances international standards of nuclear non-proliferation.[50] Al-Nahyan was at the Nuclear Security Summit of 2012[51] and 2014, which were hosted by South Korea and the Netherlands respectively.[52]

Religion in the UAE

Mohamed bin Zayed being presented with Hindu Temple literature among the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Abu Dhabi.

Islam is the official religion of the UAE and there are laws against blasphemy, proselytizing by non-Muslims, and conversions away from Islam. The constitution of the UAE guarantees freedom of worship, unless it contradict public policy or morals.[53] The UAE government tightly controls and monitors Muslim practices.[54] A government permit is required to hold a Quran lecture or distribute content related to Islam. All imams must receive their salaries from the UAE government.[54]

Al Nahyan visited Pope Francis in 2016, and in February 2019, he welcomed Pope Francis to the UAE, marking the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. Pope Francis's arrival coincided with a conference entitled “Global Conference of Human Fraternity”. The conference featured talks and workshops about how fostering religious tolerance. As part of this visit, Pope Francis held the first Papal Mass to be celebrated in the Arabian Peninsula at Zayed Sports City in which 180,000 worshippers from 100 countries, including 4,000 Muslims, were present.[55][56][57][58][59][60][61]

He has travelled around the world promoting the UAE's theme for 2019: Year of Tolerance. He has also been involved in regional and global efforts to counter violent extremism by speaking with officials in India, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and other leaders about partnering in such efforts.[62][63]

In 2019 the Zayed Global Fund for Coexistence was launched, an initiative that expounds upon the principles and goals detailed in the Human Fraternity Document signed by Pope Francis and Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar.[64][65]

Domestic policy


Political scientists have characterized Mohamed bin Zayed as the strongman leader of an authoritarian regime,[9][10][11][7] as there are no free and fair elections,[66] political and civil rights are limited,[67] free speech is restricted,[67][68] and there are no free and independent media.[66] According to the human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the UAE practices torture, arbitrary detention and forced disappearance of citizens and residents.[69][67]

Political scientist Christopher M. Davidson has characterized MBZ's tenure as de facto UAE leader as entailing a "a marked and rapid intensification of autocratic-authoritarianism."[10] Democracy indicators show "recent and substantial efforts to tighten up almost all remaining political and civic freedoms."[10] According to Andreas Krieg, MBZ's political ideology holds that strongman authoritarianism is the optimal governance system for the UAE.[9] Krieg writes,[9]

MbZ envisaged the creation of a new Middle Eastern state... Statecraft would be the prerogative of the autocratic, centralized ruler whose transactional relationship with his subordinates was supposed to be governed by both means of accommodation and repression. The ideal strongman, from MbZ’s point of view, was in control of the security sector, both military and law enforcement, and governed over a society emancipated from religious conservatism and empowered by capitalist market structures... MbZ’s state looked increasingly like a fierce state, i.e. a state that Ayubi defines as dealing with societal demands through repression and force rather than engagement. Abu Dhabi’s paranoia over political dissidence was further fuelled by the developments of the Arab Spring to which MbZ internally reacted by further curtailing the freedom of speech, thought and assembly in the country... MbZ’s fierce state has moved against any civil society activism in the country outside state control.

Economic policy

Scholars have characterized the UAE under Mohamed bin Zayed's regime as a rentier state.[70]

He heads the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development (ADCED),[71][72][73] and is the Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA).[74] He is the chairman of the Mubadala Development Company[26] (an Emirati state-owned holding company that can be characterized as a sovereign wealth fund)[71][75] and the Deputy Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (the Sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi).[76][24] He is the head of the Tawazun Economic Council, formerly known as UAE offsets programme bureau established in 1992[77] and is the head of the Abu Dhabi Education Council which was established in 2005.[78][79]

According to The Intercept and referencing the hacked emails of Yousef Al Otiaba, an American citizen Khaled Hassen received a $10 million in 2013 for an alleged torture settlement after a lawsuit presented in the federal court in L.A. against three top members of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, including Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.[80]

In June 2018, he approved a 3-year 50 billion AED stimulus package. He also commissioned a review of building regulations in an effort to galvanize urban development.[81]

He is Vice Chairman of the Supreme Petroleum Council of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The council is the primary governing body of Abu Dhabi's hydrocarbon resources.[82][83][84]


Al Nahyan as Chief of Staff in his airforce military uniform greeting then US Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen in Abu Dhabi, 1997.

Al Nahyan served as an officer in the Amiri Guard (now known as Presidential Guard), as a pilot in the UAE's Air Force, as Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, and as Deputy Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2005, he was appointed Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and was accordingly promoted to Lt. General.[85][86]

In the early 1990s, Al Nahyan told Richard Clarke, then an assistant secretary of state, that he wanted to buy the F-16 fighter jet. Clarke replied that he must mean the F-16A, the model the Pentagon sold to American allies. Al Nahyan said no, he wanted a newer model he'd read about in Aviation Week, with an advanced radar-and-weapons system. Clarke told him that that model didn't exist yet; the military hadn't done the necessary research and development. Al Nahyan said the UAE would pay for the research and development. The subsequent negotiations went on for years, and according to Clarke “he ended up with a better F-16 than the U.S. Air Force had”.[20]

He made jujitsu compulsory in schools. In 2014 he established the military draft, forcing young Emiratis to endure a year of boot camp, initially running a pilot project within his own family and making his own daughters run as the sample size by making them endure a boot camp. He invited Maj. Gen. Mike Hindmarsh, the retired former head of Australia's Special Operations Command, to help reorganize the Emirati military. According to the New York Times, as a result of Al Nahyan's vision, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces became the best equipped and trained military in the region apart from Israel.[20] Under Al Nahyan's leadership, the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces also became commonly nicknamed as "Little Sparta" by United States Armed Forces General and former US defense secretary James Mattis as a result of their active and effective military role despite their small active personnel.[87]

According to a 2020 study, Al Nahyan's reforms successfully increased the effectiveness of the UAE military.[88]


On 17 July 2020, a French investigating magistrate was appointed to carry out the probe targeting Mohamed bin Zayed, for “complicity in the acts of torture” citing the UAE’s involvement in the Yemen civil war. The investigation was initially opened in October 2019, after two complaints were filed against the Crown Prince during his official visit to Paris in November 2018. One of the two complaints was filed with the constitution of civil party by six Yemenis, who claimed of being tortured, electrocuted and burned by cigarettes in Yemeni detention centers controlled by the UAE armed forces.[89] A report by United Nations experts highlighted that the attacks of the Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a member, may have constituted war crimes, and that the Emirati forces controlled two centres where torture has been carried out.[90]

In October 2021, Mohamed bin Zayed's name was featured alongside four other Emirati officials in an indictment of Thomas J. Barrack, former adviser of Donald Trump. In July 2021, Barrack was arrested by the American authorities for failing to register as a foreign lobbyist for the UAE, obstructing justice and lying to investigators.[91] Later, his seven-count indictment identified names of three Emirati royals, who were hosts at Barrack's reception in December 2016. It included Mohamed bin Zayed, Tahnoun bin Zayed and director of the Emirati intelligence service, Ali Mohammed Hammad Al Shamsi. Two other UAE officials named in the indictment were Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli and Yousef Al Otaiba. Together, the officials were accused of giving Barrack the task to push the Emirati interests with the US.[92]


Al-Nahyan and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., May 2017

He has gifted 55 million AED to the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking,[93] committed to raise $100 million for the Reaching the Last Mile Fund,[94] pledged $50 million for children vaccine efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan,[95][96][97][98] and contributed $30 million to the Roll Back Malaria Partnership.[99][100][101] The University of Texas chair for scientific and medical knowledge in cancer research is named after Al-Nahyan as a result of a funding grant to MD Anderson Cancer Center.[102] He organizes the Zayed Charity Marathon in New York City since its inauguration in 2005. The race raises awareness about kidney disease, and the proceeds go to the US's National Kidney Foundation.[103][104]

Mohamed bin Zayed has been involved in setting up art museums, such as Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2017 and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in 2012, as well as cultural heritage sites such as Qasr Al Hosn.[105][106][107][108]

He has been involved in efforts to protect wild falcons, bustards, and the Arabian Oryx. He donated $1 million to an initiative aimed at preventing the power line-related deaths of wild birds, as part of launching of the $20-million-dollar Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Raptor Conservation Foundation.[109] He heads the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.[110][111][112]

A species of woodlizard--Enyalioides binzayedi—was named after him as the creator of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund that provided financial support to the expeditions leading to the discovery of the specie in the Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru.[113][114] In 2017, a rare and majestic species of maple tree was named after him. Acer binzayedii is found in the mountainous cloud forest of Jalisco in Western México.[115]

Personal life

Al Nahyan is married to Sheikha Salama bint Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Nahyan.[116] They married in 1981.[117] They have nine children together, four sons and five daughters.[24] His children are:

  • Sheikha Mariam bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikha Shamsa bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikha Fatima bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikha Shamma bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikh Zayed bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Sheikha Hassa bint Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan[22]

A lifelong fan of falconry, he established the Mohamed bin Zayed Falconry and Desert Physiognomy School with the goal of promoting and sustaining the ancient tradition by teaching it to new generations of Emiratis. He himself learned the practice from his late father.[118][119][120]


Place named after him

In April 2021, the Jakarta–Cikampek Elevated Toll Road in Indonesia was renamed as Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Skyway (Jalan Layang Mohamed bin Zayed), at the behest of the Indonesian President's secretary.[125]



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