Thinking Citizen Blog — Who is MBZ? Who Knows? Who Cares? Who Should?

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: Who is MBZ? Who knows? Who cares? Who should?

Don’t confuse MBS (Mohammed Ben Salman, 35) and MBZ (Mohammed Bin Zayed, 58) . MBS is ruler of Saudi Arabia. MBZ is the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. Both are really, really powerful players on the global stage. Some say MBZ is more important than MBS. Others disagree. Today, a look at MBZ, who may have played a critical role in MBS’s rise to power as well as in removing the Muslim Brotherhood from control of Egypt. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

OBSESSED WITH TWO ENEMIES — Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood

1. A tiny country with 6% of the world’s proven oil reserves, Abu Dhabi could be “a tempting target to a larger neighbor like Iran.” Remember Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

2. The UAE has allied itself to the US for protection, is armed to the teeth and is sometimes referred to as “little Sparta.” In sophistication, its military forces are second only to Israel in the region.

3. MBZ did not put any hope in the “Arab Spring.” To the contrary he feels that Islamists would win any election. The propagandists of the Muslim Brotherhood are perhaps as great a threat to peace and freedom as is Iran.

NB: But some worry that the US has created “a little Frankenstein,” that MBZ is a “rogue prince” who is fanning the flames of war in the Middle East. Do they have it backwards?


1. MBZ’s father (above), Zayed bin sultan Al Nahyan (1918–2004) was the founder and first president of the UAE (1971–2004). He turned the tiny poor country into “a desert Xanadu of gleaming skyscrapers, endless malls and marble-floored airports.”

2. His father insisted on universal education for women at at time when female illiteracy was 100%.

3. Saudi Arabia does not permit Christian churches, or Sikh or Hindu temples. Abu Dhabi does.

NB: “A large bronze sculpture stands outside M.B.Z.’s main office in Abu Dhabi, spelling out the word “tolerance” in English letters. The U.A.E. goes to enormous lengths to advertise its commitment to pluralism. In 2016, the government created a Ministry of Tolerance, and 2019 was branded the Year of Tolerance, kicked off in February by a much-heralded visit from Pope Francis, the first time a pontiff has set foot on the Arabian Peninsula. But the tolerance does not extend to Islamists or anyone who expresses sympathy for them.”


1. “The Sept. 11 attacks were a life-changing moment for M.B.Z., unmasking both the depth of the Islamist menace and the Arab world’s state of denial about it.” (NYT, 1//9/21)

2. “M.B.Z. had heard nothing of the day’s events, and when he did he was furious. “What are you saying?” he asked the man. “New York is the center of the world — look how vulnerable we are.”

3. “By the time M.B.Z. arrived back in Abu Dhabi, later that day, he knew that two Emiratis were among the 19 hijackers.”

NB: “That fall, the Emirati security services arrested about 200 Emiratis and about 1,600 foreigners who were planning to go to Afghanistan and join Al Qaeda, including three or four who were committed to becoming suicide bombers.”


1. MBZ is slim and fit, graduated from Sandhurst at age 18, and “pours his own coffee.”

2. His favorite anecdote about his father — “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.’ ”

3. He has one wife and nine children — four sons and five daughters.

NB: With control over a $1.3 trillion plus wealth fund, he could well be the richest person on the planet.


1. UAE is a federation of seven emirates of which Abu Dhabi is one and Dubai another. The total population of the UAE is 9.2 million of which 1.4 million are citizens and the rest expatriates (mostly Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis).

2. The largest city in the UAE is Dubai (pop. 3.3 million). The second largest is Abu Dhabi City (pop. 1.8 million).

3. The government appoints all imams.

NB: In 1960, the population of Abu Dhabi was 25,000 and Dubai, 40,000. Today, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (see second photo above).

The Arab World’s most important man?

Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

The Most Powerful Arab Ruler Isn’t M.B.S. It’s M.B.Z. (Published 2019)

Abu Dhabi


Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.