The Weird Worries of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi speaks with Russian president Vladimir Putin at his country residence outside Moscow, September 12, 2013
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi speaks with Russian president Vladimir Putin at his country residence outside Moscow, September 12, 2013 (Kremlin)

There he is again, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, stirring up all sorts of trouble on the global stage.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, has been putting his fingers into too many pies lately. From mercenaries in Yemen to bombing runs in Libya to cozying up to Israelis, the UAE’s supreme commander defies just about every Middle Eastern geopolitical stereotype. He is no flag-burning theocrat, nor a chest-thumping Arab nationalist: he’ll kill jihadists, Muslim Brothers and Ba’athists equally, given the chance. (And torture Emirati liberals for good measure.)

Now he’s been caught up in the middle of the Russia-Trump spy affair. Read more “The Weird Worries of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed”

Dubai, Singapore and the Future of Neoliberalism

The skyline of Dubai, November 6, 2009
The skyline of Dubai, November 6, 2009 (Jason Rodman)

It is the little things, they say, that count. The small places can tell us big things.

There are no smaller places than city states. Holdovers of bygone eras, they are quite nearly the oldest form of political organization our species has. Only tribalism is older and city states arose from settled tribes that over generations grew into legendary places like Ur, Jericho, Athens, the Yellow River city of Cai and the Indus Valley site of Harappa.

We have no empires left; a few kingdoms, though they keep dropping off the map. Nobody much minds. Yet if we were to lose our city states or our microstates, it would represent a collapse of the international order as we know it. Despite their tiny size, city states are bellwethers of their time. Read more “Dubai, Singapore and the Future of Neoliberalism”

Arab Gulf States Will Have to Let in Syrian Refugees

Manama Bahrain
View of downtown Manama, Bahrain (Shutterstock)

As the European migrant crisis is giving way to unprecedented humanitarian efforts from first Germany and now the Vatican, more than a few analysts have noted that for all Europe’s generosity, only a few Arab states have opened their doors to the masses fleeing war in Iraq and Syria.

That’s curious when one considers that the ultra-rich Gulf Cooperation Council states are far closer than Europe and the journey there involves no dangerous seafaring. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all have considerable oil and gas reserves and their citizens are much richer than those of other Arab states. Yet GCC governments have stayed mum even as the #ArabConscience has begun trending regionally. Why? Read more “Arab Gulf States Will Have to Let in Syrian Refugees”

Emirates Deepen Involvement in Yemen, Saudis Back Islamists

The United Arab Emirates have stepped up their involvement in the war in Yemen as Saudi Arabia backed Islamists the smaller Gulf state still regards as a threat.

Earlier this month, the Emirates sent some 3,000 troops to Yemen. The Financial Times reports that their involvement was critical in pushing the Houthis out of Aden, formerly the capital of South Yemen, where resistance against the Shia rebel group from the north is concentrated.

The Emirates also deployed armored vehicles and tanks while some one hundred special forces have been on the ground since May.

Five Emirati soldiers were recently killed in fighting, according to state media. Read more “Emirates Deepen Involvement in Yemen, Saudis Back Islamists”

Egyptian, Emirates Jets Bomb Islamists in Libya

Egyptian Mirage fighter jets
Two Egyptian Mirage fighter jets fire missiles during a training mission, October 14, 2009 (USMC/Theodore W. Ritchie)

Acting independently of their American allies, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates twice carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias in Libya in the last week, officials told The New York Times.

The United Arab Emirates, among the wealthiest in the region and commanding a formidable air force that includes American F-16s and French Mirage fighter jets, carried out attacks in the vicinity of Tripoli, according to the diplomats, destroying military vehicles, rocket launchers and weapons depots.

Egypt, situated midway between the Arab Gulf state and Tripoli, provided bases for the strikes. Read more “Egyptian, Emirates Jets Bomb Islamists in Libya”

Gulf States Withdraw Diplomats in Rift with Qatar

American secretary of state John Kerry speaks with Foreign Ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu of Turkey, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah of Qatar and Saud bin Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Paris, France, January 12
American secretary of state John Kerry speaks with Foreign Ministers Ahmet Davutoğlu of Turkey, Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah of Qatar and Saud bin Faisal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Paris, France, January 12 (State Department)

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from nearby Qatar in what was the first public admission of major differences between the Gulf Cooperation Council states.

In a statement, the three monarchies said Qatar had failed to honor an agreement not to interfere in the affairs of its neighbors. But the real reason for the diplomatic pullout seems to be Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that Saudi Arabia and its allies abhor.

Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” uprisings in late 2010, Qatar has supported Islamist revolutionary causes in Egypt and Syria and provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian affiliate, Hamas. It also hosts the movement’s spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Saudi Arabia’s own puritanical strain of Islam, Wahhabism, is at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood’s advocacy of political Islam. The organization also favors republicanism and is populist, unlike Saudi Arabia, a monarchy and authoritarian.

Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt suffered a blow last July when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rushed in with billions of dollars in aid for the interim government that succeeded his.

Around that time, Saudi Arabia also assumed a leadership role in coordinating Arab support for the uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Whereas Saudi Arabia had concentrated its efforts in the south of the country, near the border with Jordan, and allowed a Qatari sphere of influence in the north, near Turkey, the growing prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the opposition worried the kingdom which preferred to back less political Salafist.

Both Arab states have sectarian and strategic imperatives for supporting the Syrian uprising. Because Assad is the only Arab ally of their nemesis Iran, replacing his government with a majority Sunni regime would weaken the Shia axis in the Middle East and limit Iran’s retaliatory options in case there is an American or Israeli attack on its nuclear sites which Arab and Western nations suspect are part of a weapons program.

Despite reluctance on the part of Saudi Arabia’s ally the United States, which worries that religious fanatics in Syria might be no better than Assad, the kingdom has stepped up its support for more radical insurgents

The rift between Qatar and the other oil-producing states in the Persian Gulf further calls into question regional integration schemes which have made little progress in recent years.

The alliance, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, failed to agree to plans for a joint missile defense system, despite American support. A Saudi proposal for deeper economic and political union stalled in 2012. Earlier, the United Arab Emirates had pulled out of a planned monetary union.

Arab Gulf States Promise to Prop Up Egypt’s Failing Economy

The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008
The skyline of Cairo, Egypt, December 18, 2008 (Ed Yourdon)

Arab Gulf states pledged up to $8 billion in financial aid to Egypt on Tuesday, signaling their support for its army’s removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office last week. Adli Mansour, the former chief justice who was installed by the military as acting president, named former finance minister Hazem el-Beblawi premier on the same day.

Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans as well as $2 billion worth of fuel. The neighboring United Arab Emirates promised a $1 billion grant and a $2 billion loan. Read more “Arab Gulf States Promise to Prop Up Egypt’s Failing Economy”

American Middle East Arms Sales Send “Signal” to Iran

Israel's defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, welcomes his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel, to Tel Aviv, April 22
Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, welcomes his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel, to Tel Aviv, April 22 (DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Sunday that weapons sales to the United States’ allies in the Middle East send a “very clear signal” to Iran that they might use military means to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.

“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” the secretary, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in February, told reporters before landing in Israel.

The Jewish state, believed to be the region’s only nuclear power, has repeatedly expressed its impatience with the failure of Western diplomatic efforts to dissuade the Iranians from enriching uranium. The Islamic republic claims that the purpose of its nuclear program is to generate electricity.

Saudi Arabia and neighboring Arab Gulf states, allied to the United States, nevertheless share Israel’s concerns. Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief, warned in late 2011 that his country might seek a nuclear capacity of its own if Iran attains it.

Hagel’s trip comes two days after the Defense Department announced it was finalizing agreements to seal air defenses, refueling tankers and troop transport planes to Israel as well as F-16 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.

The United States previously sold and upgraded F-15 fighter planes and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia while the UAE bought a $3.6 billion missile interception system from Lockheed Martin. The Gulf Cooperation Council states are in talks to mount a joint missile defense.

More than half of $56 billion worth of American weapons sales in 2011 was linked to Saudi Arabia.

Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also in talks with Britain’s BAE Systems to buy nearly $10 billion worth of Typhoon fighter jets. The Saudis already operate 72 of such planes.

Britain’s Cameron Defends Arab Gulf Weapons Sales

British prime minister David Cameron on Monday defended arms sales to Arab Gulf states which he described as “completely legitimate and right” despite apprehension in his own country about arming authoritarian regimes.

Cameron embarked on a three day visit to the region that is aimed at securing the sale of up to one hundred Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and strengthening relations with Arab allies amid growing concerns over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Asked about the morality of selling weapons to undemocratic states, Cameron said, “We do believe countries have a right to defend themselves. And we do believe Britain has important defense industries that employ over 300,000 people.” Read more “Britain’s Cameron Defends Arab Gulf Weapons Sales”

Arab Emirates Ship First Oil Via Gulf of Oman Port

Alarmed by Iranian threats to erect a blockade in the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates loaded their first cargo on Sunday from a long awaited new export terminal on the Gulf of Oman. Connected to the emirates’ main oil and gasfields by an overland pipeline, the new facility should ultimately be able to process nearly two million barrels of oil per day.

Roughly 40 percent of the world’s seaborn oil transports and large quantities of liquefied natural gas from Qatar currently pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz every day which provides access to the Persian Gulf. Iran has threatened to shut the strait if there is an American or Israeli air attack on its nuclear facilities. Western powers suspect that the Tehran’s enrichment program is designed to develop nuclear weapons.

The United States Navy, which has some thirty ships patrolling the Persian Gulf and nearby waters, should be able to break an Iranian blockade but not before oil prices and insurance rates have skyrocketed worldwide.

Rather than trying to prevent ships from transiting the Strait of Hormuz altogether, Iran would more likely harass unfriendly oil tankers with diesel submarines and shore batteries and thus make it nigh impossible for the fourteen supertankers that traverse it on average every day to deliver their oil and gas transports to East Asia and the West.

In anticipation of a blockade, the United Arab Emirates have rapidly completed the construction of a pipeline that is able to carry up 75 percent of their exports, nearly two millions barrels of oil per day, from the Habshan onshore oil and gasfield to Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman coast. The new terminal there also has eight crude oil storage tanks each with a capacity of one million barrels.

Even with the new pipeline and port facilities online, a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz could still deprive the developed world of some 75 percent of Gulf oil imports.

Iranian oil sales are largely prohibited by sanctions. Although the Islamic nation is still able to sell to China and India, which were among its main buyers before a European oil embargo took effect this month, the reduction in exports, and government revenue with it, may indadvertedly raise the prospect of an Iranian blockade when it doesn’t need access to Persian Gulf export routes itself anymore.