UAE, Saudi Arabia close ranks in face of regional challenges
In a region plagued by conflict and violence, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are increasingly aware of the many challenges ahead. From the recent US announcement on Jerusalem to Iran’s provocations to the spread of political Islam — particularly by Turkey and Qatar — the issues facing the Arab world are as numerous as ever.
These developments have complicated the geopolitical landscape and underscored the need for cooperation between the Saudis and Emiratis, who share the same vision on regional issues.
How to prioritise these many challenges — in the Palestinian territories, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and the overall region — is a challenge itself. However, considering that the challenges are interconnected, it is important not to deal with them in isolation but as part of a comprehensive Saudi Arabia- UAE regional strategy.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on December 13 in Riyadh to strengthen coordination between the two countries. The talks were a week after the formation of a new political and military alliance aimed at going beyond formalities and fostering joint Arab action.
Also at the meeting was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, who remains keen on overseeing implementation and identifying areas of priority, especially considering developments in Yemen. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE stressed that security in Yemen, which is of critical importance for the stability of the Arabian Peninsula, must not be jeopardised.
Repercussions of the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital were touched on during the Riyadh meeting. That decision has led to fierce competition over who can express more concern for Jerusalem in the Arab world. Ironically, some of the more outspoken countries are known for their good relations with Israel and have received senior Israeli politicians on more than one occasion.
Soon after US President Donald Trump’s Jerusalem statement on December 6, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and their proxies, including Hezbollah, immediately began with their inflammatory rhetoric, using the Palestinian cause for their own political ends.
First among the bigmouths was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who used a special meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul to bolster his profile domestically and in the Muslim world.
Such opportunism and grandstanding are nothing new for Erdogan. In 2010, following the Gaza flotilla raid — in which nine activists were killed by Israeli forces while carrying humanitarian aid and construction supplies to Gaza — Erdogan’s confrontational approach to Israel boosted his popularity in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Indeed, Erdogan will use any situation, however tragic, to blame his Arab neighbours, score political points and play on the nationalistic feelings of the Arab people. What he has no desire to tell his admirers is that further division cannot serve the Arab world. Only Arab unity and strength can help the Palestinians in their struggle for an independent state.
Similar criticisms apply to leaders in Qatar and Iran. Given the realities in the region, Turkey, Qatar and Iran cannot and should not emerge as defenders of the Palestinian cause.
Those three countries, along with their proxy groups and militias, have been at the forefront of sowing division in the Arab world. They have supported extremism across the Middle East and beyond, fanned the flames of sectarian conflict in Yemen, Syria and Iraq and propelled political Islam as a source of growing instability. Their tactics are meant to produce further fragmentation and create a political vacuum, increasing the prospect of conflict and foreign intervention.
To counter those threats, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have set clear-cut policies to fight extremism, sectarianism and terror. Their joint efforts, in line with the principle of solidarity, are aimed at preserving the unity of the Arab region.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s concerns are not confined to their respective borders but affect the Arab region at large.
It is worth noting the combined $130 million pledge of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to fight jihadism in West Africa’s Sahel region. The Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition is expected to support the G5 Sahel — the five-country counterterrorism coalition in the Sahel — with training, intelligence and logistical support.
To ensure a better future, the Arab region should be indivisible. Any threat or accusation towards one Arab country should be condemned by peoples and governments in the region. Only regional unity will hinder foreign intervention and allow the Arab world to fend off hostile plots aimed at destabilising the region.
Coordination, cooperation and strategic alliances are needed more than ever.