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Exploring UAE foreign policy trends

In this article, there is a whisper of reproach and a call on the rulers of the UAE to review their foreign policy, which is backed by money but lacks the most important strength factors in international affairs. I do not mean to reproach or blame the rulers of the UAE, nor am I trying to pressure them or accuse them of treason. I hope they understand this.

I am not criticising the right of Arab countries to adopt foreign policies that serve their interests both domestically and abroad as long as they coincide with the standards and elements of their overall strategy. I hope that they would also coincide with their regional Arab obligations and commitments outlined in various charters and conventions, on the condition that the policies are consistent with the will of the people.

The UAE has the right to aspire for an important position in the world; it is doing this by organising seminars, conventions, festivals, weapons and industrial exhibitions, building the tallest tower in the world and celebrating Christmas by putting up the largest Christmas tree in the world. By doing so, it is concerned with establishing an important entity that actually reminds us of the Gaddafi or Bokassa empires. The question here is where, in all of this, do the Arabs fit in? Where are the Emirati investments that come out of the alliance with the corrupt government in Egypt, for example? With those who steal state land for cheap prices and sell it for billions, that’s where. And those who buy working factories with the intention of seizing land and stopping production. In addition to this, they invest in African countries that are conspiring against Egypt’s share of the Nile waters.

I have addressed this issue at this particular time because of the large-scale military and political attack in the Arab world and a mysterious development reported by the media. This is the recent diplomatic exchange between Israel and the UAE, which has apparently replaced the secret communication between the two countries that has been going on for years.

Regardless of whether this is true or not, we cannot compare it to Egyptian and Jordanian diplomatic relations with Israel because these two countries fought a war with the Zionist state and signed a peace treaty with it, despite the explicit rejection of such moves by their citizens. Even though these treaties were signed decades ago, they have not resulted in the normalisation of relations with Israel.

It is a well-known fact, thank God, that the UAE has achieved economic growth at a global level. Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum set the country’s budget for 2015 at $13.4 billion. This does not represent all of the UAE’s public and private wealth, which is much greater. It is also a well-known fact that the UAE does not publish its financial statements regularly, and I will not go into the country’s projects or the budget of each emirate. The UAE also talked about the state’s vision, which aims to see it among the world’s top three countries in the world by 2021. While we congratulate the Emirates on this success, it remains lacking in its support of the strong role that its leaders aspire to. This includes allotting $5.4 billion to improve security and safety services, although “only” $980 million was allotted to programmes to improve security and achieve the highest safety levels. Meanwhile, $185 million was allotted to the programme to ensure its preparedness for crises and disasters; part of the budget was allotted to preserving the UAE’s path towards normalising relations with Israel.

Normalisation is not a new matter. The UAE decided about a month after the 2008-2009 Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza to grant an Israeli tennis player an entry visa to participate in a tournament in Dubai. The Israeli flag has been raised in Abu Dhabi during an International Renewable Energy Agency meeting attended by Israel officials. In early 2010, the Israeli Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau became the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE officially and openly. In December 2010, the UAE hosted the Israeli swimming team and in January 2014, Israeli Minister of Energy Silvan Shalom visited the Emirates to participate in an energy conference.

In December 2014, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported the launch of a private airline run by the UAE and Israel. The UAE contracted with Israeli company IGT to install surveillance systems in order to protect sites in Abu Dhabi that may be closely associated with the trips conducted by the secretive airline.

A WikiLeaks document has revealed the strong relationship between Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed and his then Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni.

In November 2013, the New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman wrote an article in which he noted that Israeli President Shimon Peres had addressed representatives of many Arab and Muslim governments via satellite during a meeting in the UAE. The Emirates also arranged visits to Cairo for the ardently pro-Israel Tony Blair in order to work as an adviser to the Egyptian government; the same was done for disgraced Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan.

It was also noted that Israeli Minister Shmuel Hadas claimed that the Arab Gulf States feel that the US does not listen to them and therefore they occasionally try to send messages to America via Israel. He also hinted to the fear of Emirati leaders about declaring their positions on Israel to their citizens. According to a document dated 24 January 2007, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed told US Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, during a meeting in Abu Dhabi, that, “If the Emiratis knew what I do and if I voiced my support for some matters, they would stone me.”

The documents also stated that Bin Zayed does not completely trust the army and security forces, doubting their loyalty to the Al-Nahyan family. This explains the ruling family’s decision to hire America’s Blackwater Company to protect their palaces. According to Arab sources, this same company also provides security protection to other sensitive locations.

Mohammed bin Zayed also told the American official, “Out of the 60,000 UAE Armed Forces soldiers, 50-80 per cent of them could be mobilised by a call from a shaikh in Makkah.” This not only suggests his lack of trust in their loyalty, but also his concern over the religious affiliations of the Emirati soldiers.

This document may also explain the serious fear in the Emirates about the rise of the Islamists in the region accompanied by the open conspiring between the UAE and the army in Egypt to carry out the military coup against President Mohamed Morsi, simply because he was a Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

Unannounced UAE-Israel cooperation proves that Israeli and Jewish-American delegations have visited the Emirates secretly. That’s why Abu Dhabi was angered when the largest Jewish-American association supporter of Israel announced that it would be visiting the UAE even though the UAE ambassador to Washington had requested that the visit be kept secret.

According to the above-mentioned document, the Abu Dhabi crown prince also told Burns, “The UAE does not consider Israel an enemy.” The Jewish people, he added, are welcome in the UAE. Noting “religious tolerance” in the state, Bin Zayed added, “The Nahyan family has been supporting Christian associations and their medical missions since the 1950s.”

It is also worth noting that the UAE official tried to incite the Americans against Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that he expressed his anger at Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections in 2006.

UAE intervention in Libya in support of Haftar

David Kirkpatrick has said that the UAE has been shipping weapons throughout this summer to the parties favouring the Emirates in Libya. This is a blatant violation of the international arms ban. At the same time, according to leaked emails, the UAE was offering a position with a very high salary to a UN diplomat who was charged with formulating the peace agreement in Libya.

American officials suspect that the Emiratis are violating international agreements regarding missile control. It is doing so by providing Egypt with United-40 surveillance drones, produced by Adcom, which is based in Abu Dhabi.

Emirati army

Before the formation of the UAE, the military was known as the Trucial Oman Scouts. In 1971, after the UAE’s independence, the scouts formed the Union Defence Force. On 6 May 1976, the ground, naval and air forces were united under the name of the General Command of the Armed Forces, under one leadership and one flag. The military expansion (1991-2005) included the acquisition of 436 French Leclerc tanks, 415 BMP-3 armoured vehicles and 155 mm G6 howitzers from South Africa.

The UAE agreed with the US in 1999 to buy 80 multi-purpose F-16 fighter jets and with France to buy 30 Mirage 2000 jets; British Hawk jets, AS332 Euro-copters and AH-64 Apaches complete the line-up. Every Arab is proud of this.

Internal oppressive policies

It has become a miserable reality that Emirati citizens are subject to unjust pressures from the state security agencies and fear that their citizenship will be revoked. At that point, they would be without any identification associating them with the country that they were born and raised in and the country where their ancestors lived. The law does not prevent a free and easy approach to revoking citizenships, nor does the constitution overrule state security. The children of Emirati women who are married to non-Emiratis are expelled and labelled as “Bedoon” or stateless. In August 2012, stateless Bedoon activist Ahmed Abdul Khaleq was expelled after being kidnapped for months.

Number of Asians threatens the percentage of citizens

There is an increase in Asian employment across the UAE, as the number of Asian workers outnumbers those from Arab countries for many reasons, one of which is that they will not aspire to play a political role that will threaten the government. They also work for low wages and are willing to work harder and fulfil the desires of Emirati employers. They also serve in the Emirati army in the hope of receiving citizenship. The UAE also use militias trained in South America and foreign security companies, such as Blackwater, to guard the leaders and their palaces. It is claimed that the UAE has promised Emirati citizenship to those in the militias fighting with them in Yemen if they survive.

Abu Dhabi’s vision for governing Egypt

Well-known British journalist David Hearst, the editor of Middle East Eye, has revealed what he described as “a secret strategic document” that shows the details of “Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Shaikh Mohammed Bin Zayed’s plan and vision to rule and govern Egypt.” This document is regarded as a major scandal if it is credible.

It explains the crown prince’s “frustration with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and his loss of confidence in his ability to serve the Gulf State’s interests. It also includes his plans to impose his control over the administration in Egypt.” Hearst pointed out that the UAE’s strategy for the future will not be limited to trying to influence the government in Egypt, rather it will include taking control, as Bin Zayed said: “Now, I will give, but on my conditions. If I give, I will rule.”

This document also revealed discontent with the Egyptian officials who did not show great loyalty to the UAE after the Emiratis had believed that they had swayed them. It suggests that, in the future, the Emiratis will have to choose their partners in Egypt vey carefully, as the UAE seeks to change its role from a “funder” to a “full partner”.

The UAE, it was argued, must fund and recruit research centres, think tanks, universities and media outlets in Egypt. These direct investments must have a clear vision and strategy, and any amount paid must serve the interests of Abu Dhabi.

“The main idea in the mind of the Emiratis,” added Hearst, “is that Mohammed Bin Zayed must be the true ruler of Egypt and that the Egyptian president, whoever he is, must carry out Bin Zayed’s orders.”

The limits of power and its missions

The influence of money and the power it generates is not enough to gain status and position amongst the global superpowers that have great strategic depth and technological capabilities. The money will remain the subject of these countries.

There are more important areas in which Emirati military and financial power can be used; in the restoration of the two islands that were occupied by Iran, for example. However, Emirati financial and military strength alone is not capable of doing this because Iran possesses greater capabilities and strengths than the Gulf state.

Of course, it gives every Arab pleasure to see any Arab state achieve great growth and economic development. Every Arab country rejoices and welcomes the wealth and success achieved by any Arab entity provided that it is not used to subjugate other Arabs. Perhaps they believe that the development projects in the Suez Canal will affect their projects, such as the Jebel Ali empire. Mubarak stopped these projects in the 1990s and Morsi was overthrown before he could complete them. In any case, the idea of controlling Egypt expresses the UAE’s fatal arrogance.

We have all witnessed the UAE adopt a foreign policy over the past few years that is far removed from Arab aspirations, hopes and identity. As such, its leaders must review and reconsider this policy until the government is no longer singing out of tune with the rest of the Arabs.

I say this in all calmness, appreciation and respect for the UAE’s leaders in the hope that they reconsider their approaches and make the necessary changes in order to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences for the country in the medium- and long-term.

Translated from Arabi21, 17 December, 2015.

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