Saudi-Emirates Duel in the Middle East over Historic Alliance

Just as two kings cannot rule in the same territory, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have become rivals in the race to become superpowers in the Arab world.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. Photo: Collected

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, two of the main powers in Middle East politics, have seen a recent ebb.

This low tide is expected to have a significant impact not only on Middle Eastern politics but also on world politics.

The wheels of the modern world industry are still dependent on oil, the main supplier of which is the Middle East region. So the importance of this region in world politics has always been high. 

When the winds of change begin to blow in the traditional alliance, enmity, rivalry, or neutrality, the wind will surely touch global politics as well. Analysts believe the process of which has already started.
The close friendship between Saudi and UAE in the Middle East has been a major regulator for determining the geopolitics of the region since that historic period. 

However, despite minor differences on various issues, it has never been as clear as this time by the policymakers of the two countries. 

The differences between the two countries over controlling oil production at the table of OPEC, an organization of oil-producing countries in the world, have disrupted the entire discussion. 

As a result, talks between 13 OPEC countries and OPECPlus 23 countries have also stopped. Even the date of further discussion has not been notified. And that's why global oil prices have risen to their highest level in the last six years.

Based on the opinion of all OPEC countries led by Saudi Arabia to stabilize the fuel market due to the Corona epidemic, the countries agreed to produce quota-based oil in an agreement last year. 

But that agreement is scheduled to expire by the end of this year. But Saudi Arabia and Russia want to extend the old agreement until December 2022. 

On the other hand, the UAE is against extending the agreement. They have given the maximum term of the contract to April 2022. 

Because according to the amount of investment that Abu Dhabi has invested in the burning sector in the past years, production has to be increased further to get results. 

Otherwise, they may fall into financial loss. This is basically where the problem facing the Saudi-Emirates begins.

According to al Jazeera, UAE production in quota-based fuel controlled production has been 18 percent lower than normal in the 18 long months since the beginning of the Corona epidemic. 

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has reduced production by just 5 percent during this period. So naturally, the UAE's long-suppressed anger over Saudi has come out of the focus of the issue. 

Despite being much smaller in size, strength, economy than Saudi, the UAE has protested against Saudi Arabia's decision face-to-face.

The question may be, why did the UAE suddenly get so blown away from the role of an obedient state that always adheres to Saudi policy? 

The answer to this question can be easily found only by analyzing the national and international policies of the Arab Emirates for the last two/three decades.

The Arab Emirates ranks 34th in the global economy with a population of about 10 million in just 32,300 square miles. 

The country is economically ambitious even though it is in size and has a very small population. As the first Arab country to enter the UAE Mars mission account last year. 

The country has become a business hub in the Gulf through various technology engagements and infrastructure development.

"We want to be an important country in the world," Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargas said in a BBC interview. "I want to play a role in the world. We will take it even if we risk achieving that goal. "

The foreign minister's statement may be a reflection of Saudi policy being rejected directly. Last year, the Emirate established diplomatic relations with the arch-enemy Jewish state of Israel, regardless of the Arab world. 

The country, which has been conducting operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen in conjunction with Saudi Arabia since 2015, has recently withdrawn a significant number of troops, much to Saudi Arabia's disappointment. 

All in all, the country is giving the highest priority to national interests and the race to become an important power in the Arab world.    

According to the diplomatic history of the last two decades in the Emirate, the country has also played a very important role in establishing world peace on various battlefields. 

Emirates troops and voluntary groups have played a major role in several war-torn and crisis-hit countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ethiopia, Kosovo, Somalia. 

The country also plays a unique role in building schools, mosques, and other infrastructure in Afghanistan.

But the world hardly knows about these roles of the Emirate. The country is also very active in curbing Islamic militancy in East African countries. The UAE has also set up several small military bases in the region.

Although the Emirate's economy was completely dependent on fuel in the past, it now wants to be reduced by the present Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. 

Under his leadership, the Emirate has focused on purchasing weapons. At the same time, economic activities other than oil. 

The tourism industry has expanded considerably due to natural beauty, Islamic heritage, and infrastructure attractions. 

The UAE has become a hub of trade in the Gulf region. In total, the country wants to strengthen its position in the Arab world and world politics.  

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, another power in the region, aims to be similar to the Arab Emirates. In his dream of becoming the Super Power of the Arab world in economics, in strength, and of becoming an essential part of world politics, The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. 

This is where the main problem has happened. Just as two kings cannot rule in the same territory, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have become rivals in the race to become superpowers in the Arab world.

As a result of the rivalry, in February this year, the Saudi government issued an ultimatum to multinational companies to move their regional headquarters to Saudi Arabia by 2024. 

Otherwise, no agreement will be signed by the Saudi government with them. Since Abu Dhabi is the business hub of the area, it goes without saying that Saudi Arabia has taken such a decision to upset the Emirate. 

Saudi Arabia has also hit the UAE's tourism industry with a ban on the purchase of goods from the Gulf, which has Israeli customs facilities, and the announcement of a halt to flights to Abu Dhabi.

So obviously, the two countries are becoming rivals in need of time from historical alliances because of their similar goals. 

In the past, the two countries have been found to have similarities in places of interest, but now the band seems to be falling. Here, for example, the Saudi-UAE joint operation against the Houthis in Yemen can be talked about. 

In 2015, the two countries launched a campaign in Yemen with enthusiasm. But a couple of years ago, the Emirate withdrew a large part of its army.

But why did they withdraw? Iran is believed to be the reason for the withdrawal. Iran, the main Shia country in the Middle East, supports Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

And the Arab Emirates doesn't want to throw Iran away. A recent political conduct analysis suggests that the Emirate has adopted a policy of making Iran more inclusive. 

Because Iran and the Arab Emirates are connected by the Strait of Hormuz, the business hub of the Arabian Peninsula. Therefore, it can be assumed that unrest in Iran or large-scale disagreements with the country on any issue will not be good for the Emirate. 

Of course, the same argument can be applied to Saudi-Emirate relations. Analysts, therefore, believe that the recent differences between OPEC and OPEC Plus over fuel oil production could be resolved quickly. 

Because recently there has been flexibility in the political behavior of Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman. He addressed Iran as a neighboring country and offered to work based on mutual cooperation. 

That is since bin Salman has not shied away from his flexibility towards the ever-hostile Shia state, he can be assumed to take the step of quickly moving with the Emirate. 

On the other hand, the Emirate has become one of the powers of the Arab world, but it is undoubtedly far behind Saudi Arabia. 

Therefore, the UAE also understands that any decision will not be good for the future of the country without bothering about Saudi at all.

It is, therefore, assumed that both countries will come forward as OPEC's differences are not allowed to go too deep. 

However, nothing is certain here, but the Saudi-emirate princely friendship has cracked and the race to win the same seat between the two countries is completely evident. 

And this competition can be assumed to affect the Arab world and world politics considerably.

Jannatul Tazri Trisha
Alumni, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.

Date: 2021-07-17

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