The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged The Gulf (not Saudi)
The UAE's global ambitions post-Libya

This post was contributed by Jenifer Fenton.

It is a dot on a map dwarfed by its neighbors, but it is also an influential and stable country in a rough neighborhood. The United Arab Emirates is an increasingly sought-after ally, one with an ambitious foreign policy that it can finance with its rich resources. 

Do not underestimate the power of a small state, said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University. The UAE (and Qatar) is saying we “are determined, ready to play an unusual leading role in events…We are daring enough. We have the capacity, the ability and the desire to play a bigger role,” he said. 

The UAE sent a dozen aircrafts to support the no-fly zone over Libya and the country was arguably (along with Qatar) one of the biggest contributors on the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts. Now as the NATO campaign is winding down, the Emirates’ contributions to Libya will “continue and become much more prominent in the post-Gaddafi era,” Abdullah said.

But Libya is just one of the many arenas in which the UAE is currently operating. For the past eight years, the UAE Armed Forces have been in Afghanistan — the only military force from an Arab country. (Previously, the Emirates assisted with peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Kosovo.)

“The US, UK, France, see in the UAE an Arab state that thinks strategically, and one with which they can cooperate,” said John Chipman, director general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The contribution of UAE Special Forces to the operation in Afghanistan and of air assets to the coalition effort in Libya demonstrated that the UAE had no strategic aversion to direct cooperation with Western militaries when strategic perspectives and aims were aligned,” he added. “This case by case, but unemotional, strategic cooperation is likely to continue.”

In 2011, the UAE  attempted, with the help of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council, to mediate an exit for President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen. More controversially, it sent 500 police officers to Bahrain, where a Shiite uprising was brutally repressed by the government. Bahrain and Oman were also given $20 billion by the GCC to help stabilize themselves and the UAE offered a $3 billion aid package to Egypt’s new government.  The Emirates is engaging further with Jordan and Morocco, welcoming the monarchies’ requests to join the GCC. It’s been a busy year.

And a UAE (GCC) decision on Syria also awaits. “The Gulf would have loved to see an evolution, not revolution in most of these countries because they understand with whom they are dealing currently. It is the unknown that makes them concerned,” said Abdulaziz Sager, the chairman of the Gulf Research Center.  Syria is a “wait-and-see-policy…The UAE has decided in Syria not to take a strong position.” NATO involvement in the country is not seen as an option for the Gulf states. “Our best bet is to bank on a military division in Syria… It is the only answer in Syria,” Sager added. 

The Emirates is also focused on building fighting forces. According to the New York Times, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan hired Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe), to create an 800-member mercenary special operations battalion to protect its interests. Prince has allegedly worked with the Emirati government before, including training Somalis to fight pirates with the help of a hired South African force, the NYT reported:

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times


Mr. Prince’s exploits, both real and rumored, are the subject of fevered discussions in the private security world. He has worked with the Emirati government on various ventures in the past year, including an operation using South African mercenaries to train Somalis to fight pirates. There was talk, too, that he was hatching a scheme last year to cap the Icelandic volcano then spewing ash across Northern Europe.

The UAE said it uses international contractors including Spectre, Horizon, and R2 (alleged to be Prince’s new company) for planning, training, development and operational support. There are more than 40,000 Emirati personnel, in what the Emirates describes as “robust military capability…at a high state of readiness” — although it appears to be hedging its bets, which the NYT suggests explains the need for Erik Prince’s services outside the normal armed forces:

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, like his late father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan,”has been a very keen observer of the security situation worldwide,” said retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who served as US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs from 2008 to 2009. “He has developed one of the most capable militaries in the regions. Small but capable.” There are significant challenges in the Emirates’ backyard, primarily Iran, and the UAE has gone “out of its way to buy significant capability for (its) own internal defense and internal protection,” Kimmitt said.

Arms imported to the UAE, whose biggest supplier is the US, have increased significantly in the last decade, according to [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute]( ). UAE military expenditure accounted for more than 7 percent of GDP in 2009, compared to 4.7 percent in the US and 4.3 percent in Russia. For a state with less than one million nationals, the UAE has — by any standard — a lot of defense equipment (which no doubt endears it to defense contractors and their lobbyists).

The threat of Iran has not disappeared. “Sometimes by having advanced equipment and having an advanced military system you try to send…a message…that I have strong alliances with other countries that will be willing to step in should I need them to…a deterrent,” Sager said. The UAE “is saying that we are not that weak although we are a small nation.” Iran is using very strong and hostile language and the UAE is quite concerned about their neighborhood, Sager added. The UAE's concern with Iran was highlighted in a Wikileaks-released State Department cable last year, quoting Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) as backing "action" against Iran:

In a March 27 meeting with CENTCOM Commander General Abizaid, MbZ spoke about the Iranian threat with a greater sense of urgency. He was strongly in favor of taking action against Iran and its president sooner rather than later. "I believe this guy is going to take us to war. ... It's a matter of time," MbZ warned, adding that action against Iran and President Ahmedinejad should be taken this year or next year. MbZ said he was unwilling to wait much longer. "Personally, I cannot risk it with a guy like Ahmedinejad. He is young and aggressive."

“Strategically, Iran is a rival, and as a practical matter, an occupier (of three islands), from Abu Dhabi’s perspective,” Chipman said. “In the increasingly sectarian prism by which regional politics are understood, the UAE goal is to constrain Iran, whether in Iraq, or potentially in Bahrain, from exerting a malign influence,” he said. “A challenge for the future is whether the UAE, having not had to convince the West about Iran, will be able to shape the attitudes of Asian powers engaging in the Gulf, and move them closer to its understanding of the Iranian challenge.”

Due to the regional Arab unrest, a great deal of attention is on the UAE and its western allies, but the Emirates is also strengthening ties with Asia and the developing world — including India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa.  The stability of the Gulf region has always been paramount, but the UAE is moving into a post-Zayed era, Abdullah said. “The post-Zayed foreign policy, the post-Zayed domestic policy… we are having such diversified and huge interest all over.” These interests include international trade, energy diversification and humanitarian aid. 

India and China are the UAE’s top commercial partners, accounting for the bulk of the UAE’s non-oil trade. The UAE is also going nuclear, awarding South Korea a nuclear power deal to build and operate reactors for the Emirates. The deal is worth $20 billion and South Korea beat US-Japan and French bids.  “The deal with Korea on nuclear power plants essentially imports Korea into the Gulf as a strategic actor,” Chipman said. Links with Australia and Japan are important, and the Emirates’ relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations states and China will grow in prominence, he added.

Humanitarian donations have also increased. In the last 35 years the country has given more than $70 billion to development projects in nearly 100 countries, according to the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among the most recent recipients is Afghanistan, which was offered a grant of $250 million for reconstruction projects. Victims of drought and violence in Somalia were given 600 tons of relief and medical supplies. Tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinian refugees were fed throughout Ramadan, thanks to the UAE. An end benefit of these humanitarian missions is soft power. 

The UAE, fully aware that alliances in the mideast can be short lived, is rapidly diversifying its strategic partners and international interests. By doing so, the Emirates’ presence on the international stage is effectively competing on all fronts with much larger and older states — as it endeavors to make the leap from a regional to global power.

I've long been fascinated with Qatar's foreign policy in recent years, which appears to be driven by a need to hedge its bets (hosting a US military base, good relations with Iran, funding al-Jazeera, pissing off the Saudis every now and then...) and the personalities of its emir and his cousin the foreign minister. Here are some recent articles that highlight how perilous the acrobatic acts from Doha are starting to look like, particularly as we see a major Egyptian-Saudi push for "Arab unity" at the upcoming Doha summit (unity, that is, behind the Egyptian initiative to reconcile Hamas and Fatah, with the latter having the upper hand.) All this as gas prices plummet and sovereign funds pause to take stock of the global financial crisis...

That last article points out Qatar is still set to see high GDP growth and is secure as the world's first supplier of liquified natural gas. Still, if European demand significantly weakens, and the infant world LNG market hits its first glut.

One thing that's still not clear to me is the answer to the question -- beyond remaining secure from Saudi influence - what does Qatar want?
Abu Dhabi's investment in manufacturing
Interesting take in the FT on Abu Dhabi’s goals in investing in major manufacturing companies:

"But what makes Abu Dhabi unlike not just its sister and competitor emirates but pretty much everywhere in the Arab world is its peculiar devotion to manufacturing.

Much of its oil wealth is being used to start industries from scratch: in cars and aerospace, components and chips. As well as Daimler, it has invested in companies such as GE, Rolls-Royce, EADS and Advanced Micro Devices. This may look quixotic, yet invariably these stakes come with local training and manufacturing commitments.

Along with reform of local education, the goal is to use manufacturing to create skills and a culture of innovation – much more than to establish new branches of old industries. This at least tries to offer an alternative to the usual model in the Gulf – where the public sector employs the bulk of nationals – or the trading company model common in most other Arab countries.

Some 40 years ago, the Syrian philosopher Sadek al-Azm wrote a famous critique of the mind-set underlying serial Arab defeats. Arabs, he said, have become removed from the social and economic processes that make innovation and scientific breakthroughs possible. Abu Dhabi, it seems, wants to create, not just consume."

If you have the cash and a taste for risk, this is a great time to mop up depressed stocks in companies that are fundamentally sound or have a great body of unique know-how. I'm still curious to see exactly how Abu Dhabi is convincing these companies to set up manufacturing centers in the emirates, and whether that makes sense (in trade logistics terms, it just might...)
Sick on Clinton's Arab strategy
Gary Sick, a Columbia University professor and eminent scholar of the Persian Gulf, has written a short essay on Hillary Clinton's recent threat to "obliterate Iran" should it attack Israel for the excellent Gulf 2000 listserv he maintains. Notwithstanding the chiefly domestic US political reasons that led Clinton to engage in rather vulgar sable-rattling, Sick analyzes Clinton's announced strategy of building an Arab security structure designed to isolate Iran, seeing in it both a continuation of Bush administration policies (they just call it the "Sunni-Shia divide") and a revival of the Clinton administration's "dual containment" policy towards Iran and Iraq in the 1990s, which enrolled the aid of Arab countries.

This isn't too surprising, since the architect of dual containment was Martin Indyk, who also heads Hillary Clinton's foreign policy team and is a contender for Secretary of State in the (now hopefully) unlikely event of her election. Sick's essay, republished below, highlights something that has become increasingly clear to me in recent years: the continuation, despite superficial differences, between certain Clinton policies and those of the Bush White House when it comes to Middle East policy. It's not only that the Clintons had their own group of people who favored an invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein in the late 1990s, but also an attitude of refusing negotiations with Iran (or other designated enemies) and a strategic approach to the region that tends to prioritize not only access and control of oil resources, a perennial feature of US policy, but also puts Israel first in strategic considerations. Considering Indyk's own AIPAC background this is not surprising, but these policies have been extremely damaging to US interests and, more importantly, the people of the region (notably the Iraqis who suffered tremendously under the Clinton-backed sanctions regime).

This is not to say that Clinton and Bush are the same -- over domestic issues and many international ones Hillary Clinton is light years ahead of GW Bush (although arguably not GHW Bush). But in their strategic approach to the Middle East, it's becoming clearer to me that we are seeing basically the same policies expressed without the bravado of the Bushies. A bad policy, even if implemented with caution, is still a bad policy. Sick, a Clinton supporter, provides an excellent analysis of why one should choose Obama as the better Democratic alternative on foreign policy. Read it all.

Hillary Clinton's warning that the United States could "obliterate" Iran if that country should "foolishly consider" launching an attack on Israel is, of course, pandering to a broad American constituency that wants to hear tough rhetoric about Iran. It is also intended to appeal to a constituency that needs constant reassurance that America's relationship with Israel is secure. And, by addressing a strategic hypothetical that would by any measure be many years in the future ("in the next ten years" in her words), it seems intended to convince doubters that a woman is tough enough - perhaps more than tough enough - to be commander in chief.

Although her use of the word "obliterate" was both excessive and ill-advised, it might be seen as a challenge to Obama to match her toughness, or even as simply pandering shamelessly to a constituency that thrives on political red meat. That is not very flattering to her, but it might be regarded as politics as usual. What makes this statement particularly troublesome is that it cannot be dismissed as mere off-the-cuff responses to a TV interviewer. Rather, it appears to be part of a broader, considered policy that would likely be at the heart of the Middle East strategy of President Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton campaign, while explaining her remarks to skeptics, made it clear that this was no slip of the tongue. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post reports that the "obliterate" remarks are part of a more extensive plan, first advanced in the debate prior to the Pennsylvania primary, for a new defensive alliance with the Arab states and Israel, in which the United States would extend not only a "security umbrella" over Israel but also "provide a deterrent backup" that would extend U.S. nuclear guarantees to Arab states who renounce nuclear weapons. The apparent author of this strategy is Martin Indyk. See

Martin Indyk came into Bill Clinton's administration as director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council and later represented the United States as ambassador to Israel (twice) as well as a stint as Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs at the Department of State. He was present at every stage of the Clinton administration's Middle East policy, but he is most frequently remembered, at least by Persian Gulf specialists, as the author of the so-called "dual containment" policy.

"Dual containment" basically postulates that the way to deal with recalcitrant states in the Persian Gulf (i.e. states that are unsympathetic to U.S. interests and objectives) is to isolate them and "contain" them, relying on sanctions and superior military power. It was also quite explicit in linking "containment of Iraq and Iran in the east" with "promotion of Arab-Israeli peace in the west." This was a new twist in U.S. policy which had previously maintained that the Persian Gulf/oil could be separated from the Arab-Israeli dispute. The policy was therefore viewed by many as attempting to wall off the troublesome Persian Gulf region so that the United States could focus on the Arab-Israel issue, or, as it later evolved, on Israel alone. It was also a unilateral policy: collaborators would be nice, but in their absence the United States could and would act alone.

Although the name "dual containment" is no longer used, especially after the invasion of Iraq removed one of the policy's targets, it is nevertheless true that the dominant premise of the policy - that you deal with your enemies and rivals unilaterally by isolation and threats rather than engagement - is one Clintonian policy that has been adopted unabashedly by the Bush administration. It has defined U.S. policy in the region for the past decade and a half.

Dual containment was first announced by Indyk in May 1993, in the early months of the Bill Clinton administration. The previous administration of George Bush pere had held out the promise that "Good will begets good will," to entice Iran to intervene on behalf of the American hostages in Lebanon; Iran did so, but by the time the hostages were successfully released, Bush was deep into a presidential campaign and could not fulfill his commitment. Then, of course, he lost the election and the Iranians were told that they would have to forget about any U.S. promises.

Still, Iran had taken a serious decision to try to open channels to the United States, and when Bill Clinton was elected, they put out new feelers (in which I had a small role). These were ignored in favor of dual containment. Iran tried again with unilateral economic offers in 1995, but the Clinton administration responded by enacting far-reaching economic sanctions against Iran.

Dual containment and its accompanying sanctions were adopted with the stated objective of changing Iran's behavior on a number of issues: nuclear, Arab-Israel peace process, and terrorism, among others. After a full quarter of a century, with the United States doing everything in its power to coerce and threaten Iran economically and militarily, Iran's policies have changed to some degree, but it would take a real ideologue to claim that they have evolved on anything other than an Iranian schedule according to Iranian political objectives. In short, U.S. policies have failed utterly in their key objectives. Yet our answer - and the answer of the Clinton campaign from what we can tell - is more of the same. Clinton-Indyk give lip service to engagement, but then so does Bush-Cheney.

The "new defensive alliance" with Arab states of the Middle East that Sen. Clinton has been proposing in the past few weeks is so similar to the anti-Iran alliance that the Bush administration has been trying to sell to the Sunni Arab states (with Israel as a silent partner), that I must admit I cannot see the difference. In fact, the "Bush Doctrine" toward Iran and the Arab states was nothing but a continuation of the "Clinton-Indyk Doctrine" that preceded it, and it now appears that if Hillary should win the presidency, we will come full circle back to Clinton-Indyk redux.

I have known Martin Indyk since we were at Columbia together, and I respect him as a professional. But I thought dual containment was a terrible idea from the first time I heard it, and Martin knows it. By emphasizing threats and sanctions above even the most minimal engagement, I think this concept was the origin of many of our worst mistakes and missed opportunities over the past 15 years.

Characteristically, this latest version never stops to ask how the regional states may react to our unilateral unfolding of an "umbrella," much less our anticipation that they will respond with gratitude and formal recognition of Israel. That is what Indyk specifies as the price. This sounds like the kind of unrealistic expectations that we have built into our Middle East policies repeatedly over the past dozen years.

As my friends know well, I have been a stout defender of Hillary Clinton's campaign from the very beginning, while maintaining my admiration for Barack Obama. (In the most recent case, I was impressed by the fact that Obama refused to rise to the bait, while she accepted the hypothetical and ran with it.) I respected the depth of her politically skilled network, her grit and determination, and her ability to take a punch. My major argument, of course, was Clinton's experience. But experience is a two-edged sword.

The chance for a fresh start - for "change" in the current political lexicon - was to me the great hope of this presidential campaign. But Clinton's recent remarks, and the underlying policy from which they apparently sprang, are evidence that, at least on this issue, we might only look forward to more of the same under a Clinton presidency. In that sense, I think we would be losing one of the great chances of this generation to begin to fashion a more sensible policy in a region that I care about greatly.
It was for love
The prince, the waitress ... and 'a fairytale come true':

It is an unlikely setting for romance. And when Sheikh Sayyid bin Maktoum al-Maktoum arrived in Belarus last month for a clay pigeon shooting competition, his only thought was how to win a medal.

But soon after checking into the presidential suite of the Hotel Minsk the Sheikh's gaze fell on an attractive 19-year-old waitress. Her name was Natasha. The prince liked what he saw.

So much so that instead of leaving for a tournament in Russia the sheikh prolonged his stay in Minsk, wooing Natasha and, last week, marrying her.

Yesterday hotel staff confirmed the prince - a member of Dubai's ruling royal family - had taken Natasha Muslimorova to be his wife. She only began work in the hotel's restaurant two months ago, they said. They also expressed bafflement over the courtship, pointing out it would have been hard for the sheikh to meet Natasha since he ate in his room.

. . .

The sheikh, 30, already has a wife and five children, the paper reported. "I can't say anything without my husband's permission... But for me life has become a fairytale," Natasha told the tabloid: "I really love this man."