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Riyadh-Abu Dhabi Collapsing Relations

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Defining Iran as a regional rival in recent years, Saudi Arabia has been working to build a regional front, having the UAE as the closest alliance to its agenda in the region.

In recent months, however, Riyadh-Abu Dhabi relations have been influenced by a set of political and economic differences. A close look at their ties reveals signs of change in them, with their close relationship giving its place to a stealth competition. Here are the most important difference points:

Political and military issues 

The Yemen war, waged by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, not only failed to meet the set goals, as expected by the Arab countries in the coalition but also eventually became a swamp for them. That is because their opponent in Yemen, Ansarullah Movement, not only did not go weakened in all the seven years of war but also its power increased day by day, and the movement changed its approach from defensive to offensive, using its missile power to attack Saudi and UAE positions inside their territory. This, along with Biden coming to power in the US, who called for an end to Washington support for Riyadh policy in Yemen and the removal of Ansarullah from the list of terrorist groups, caused the two Arab allies to drop expectations of effective support from the Americans in their war against Yemen. Meanwhile, the European Union, under the influence of Washington, suddenly directed its human rights-related criticism to Saudi Arab for its Yemen crimes.

These issues prompted the UAE to reconsider its involvement in Yemen war and its alliance with Saudi Arabia, knowing that it entered a war with Saudi Arabia that not only did not benefit it but also turned into an endless conflict became harmful to its economy and security.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, considering the actions of the UAE in southern Yemen, which sought to strengthen and consolidate Abu Dhabi achievements and strengthen its loyalists there, led the Saudi rulers to the understanding that they have to bear the costs of the war alone. This gradually brought to the surface the already-existing cleavage of the two allies.

Meanwhile, the normalization of relations between the UAE and the Israel regime has led the country to have political and military agreements with Tel Aviv. For example, it established its intelligence infrastructure on Socotra Island of Yemen in association with the Israelis, and in other words occupied this island— something the Saudis find in contrast to their interests.

Economic geopolitical issues 

The economic relations between the UAE and Saudi Arabia have also experienced a cold period in recent months, and among the points of contention between the two countries in this area are the issues related to OPEC and the disagreement over the oil output. In late October last year, Saudi Arabia announced the transfer of headquarters of more than 20 major foreign companies in the UAE to Saudi Arabia, in a blow to the UAE economy.

A-Khaleej Center for Studies and Research’s website in a report shedding light on the Saudi-Emirati relations in 2022 said the two countries seem to be moving further into conflict this year, though covertly. The Persian Gulf Arab states have pursued a political and economic strategy based on competition with each other, and especially Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have already set their plans to secure foreign policy interests and increase power with rising oil prices in 2022.

The UAE has engaged in pre-emptive diplomacy over the past four months compared to other Persian Gulf states. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed visited Turkey on November 24, 2021 and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Before that, Tahnoun bin Zayed, the UAE national security adviser, had traveled to Qatar. Tahnoun also went to Tehran on December 6, and all these efforts are being made to defuse tensions with neighbors and regional actors in order to prepare for the future situation in the region. “Economic, political, and regional rivalries between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have intensified,” the SaudiLeaks whistle-blower website said, referring to the differences between the two monarchies, adding that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are holding secret talks to resolve their conflict of views but went nowhere so far and so their relationship remains tense.

End of days of friendship 

A close look at Riyadh-Abu Dhabi relations shows that the two sides went separate ways in recent months pursuing their regional interests. This can push their frayed ties to even colder levels and prepare the background for their political, economic, military, and geopolitical rivalry. The Financial Times, in a report on their growing gap said that oil production is not the only cause of discord between the two sides, but economic competition between them is intensifying and there is a gap in their unity. Growing differences between Saudi Arabia and the UAE over foreign, economic, security and oil policies will add to the complexity of future OPEC discussions and efforts to preserve the OPEC output agreement. Meanwhile, the debate in Abu Dhabi at the highest levels is over whether to leave the OPEC. An exit from the bloc will allow the UAE to finance its program for economic diversification.

SaudiLeaks in its report about the two sides’ relations predicted Saudi use of a set of choices to counter the UAE. Here are some of them:

1. Releasing Muslim Brotherhood prisoners and reconciling with the group’s clerics

2. Relocating MBC Group, a Saudi-owned media conglomerate, and other institutions from Dubai to Saudi Arabia

3. Canceling long-term contracts with Abu Dhabi, including Jeddah Port development project

4. Mending ties with Turkey and increasing trade exchange

5. Throwing further support behind resigned Yemeni Presidebt Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in the face of UAE-backed southern separatists

6. Closing down Jabel Ali border crossing to decrease the trade

7. Boosting ties with Oman

8. Showing further openness to ties with Qatar

9. Mending relations with Muslim countries and trying to restore past role

10. Increasing support to Egypt’s Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and counter-revolutionary factions

Via Al-waght

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