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UAE security chief takes helm of Abu Dhabi's $700bn wealth fund

Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known for his trademark aviator sunglasses, epitomises the blurring lines between business and politics in the Gulf
Emirati minister of interior, Sheikh Saif bin Zayed al-Nahyan (L), and the UAE national security adviser, Tahnoun bin Zayed al-Nahyan, at Al-Watan presidential palace in Abu Dhabi on 15 October 2019.
Emirati Minister of Interior Sheikh Saif bin Zayed al-Nahyan (L) and UAE national security adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed al-Nahyan, at Al-Watan Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, on 15 October 2019 (AFP)

The UAE’s powerful national security advisor will become chairman of Abu Dhabi’s $790bn sovereign wealth fund, a move that is likely to further blur the lines between economics and geopolitics in the energy-rich Gulf state.

Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known for his trademark aviator sunglasses, is one of the top foreign policy officials in the UAE. He often engages in shuttle diplomacy, meeting regional leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Taking the helm of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority will add to Tahnoun’s growing economic clout. The Emirati spymaster already chairs the International Holding Company (IHC), a sprawling conglomerate whose $236bn market capitalisation makes it bigger than Walt Disney or McDonald’s.

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Analysts say IHC’s surge in value under Tahnoun’s leadership spotlights the fading lines between private and public sectors in the UAE, as the country experiences an economic boom.

Dubai has attracted the attention of wealthy Russians and ex-pat western bankers. Meanwhile, Emirati state coffers have been buoyed by rising energy prices.

Tahnoun has been at the forefront of Emirati efforts to put its growing wealth to use. IHC inked a deal in August for a Turkish renewable energy company linked to President Erdogan.

Turkey and the UAE were on opposing sides of conflicts like in Libya, but the UAE has extended an economic lifeline to Erdogan amid a thaw in relations.

Tahnoun - who has a black belt in jiu-jitsu - is one of six brothers, known as the Bani Fatima, born to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE, and his third wife, Sheikha Fatima. Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed is among them.

Tahnoun’s ascent to the top of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund comes as Gulf states look to use their oil riches to diversify their economies away from oil and gas. The UAE is increasingly competing with its larger neighbour Saudi Arabia to attract foreign companies and western ex-pats.

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