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Mohammed Bin Zayed: peacemaker or warmonger?

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi arrives for a meeting with British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson at Downing Street on 16 September 2021 in London, England. [Leon Neal/Getty Images]
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi on 16 September 2021 [Leon Neal/Getty Images]

Two weeks ago, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) handed over its most prestigious award to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, ostensibly for his leadership in establishing peace between his country and the colonial-occupation state of Israel, as well as for his commitment to religious tolerance. According to WINEP, Bin Zayed could not attend the gala event organised for him in New York due to being busy in "urgent affairs of state", so its Executive Director, Dr Robert Satloff, was dispatched to present the medal to him in a special ceremony in Abu Dhabi in October.

"Our Scholar-Statesman Award recognises leaders and public figures whose achievements are based on the ideals we value the highest: scholarship and statesmanship," explained Satloff, "statesmanship being the ability to take your people, your country, your nation, your institution, places they have never gone… You, sir, have surely merited this award."

Bin Zayed replied that he made peace with Israel "for the Palestinians themselves," as well as "to send a clear message to the world and the region that we are striving for peace." He claimed: "The outcomes we will achieve together are far greater than the drawbacks. When we decided on this step, we were looking forward to a level of cooperation that goes beyond just peace itself."

Listening to the UAE crown prince and the head of the pro-Israel think tank, we might be led to believe that Bin Zayed really is a peacemaker. It would be wrong to do so. He is the complete opposite.

READ: Abu Dhabi is the spearhead of regional reactionism 

He may have made peace with the belligerent occupation state — in fact the two states were never at war — but in doing so Bin Zayed is ignoring Israel's ongoing military occupation and the brutality against the Palestinians which it entails. This is consistent with his approach to human rights within his own country; critics of the UAE government are locked up, and torture is used in its prisons.

Indeed, as Satloff was declaring his pride in honouring Bin Zayed, the Israeli occupation forces expelled a Palestinian family, with several children, from their home in Jerusalem and demolished it. We did not hear anything about this from Bin Zayed or those praising him.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report about Israeli apartheid in Palestine, and the state's "discriminatory treatment of Palestinians." Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Can Bin Zayed be a peacemaker if he is making peace with war criminals?

If peace with Israel is "for the Palestinians themselves" as Bin Zayed claims, then why is he paying for former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan to buy Palestinian property in Jerusalem and pass it to Israeli Jewish settlers? He is complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

In 2014, Bin Zayed dispatched a convoy to offer urgent assistance for the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, who were under a brutal Israeli bombardment. The Palestinian authorities in Gaza revealed that it was nothing more than an intelligence convoy intended to spy on the resistance groups on behalf of the Israelis. The convoy was rejected.

What sort of peacemaker opens an air bridge to provide extensive military support to the Ethiopian government in its fight against forces from the northern Tigray region, as Al Jazeera has reported? "The investigation found that between September and November, there were more than 90 flights between the UAE and Ethiopia, with many intentionally concealing from where they took off and where they landed," said the network.

Under which international arrangements does such arms smuggling fall? What kind of peace does Bin Zayed envisage in Ethiopia even as he adds fuel to the fire of the internal conflict? Tigray is said to be witnessing massacres and human rights abuses at the hands of the UAE-backed Ethiopian government, but we hear little about it. As Al Jazeera confirmed, "Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is severely restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify." What does Satloff say about this?

The UAE's efforts to spread "peace" in the Middle East under Bin Zayed include, reported Al Jazeera in 2018, "A network of clandestine prisons set up by the United Arab Emirates" in Yemen, wherein "brutal interrogation techniques that included physical and psychological torture" are used against prisoners. The report included descriptions of "sexual abuse by Emirati army personnel and their Yemeni surrogates."

Demonstrators march with a sign reading in Arabic "the UAE is the leader of destruction and fragmenting the Arab region" during a protest in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taez on August 30, 2019, against air strikes carried out by the UAE on Yemen's second city of Aden. [AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images]

Demonstrators march with a sign reading in Arabic "the UAE is the leader of destruction and fragmenting the Arab region" during a protest in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taez on August 30, 2019, against air strikes carried out by the UAE on Yemen's second city of Aden. [AHMAD AL-BASHA/AFP via Getty Images]

Another report gave details about the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which wants to split Yemen in two. "Since 2016, the UAE has provided military and financial backing to the Security Belt, a now STC-dominated paramilitary group comprised of some 90,000 Yemeni fighters."

Earlies this year, a UN panel of experts found that the UAE "has established direct contact with armed Sudanese groups fighting in Libya on the side of Khalifa Haftar, who was fighting against the UN-backed government in Libya." Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the UAE had, in violation of a UN arms embargo, increased its deliveries of weapons to Haftar. Bin Zayed, let us remember, is the de facto leader of the UAE.

Inside the Emirates itself, alleges Human Rights Watch, "Scores of activists, academics and lawyers are serving lengthy sentences in UAE prisons, in many cases following unfair trials on vague and broad charges that violate their rights to free expression and association." It stated that, "Prisons across the UAE held detainees in dismal and unhygienic conditions, where overcrowding and lack of adequate medical care is widespread."

READ: Emirati normalisation questions 

The UAE's crimes and support for war criminals, as well as its disregard for human rights, are apparently limitless. Led by Bin Zayed, the UAE is considered to be one of the main reasons for instability in the Middle East. Far from being give a peace medal, Bin Zayed should be dragged before the International Criminal Court.

When the Washington Institute for Near East Policy award for Bin Zayed was announced in September, Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies Marc Owen Jones tweeted: "The Washington Institute's criteria for winners of its scholar statesman award seem to be those deeply involved in bringing suffering to the Middle East." Previous recipients, he pointed out, include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of whom played a major role in regional destruction and destabilisation.

So is the UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed a peacemaker or a warmonger? The many victims of his policies in the Middle East would say, unanimously I believe, the latter. His award from the WINEP is at best misjudged, at worst a mockery of international laws and conventions.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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