Since assuming the role of President of the UAE, following the death of his late father, Sheikh Zayed on 3 November 2004, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa has brought his long experience at senior levels of leadership to bear in charting the modernisation of the seven-emirate Federation and ensuring its continued relevance within the region and beyond. Sheikh Khalifa's inclusion on the Forbes list of the world's 50 most influential figures underlines the significance of the UAE on the global stage and the success of Sheikh Khalifa's personal efforts in consolidating the achievements of his father.
Sheikh Khalifa's accession to the presidency was the culmination of a career of leadership that began in 1966 when, aged just 18, he was appointed by Sheikh Zayed as his representative in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi and the head of the emirate's courts – a mark of the confidence Sheikh Zayed had in his son even at this early stage. That confidence was repeatedly demonstrated in subsequent years, as Sheikh Khalifa was appointed to a series of high-level positions, becoming Crown Prince in 1969 and then in 1971 assuming the role of Deputy Prime Minister in the first federal UAE cabinet.
Further senior posts followed, as Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, as Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and then, in 1989, as chairman of Abu Dhabi's Supreme Petroleum Council. In this role Sheikh Khalifa was responsible for steering the development of the oil and gas sector and the downstream industries that have contributed so successfully to the country's economic diversification.
Re-elected as President in 2009, Sheikh Khalifa pledged in his second term to continue with the implementation of the ambitious strategies for political, administrative, economic, social and cultural development that he had instigated in his first term. His steady, prudent, stewardship and focus on good governance and the integrity of the Federation have proved a blessing in times of financial and regional turmoil.
Central to Sheikh Khalifa's presidency is his belief in the need to enhance the active participation of UAE citizens in government, including greater empowerment of the Federal National Council. Domestically, Sheikh Khalifa has increased expenditure on the development of infrastructure throughout the UAE, improving education, housing, health and social welfare.
In particular, this care for the well-being of his citizens has led to the launch of a number of funds and initiatives targeted at developing the local workforce, granting financial and other assistance to budding entrepreneurs, assisting the agricultural sector, providing housing and alleviating the burden of private debt for citizens with low incomes.
Sheikh Khalifa has also shown a strong commitment to providing assistance to those in need internationally. In addition to Government aid, the Khalifa bin Zayed aL Nahyan Foundation, the third most significant donor of UAE foreign aid, makes an enormous difference to people's lives in over 70 countries, building much-needed roads, bridges, schools, orphanages and hospitals. Already a key donor to UNWRA, Sheikh Khalifa has also extended a helping hand to those most affected by regional crises, including millions of Syrian refugees.
A social media campaign, 'Thank You Khalifa', launched in January 2014 by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai on the anniversary of his accession, had a massive response from people throughout the country, reflecting the deep appreciation of Sheikh Khalifa's leadership and vision.
Sheikh Khalifa was born in Al Muwaiji Fort, Al Ain, in 1948. Though Al Muwaiji village was then a small place compared to the other villages in the cluster of oases dominated by Al Ain and Buraimi, it was, nevertheless, a centre of influence for the Al bu Falah subsection of the Bani Yas tribal confederation and the Al Nahyan ruling family in the numerous oases of the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi as well as in the interior of eastern Arabia. Sheikh Khalifa spent his early childhood years in this fort, which still stands opposite the Court (diwan) of the Ruler's Representative at the outskirts of Al Ain, and in which his late father had settled in his youth in 1946 after being assigned by his brother, the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, to take the leadership of the Eastern Region on his behalf.
The oases of Al Ain and Al Buraimi, where Sheikh Khalifa spent his early years, was a place of strategic and vital economic significance for Abu Dhabi as a main agricultural producer and as a major strategic centre for the security of the region, positioned at the crossroads that linked the coast to the interior of eastern Arabia. The very difficult task of Sheikh Zayed at that time was to take leadership of the discordant tribes there and in the surrounding region, to ensure internal stability and security, to consolidate state authority, and to bring prosperity to the tribes despite the paucity of resources.
Sheikh Khalifa received his early education in the sole school that had been built in Al Ain by his father at that time. What is now the city of Al Ain was then a collection of six scattered villages lacking basic infrastructure services such as roads, electricity or modern means of education. But as his father always maintained, the best kind of education is the one received in public majalis (the daily congregations that take place in the presence of a ruler or senior tribal leader.) Sheikh Khalifa was fortunate to have the benefit of two such public councils of the time, which were the finest schools for teaching the skills of political leadership and kept him close to the tribes, learning their ethos and characteristics, understanding their aspirations and acquiring management and communication skills.
The first council that developed Sheikh Khalifa's talents was the majlis of his father, Sheikh Zayed, who was recognised by all observers at the time as the most charismatic personality in the region with evident strong leadership capabilities. Sheikh Zayed was keen to take his eldest son on most of his daily movements and visits in the area, and so instilled in him from childhood the values of responsibility and trust, bringing him close to the tribes who loved him and whom he loved with equal devotion. During those formative years, Sheikh Khalifa saw his father's dedication to bringing prosperity and well-being to the tribes, to maintain security and unity, and to care for the environment and preserve the heritage of his people. He learnt that a real leader is one who is wholly concerned with the welfare of his people. In the company of his father, he was also able to appreciate at close hand the qualities and political and communication skills that made a great leader.
The second majlis which honed and complimented his leadership skills was that of his grandfather from his mother's side, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa, the senior figure of the Al Nahyan at the time, who was known for his wisdom, knowledge and insight and who was respected and admired by all until his death in 1979. Along with his mother's attention, Sheikh Khalifa also enjoyed special care and attention from his grandmother Sheikha Salama, who occupied a high position among her people in her own right as she was known for her sophistication, wisdom and perception – gained despite the relative isolation of the emirate from the outside world at that time.
When his father moved to Abu Dhabi City to become the Ruler of the emirate in August 1966, he appointed his son, who was 18 at that time, as his representative in the Eastern Province and the president of its legal system. Given the strategic importance of Al Ain, which was very close to Sheikh Zayed's heart, this delegation of authority was seen as a mark of the high confidence Sheikh Zayed had in his son. In effect, Sheikh Khalifa followed in the footsteps of his father and continued the implementation of major development projects in the Eastern Province, especially those designed to improve agriculture through the digging of new wells and the reparation of the old aflaj (underground canal) system. His notable success in Al Ain was the stepping stone to a long career in public service that saw Sheikh Khalifa assume his leadership role with ease and skill, marking every point of new departure with major accomplishments and achievements.
During the following years, Sheikh Khalifa held a number of major posts contributing to helping his father realise a seemingly impossible dream. He became the main executive leader of his late father's Government, overseeing, both on the local and federal levels, the implementation of all his major projects in the early historic stages of the founding the state. Throughout this early phase of leadership, Sheikh Khalifa exhibited the same unique characteristics inspired by his father, based on a modest and open management style. Fully dedicated to bringing prosperity and progress to his people, Sheikh Khalifa always dealt with those who worked with him with dignity and respect, giving them flexibility to take the initiative, skilfully maintaining their trust and motivating them to constant effort.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed was undoubtedly a full partner in the leadership of his country in its foundation stages, in that he actively shared in the execution of his late father's plans and in the fulfilment of his vision under his direct supervision and direction. He was instrumental during this process in developing the machinery of administration and government so as to transform the state from its early tribal origins to grow to be the fully modern and institutionalised country it has become today, so as to ensure its safe transition and survival in the twenty-first century.