UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed arguably most powerful Arab leader: Report

Washington/Abu Dhabi, PTI | Updated : 03 June 2019, 07:51 PM
Prince Mohammed bin Zayed
Prince Mohammed bin Zayed

Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the UAE who controls sovereign wealth funds worth USD 1.3 trillion, is arguably the most powerful leader in the Arab world with his special forces operating in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Egypt, according to a prominent American newspaper.

The 58-year-old Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, colloquially known as MBZ, is among the most influential foreign voices in Washington, urging the US to adopt his increasingly bellicose approach to the region, the New York Times reported.

The prince, who controls sovereign wealth funds worth USD 1.3 trillion, more than any other country, has the Arab world's most potent military, equipped through its work with the US to conduct high-tech surveillance and combat operations far beyond its borders, the paper said.

His post-Arab Spring interventions have hardly stabilised the region. Prince Mohammed, also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE's Armed Forces, was instrumental in upgrading his country's ties with India to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

He visited India twice, including as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations in 2017 - during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first term. Modi also visited the Gulf state twice, helping in sustaining the momentum generated by the visits of the crown prince.

Soon after Prime Minister Modi's oath ceremony for a second term last week, the UAE government lit up the iconic ADNOC building in Abu Dhabi, in an extraordinary gesture to symbolise the close bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two nations.

The flags of India and the UAE and portraits of Modi and Prince Mohammed were displayed on the facade of the iconic building of the state-owned oil company of the UAE.

Indian Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri told the state-run WAM news agency that since the visit of Prime Minister Modi to the Gulf state in August 2015, the two nations have seen a real transformation in our bilateral ties.

"The close friendship that has blossomed over the last four years between our Prime Minister and the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is well-known. The whole world can see it today in this unique celebration of the re-election of the Prime Minister for a fresh five year term" Suri said, referring to the ADNOC tower which was beautifully lit up and adorned with the flags of India and UAE and visuals of the two leaders.

Over the last two years, Suri said bilateral ties have evolved from a simple buyer-seller relationship to a multi-faceted partnership. During the last few years, the UAE has quietly handed over to Indian authorities a number of wanted criminals, including British national Christian Michel - an alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.

According to the NYT, Prince Mohammed's influence in the United States is legendary - and never more felt than under President Donald Trump.

Before Trump took office, the prince secured a secret meeting with the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The prince also tried to broker talks between the Trump administration and Russia, a gambit that later entangled him in the special counsel's investigation into foreign election interference.

"...Under the Trump administration, his influence in Washington appears greater than ever. He has a rapport with President Trump, who has frequently adopted the prince's views on Qatar, Libya and Saudi Arabia, even over the advice of cabinet officials or senior national security staff," the paper said.

For decades, the prince has been a key American ally, following Washington's lead, but now he is going his own way. His special forces are active in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Egypt's North Sinai. He has worked to thwart democratic transitions in the Middle East, helped install a reliable autocrat in Egypt and boosted a protege to power in Saudi Arabia, the paper said.

Citing Western diplomats who know the prince, the paper said he is obsessed with two enemies, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood - a 90-year-old Islamist movement founded in Egypt.

"Trump has sought to move strongly against both and last week took steps to bypass congressional opposition to keep selling weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates," the paper said.

President Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal last year and has unilaterally reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran. Last month, the US designated Iran's revolutionary guards as a "foreign terrorist organisation".

"MBZ has an extraordinary way of telling Americans his own interests but making it come across as good advice about the region," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, whose sympathy for the Arab Spring and negotiations with Iran brought blistering criticism from the Emirati prince, was quoted as saying by the paper.

When it comes to influence in Washington, Rhodes added, "MBZ is in a class by himself."

The paper said that the prince is unlike most of the Arab royals who are paunchy, long-winded and prone to keep visitors waiting.

He graduated at the age of 18 from the British officers' training program at Sandhurst. He stays slim and fit, trades tips with visitors about workout machines, and never arrives late for a meeting.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE allow Christian churches and Hindu or Sikh temples, partly to accommodate a vast foreign work force, the paper said.

To underscore the point, the prince last year created a Ministry of Tolerance and declared this the "Year of Tolerance." the paper added.

First Published: Monday, June 03, 2019 07:48 PM
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