Local tech sector pays tribute to late UAE president Khalifa

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UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan passed away on Friday, at age 73. His legacies include steering the country toward its embrace of technology and innovation.

Photo credit: EMIRATES NEWS AGENCY/TWITTER

UAE PRESIDENT Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan passed away on Friday, according to a brief statement from the state-run Emirates News Agency. He was 73.

The eldest son of UAE founding father Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Khalifa assumed office back in 2004. He oversaw much of the country’s economic transformation over the past 18 years, and guided its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. After Abu Dhabi bailed out a debt-hit Dubai during the crisis, his name was immortalized on the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Sheikh Khalifa also presided over much of the country’s efforts to transition toward an innovation-oriented economy, establishing satellite campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. During his rule, the UAE also embarked on a push to lower its reliance on petrodollars, through investing in renewable energy research, strengthening local technology research, and establishing initiatives like the sustainably-powered Masdar City and the startup ecosystem Hub71.

During Sheikh Khalifa’s rule, the UAE also welcomed foreign entrepreneurs, cultivating the growth of the region’s business and tech juggernauts like Aramex, Careem, and Anghami.

Sheikh Khalifa’s funeral will begin Saturday, the UAE ministry of presidential affairs announced. As the country enters a 40-day mourning period, the UAE government has told all federal and local government departments, ministries, and private firms to suspend their operations for three days.

In the meantime, government officials, companies and founders are posting condolences and tributes to the ruler.

Sarah Al-Amiri and Omar Al-Olama, the UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology, and the UAE Minister for Digital Economy, A.I. and Remote Work Applications, respectively, wrote brief but moving tributes to the ruler in Arabic.

Fadi Ghandour—who co-founded courier firm Aramex in 1982 and now leads venture fund Wamda Capital—posted a link to an obituary of the president on LinkedIn. “May he rest in peace,” he added.

UAE-based tech heavyweights like Careem and Anghami also took to Twitter to express condolences. “Today is a sad day for the UAE,” wrote Anghami founder Elie Habib, who shifted the startup from Beirut to Abu Dhabi in January 2021.

Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre called the sheikh a “visionary leader,” who guided the UAE through “groundbreaking milestones.” The Abu Dhabi Investment office and Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute, a subsidiary of the emirate’s Advanced Technology Research Council, also tweeted their condolences.