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July 28, 2021

Row at OPEC+ shows UAE and Saudi Arabia’s strained relationship


A view of the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, May 29, 2019.
Karim SAHIB / AFPA view of the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, May 29, 2019.

Allies, while still close, are increasingly prioritizing economics over mutual friendship

A startling public row between Saudi Arabia and brash neighbor the UAE has exposed the steadily diverging paths of once inseparable allies who are competing to profit from what may be the world’s last oil boom.

Wrinkles in relationships between the Gulf monarchies are usually resolved behind palace walls, but a fiery debate over the future of global oil production burst into the open this week.

The United Arab Emirates has bitterly opposed a proposed deal by the OPEC+ alliance of oil-producing countries, slamming it as “unjust” and triggering a stalemate that could derail efforts to curb rising crude prices amid a fragile post-pandemic recovery.

That is a rare challenge to Saudi Arabia, the world’s number-one oil exporter – as well as the Arab world’s largest economy and custodian of Islam’s holiest sites.

Economic rivalry is at the heart of the feud. The Gulf states are trying to cash in on their vast oil reserves as they face the beginning of the end of the oil era.

Riyadh is desperate to fund an overdue program to diversify its economy before the switch to renewables is complete.

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the UAE’s strongman Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed have long been seen as the region’s power couple, known by their matching initials – MBS and MBZ.

While MBZ was once seen as a mentor to the younger leader, their lack of joint appearances of late has triggered speculation that the relationship has cooled considerably.

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