Will the UAE step out of Saudi Arabia’s shadow?
Part 1: Relations between the United Arab Emirates and GCC Members.
Since the formation of the Untied Arab Emirates in 1971, the Emirati monarchy has relied heavily on the support and protection of Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), being a leading member of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has backed Saudi Arabia its “cold war” with Iran.
The UAEs commitment to Saudi Arabia originates from having a similar culture, religion, abundance of oil and geographical proximity. Both countries share a rivalry with Iran and a distaste for the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2011, the Emirati’s followed Saudi Arabia into sending arms to the rebels in Syria and backing armed groups in Libya. A few years later, the UAE again joined Saudi Arabia in supporting the Hadi led government in Yemen and blockading former ally Qatar. Emirati backing of the blockade solidified its support for Saudi Arabia and it’s commitment to fighting Iran and the Brotherhood.
Countering Iranian influence in the region is essential for the safety of the United Arab Emirates. Iran and the UAE are separated by a 140 miles of water. Emirati oil exports could be halted in a matter of hours in a conflict with Iran. Qatar is known as being the “Switzerland” of the Middle East, with trade agreements with Iran and anti Iran members of the GCC. The Qatari government accuses the UAE of orchestrating cyber attacks on government agencies and framing Qatar for supporting terrorists. Regardless of the accusations, the Emirati government fears Qatars connections with Iran and especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood poses a grave threat to the The Emirati royal family. The brotherhood over the years has gained traction from dissent in the poorer Emirates in the UAE. Most of the power and influence in the country comes from the Emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This gives the UAE another reason why to rally behind Saudi Arabia
The real Saudi-Emirati split begins with Saudi Arabia’s constant dominance on the United Arab Emirates’ foreign policy. The UAE is a growing power in the Middle East but finds that there is a lack of room to spread its influence. Saudi Arabia dictates most of the politics of the GCC. Pre-Qatar blockade, the United Arab Emirates clashed with Qatar, over Libya and Iran. The UAE doomed its relationship with the Saudis when entering Yemen and Libya. In the past couple months, Emirati backed forces took Aden from the Saudi backed government causing chaos within the GCC. In Libya, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE support different rival governments. Earlier this year the UAE re-opened its embassy in Syria, signaling cooling relations with the Syrian regime. The UAE is attempting to spread its influence, testing the reaction from Riyadh.
Bianco, Cinzia. “Cracks in the Saudi-Emirati Alliance?” ECFR, 13 Sept. 1970, www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_cracks_in_the_saudi_emirati_alliance.
“UAE Loosens Saudi Alliance to Push Peacemaker Image.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 28 Aug. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-emirates-diplomacy/uae-loosens-saudi-alliance-to-push-peacemaker-image-idUSKCN1VI1WA.