In a matter of a few days, the UAE created two diplomatic crises with Turkey and Tunisia. This has been added to its shameful record in the region and its destruction of its structure. It started on Tuesday 19 December, with the Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed’s retweet without a clear context, tweeted by an anonymous user, attacking the last Ottoman governor of Medina, Fakhri Pasha, and accusing him of committing crimes against the people of Medina, stealing their manuscripts and sending them to Istanbul.
The tweet did not stop at attacking and slandering the Ottomans, but ended with the sentence: “These were Erdogan’s ancestors and their history with the Arab Muslims.” Therefore, it is clear that the purpose of the tweet was not to provide historical information, albeit arbitrary and false, but to attack Turkey and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is overwhelmingly popular in the Arab world.
However, the UAE’s random arrows, fired in every direction, did not stop there. Barely three days passed before it created another crisis, this time with Tunisia. This crisis occurred after Emirates airline banned Tunisian women, except those carrying diplomat passports or those with residency permits, from flying on its flights to the UAE, claiming the decision was made due to security concerns. Now, they could have claimed that what happened was merely a misfortune with regards to the Tunisian issue, and an accidental miscalculation with regards to Turkey, and the situation could have ended with two apologies and correcting the mistakes. However, so far, this is not what happened, and what did actually happen raises questions about the role of the UAE in the region and the true motives of its rulers today.
I must begin by saying that these two contrived crises are not isolated from all of the UAE’s destructive policies in the region over the past years. These policies manifested in their ugliest forms since the Arab revolutions in late 2010, but they began even before the Arab revolutions. Such destructive policies include the UAE’s involvement in the division that occurred in the Palestinian arena in 2007, as it was one of the countries that sent arms shipments, via Egypt, to the Gaza Strip strongman at the time, Muhammad Dahlan, in order for him to stage a coup against Hamas, which won the legislative elections the year before. Hamas had formed a Palestinian government that did not enjoy a day of stability or calmness.
According to several reports, the UAE’s political path began to shift from a small country concerned with its own affairs to an ambitious state with a regional role larger than its size in 2006. Before that, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, founder of the UAE, had passed away in 2004, and was succeeded by his son Khalifa. Zayed was known for his Arabism, and had a hand in resolving some Arab-Arab conflicts. Furthermore, he played an undeniable role in founding the GCC in the early 1980s. However, it seems that Khalifa was not powerful enough within the ruling family in Abu Dhabi, and his half-brother, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, began to shine. His emergence was reinforced by Khalifa’s illness.
The UAE was shaken in 2006 by a fierce right-wing American media campaign, in which members of the Jewish lobby were involved, when Dubai Ports World acquired a British company that operated major American ports. Despite the fact that the acquisition was approved by then-American President George Bush, the issue ended with a humiliating defeat for the UAE. It was then that the UAE became aware of the importance of improving its relations with Israel and its lobby in the US, as well as the US right-wing.
With the appointment of Yousef Al-Otaiba as ambassador to Washington in 2008, Mohammed Bin Zayed’s camp began to steer the UAE away from its Arab and Muslim surroundings in order to create alliances with the neo-conservative camp, which destroyed Iraq and the region. It also made alliances with the Jewish lobby and Israel. Of course, we all know the rest of the story and it was further revealed with the leaking of Yousef Al-Otaiba’s emails.
Referring back to the two current crises with Turkey and Tunisia, as I said before, they are just two links in a long series of Emirati attempts of sabotage in the region. The fact that the UAE stood against the Arab revolutions in late 2010 is no secret, as well as the fact that it, along with Saudi Arabia, funded the military coup in Egypt in 2013 and continue to do so. It is also no secret that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are contributing the most in supporting the counter-revolutions and their forces, such as in Tunisia and Libya. We can say the same about the UAE’s role in meddling in the internal Palestinian affairs in favour of their man, Dahlan, against PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as its sabotaging role in Yemen and its military occupation of some of its ports and islands, and even turning the country into a large prison for its people. The UAE also aborted several opportunities afforded to the legitimate forces to defeat the Houthis.
In addition to this, its escalations with Qatar are not isolated from the context of all of these incidents, especially since American intelligence reports confirmed that the piracy and hacking of the Qatar News Agency website last May and the fabrication of statements attributed to the Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, all originated in the UAE.
Even Turkey, a regional super power, was not spared by the UAE. The Turkish media constantly points a finger at Abu Dhabi and accuses it of playing a role in the failed coup attempt last summer.
Even Saudi Arabia itself was subject to Emirati conspiracy, and documents revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010 clearly show the extent of Mohammed Bin Zayed’s contempt and hatred for Saudi Arabia and its officials. While Bin Zayed made attempts to support Prince Mutaib Bin Abdullah’s camp, when his father was king, in order for him to be the crown prince, he quickly shifted his support to Prince Mohammed Bin Salman when his father took the throne in 2015. Al-Otaiba’s leaked emails spares us from having to remind everyone of the role the UAE played in promoting Bin Salman and revolting against the governing equation in Saudi Arabia.
In short, the UAE is trying to play a regional role bigger than its size, and it is standing against any Arab democratic transitions. However, it is aware of its limited powers, and therefore, it is relying on two things. First is its wealth which it uses to buy agents, proxies and soldiers, such as the American Blackwater mercenaries. Without mercenary, the UAE does not posses the manpower needed to spread destruction in the region, not even to protect its leaders’ seats. This is especially true as it is fighting against two major regional countries; Turkey and Iran. The second thing it is relying on is the alignment of its policies with that of the US and Israel in the region, and turning into a servant implementing their agendas. If the Emirati policies contradicted the American and Israeli agendas, then it would not have been able to carry out a tenth of what it has, even with the presence of its mercenary and even if Saudi Arabia is on the same page as it.
This leaves one question, which does not seem to have an answer at this time, and it is regarding what is behind the hostility some of Zayed’s sons, especially Mohammed and Abdullah, have towards every genuine Arab and Muslim. Mohammed Bin Salman seems to share this hostility with them. What is the reason for this hatred and aversion to Arabism and Islam and those who promote them? It may not be long before this question is answered. I will end by saying that a country is not shamed for its small size or lack of abilities, but rather it is shamed for becoming a wrecking ball in the hands of its enemy against its nation.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 29 December 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.