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How Do Bin Zayed’s Ambitions Embroil UAE in Various Regional Cases?

Alwaght , 22 Jan 2020 03:44

Islam Times - Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is considered the architect of the UAE foreign policy that is marked by a massive role in regional developments. This presents bin Zayed as one of the most influential prospective figures of the region. A secretive figure with complicated policies.

Bin Zayed, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander, is the brother of the UAE ruler Sheikh Khalifa whose role in politics has considerably declined amid critical illness. The crown prince practically has under control a major part of politics, security, economy, and military, something making him the de facto ruler of the Emirates.

His role in the foreign policy path is unavoidable and he has even found a greater chance of implementing his policies as he found an ally in the White House. But what are the Emirati foreign policy elements under bin Zayed? How will they affect the regional developments?

Lobbying in the US 

According to media reports, the UAE in 2018 paid $20 million to 20 Washington-based lobbies. Further reports suggest that the foreign nationals with links to Abu Dhabi have established links to over 200 Congress offices, 18 political research centers, and a major part of the American media on the cost of the Emirati government.

Investment in the American think ranks and political institutions is an indispensable part of the UAE foreign policy to garner the Washington support and sway the American policies in favor of Abu Dhabi.

Although some of the American officials under President Barack Obama deemed bin Zayed a dangerous and unreliable person, Trump's government took a moderate view of him.

After Rex Tillerson was dismissed as the US Secretary of State, Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, in a Twitter message said that the world will not forget the UAE's role in the sacking of Tillerson. Though his comment was somehow exaggerated, what was clear and unavoidable was the substantial investment of the Emiratis in the American lobbies to get the Washington support beside influencing the White House West Asian policy. The huge wealth provides very good backing to these efforts. Only a very small part of the UAE campaign of influence and spending on the media is given publicity, however.

Pushing for regional alliances

Bin Zayed has always tried to increase the UAE's role and weight in the region’s policies. Certainly, this aspiration is impossible without help due to the lack of a big population and an experienced military, despite the ability to inject huge money. Add to these the lasting, but concealed, disputes between the UAE’s seven emirates. So, bin Zayed finds no other way but setting up coalitions with the like-minded countries and even shouldering part of the costs, all to efficiently pursue his regional policies.

After Abdel Fattah El-Sisi assumed the power in Egypt in 2014, the UAE provided aids to Cairo to engage the latter into an alliance also backed by the shared stances of the UAE and Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood. The country managed to get Cairo backing in security matters and even militarily if the need arises. This is observable in the repeated visits to Egypt of bin Zayed and also in his presence in unveiling huge projects, including military ones. In a recent trip to Egypt, Prince Mohammed joined a ceremony for the inauguration of Bernice military base, the largest one in the vicinity of the Red Sea, commanding the role played by the Egyptian army in the stability of the region.

Bin Zayed, taking into account the undeniable role of Saudi Arabia in the region, has always tried to ignore the differences with Riyadh, particularly the territorial differences, and highlight the common interests. He even tries to get the Saudis involved in his plans. After the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and the assumption of power by King Salman and his son Prince Mohammed, the UAE managed considerably to take advantage of the political changes in the Arab kingdom and embroil the Saudis in disputes with the largest advantage going to the Emiratis. An obvious example is the Yemen war. As time goes by, bin Zayed Yemen objectives and strategies become clear. They not only in many cases do not comply with those of Saudi Arabia but also contrast them.

The UAE role in foreign policy 

The bin Zayed-led UAE seeks to promote its role in the regional cases using such activities as lobbying in the US and alliance making in the region. The domain of this campaign of influence is from West Asia to the Horn of Africa. In fact, the UAE set as its main foreign policy confrontation of the Muslim Brotherhood front represented by Qatar and Turkey and the Axis of Resistance represented by Iran and its allies like Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.

Another aspect of its activity focuses on enhancing its foreign position, geopolitical weight, and stepping out of geopolitical isolation. The country has founded allied militias in southern Yemen, like the Southern Security Belt and Elite Forces Brigade, pursuing control of southern ports and islands. The UAE occupied Socotra island close to Bab-el-Mandeb and established a military base following massive land purchases there. 

Abu Dhabi seeks to get geopolitical weight in Somalia. It took a long step toward this aim and toward controlling the Gulf of Aden by setting up a military base in Port of Berbera, the capital of the autonomous Somaliland state. 

Bin Zayed’s policies in Africa are not limited to Somalia. He supports the assault of General Khalifa Haftar of Libya against the internationally-recognized Tripoli-based Government of National Accord that is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood. He also is building a military base in Port of Ăssab in Eritrea to control Bab-el-Mandeb and to secure influence and food supply to the UAE from the African country. 

The ambitions of the 54-year-old prince make the UAE spend a considerable part of its military and economic sources on the interventionist policies in the region, deepening divergence in the Arab country. For instance, the Yemen war has caused sizeable gaps between Abu Dhabi-Dubai rulers. 

The prince’s ambitions have so far played resoundingly in destabilizing the region and stirred disputes and even bloody conflicts from Yemen to North Africa. The destructive role is disregarded and even in some cases advocated by Washington where the Emiratis have nurtured powerful lobbies.

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