News Centre: Key players

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Iran: Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei

Role: Rahbar (Supreme Leader) (1989-)

The Middle East region’s longest serving head of state, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei has, since his youth, advocated for the revolutionary ideals articulated by the Islamic Republic’s first rahbar (supreme leader).

Khamenei has ruled by blending the velayat-e faqih (governance of the Islamic jurist) system’s ideology with a hard-headed and often ruthless pragmatism that has reinforced his personal power in alliance with institutions of the post-Shah state such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC or Pasdaran).

This has made Khamenei undoubtedly the most dominant voice in Iranian politics for more than three decades, making speculation about his successor as rahbar a critical issue.

Social media- X: @khamenei_ir

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UAE: Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

Role: Abu Dhabi Deputy Ruler, National Security Advisor

Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed is one of the most influential figures in UAE politics and business, with an extensive portfolio of state-owned and privately-held commercial interests and a pivotal role as national security advisor. Those two roles sometimes overlap, as does his strong interest in the development of artificial intelligence.

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Saudi Arabia: Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdelaziz (MBS)

Role: Crown prince, prime minister, chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs and the Council of Political and Security Affairs

In the early 2010s, GSN began to note the rise of the young and ambitious Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), marked out even then for his boldness and aggressiveness, as well as his physical resemblance to the founder of the kingdom, King Abdelaziz (Ibn Saud).

Compared to his elder half-brothers who were educated abroad and had developed Western tastes, MBS was seen as very different. He went to university in the kingdom, at King Saud University in Riyadh, and shadowed his father Salman – then Riyadh governor and also the family’s stern policeman – and watched closely how he dealt with citizens and other royals.

Since becoming deputy crown prince in April 2015 and crown prince in June 2017, MBS has torn up the old cautious model of decision-making, which was based on consensus-building. MBS spends little time discussing issues with cousins – or sharing the kingdom’s wealth among as broad a range of princes as before – and there are few now guardrails beyond the king himself. Arrests of family members and former regime officials show MBS has little tolerance for any impediment to his vision for transforming Saudi Arabia into a modern, powerful country. He is the driving force across government, with the support of his father.

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UAE: Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

Role: UAE President

Over more than three decades of wielding increasing political influence, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ) has emerged as a key architect of the modern UAE.

As president since 2022, and de facto ruler for several years before that, MBZ has been closely associated with the UAE’s projection of soft power and military muscle in the surrounding region, and its position as a major economic force.

In recent years, MBZ has overseen Abu Dhabi’s rise as a commercial hub to challenge Dubai, augmenting its huge oil income; indeed, the non-oil sector now accounts for a greater share of the emirate’s GDP than the hydrocarbons industry. He has also overseen a concentration of political power and economic influence.

Other Key players