The 86-year-old president of the United Arab Emirates, who helped forge a federation from seven backwater Persian Gulf states and built it into a high-tech commercial crossroads of gleaming skyscrapers, died Nov. 2, Abu Dhabi TV announced. No cause of death was reported.

Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the absolute ruler of the country, the world's ninth-largest oil producer, for more than 30 years.

He had been ailing for several years and did not attend Arab summits. He had a kidney transplant in August 2000.

His eldest son, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been heir apparent since 1969, when his father named him crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the capital and richest of the seven emirates.

The rulers of the seven emirates must choose the next president and are expected to pick Sheik Khalifa, although it was not clear when a decision would be made.

Sheik Zayed became the ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1966. He helped join the seven emirates -- small desert provinces ruled by Arab tribes -- into a federation, which he had ruled since it gained independence from Britain in 1971.

Since then, he oversaw the emirates' development to a world-leading financial and banking center.

Although oil profits fueled the UAE's expansion -- the country is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter -- officials have diversified the economy with an emphasis on trade and commerce.

Dubai, the second-richest emirate in the federation, earns most of its revenue from trade, with a busy seaport and airport.

But following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the UAE was among several Middle Eastern countries that came under pressure from Washington to reform its financial and banking sectors, which had been linked to the funneling of funds to such international terrorist groups as al Qaeda.

Sheik Zayed died a day after announcing the UAE's first Cabinet reshuffling since 1977.