KSA and UAE differences on Syria and Yemen: Reasonable Differences or a Clash?
How the Media Created an Impression of a Major Rift and Widened Misunderstandings
In recent months, Western media has bombarded the policymakers with rumors about an alleged divide inside the Arab Coalition, the supposedly irreconcilable differences that are driving UAE and KSA towards an inevitable and irreversible drift, dooming their effort in Yemen. Indeed, the countries have individual national security concerns that have at times pushed them to focus on some issues while others remained an apparently more urgent concern for their counterpart.
However, much of the current discourse about divisions between the Gulf states has been fueled by a campaign focus on exploiting and exaggerating real divisions to the detriment of all, rather than bringing the countries back to the same page and strengthening their partnership with the United States. That goes against the Iran and Muslim Brotherhood agenda in driving the Coalition – and especially the US – out of Yemen, as soon as possible.
For that reason, mutual recriminations and attacks have been encouraged, and the situation has been portrayed in the most dire terms. Indeed, if the divide continues, it will only strengthen t he Muslim Brotherhood influence in Yemen, and give further fodder to assorted terrorist groups and Iran-induced chaos. To avoid that possibility, the US government should stop listening to what appears to be a clearly divisive political campaign and instead take the time to understand the positions of each country. US leadership may soon discover that the apparent differences are far from irreconcilable, and that UAE and KSA ultimately wish for a stable region and are both against any sort of radicalism or fanaticism.
The Arabic language media wars between the various columnists from the two states has not been helpful either. Rather than attacking each other and mounting potentially baseless accusations, these analysts would do well to emphasize common ground as well as use the power of their keyboards to clarify the nature of the misunderstandings and to elucidate their countries’ positions in a rational way that will help arrive at common sense solutions – already evident in some of the discourse emerging from both sides.
Perceived Differences, Unexplained, Are Played Up Causing Confusion
In the midst of tensions between Iran and the United States in the Gulf – tensions which involve oil smuggling, attacks on and hijacking of tankers, and the downing of drones – Iran appears to be pursuing a parallel diplomatic track with some of the regional stakeholders.
Iran’s recent meeting with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed generated a great deal of discussion and controversy; meetings with Qatari officials, on the other hand, went by largely unnoticed. Is UAE really looking to abandon Saudi Arabia in its stand off against the ayatollahs? And what is Tehran ultimately seeking to accomplish?
The rare visit by UAE officials to Iran came in the context of other developments, which have raised questions about the possible fissions within the Anti-Terrorism Quartet.
While visiting Moscow after the May attacks on Emirati and Saudi oil tankers, Abdullah bin Zayed refused to name Iran as the culprit, which to many signaled UAE distancing itself from the more confrontational position taken by the United States and Saudi Arabia, as reported by Tom O’Connor in Newsweek on June 26, 2019. This development came after UAE and Bahrain split from Saudi Arabia in reestablishing diplomatic relations with Syria’s pro-Iran Bashar al-Assad; although even with Russia’s lobbying on Syria’s behalf, there was not enough support to readmit Syria into the Arab League as explained by Youssef Igrouane in Inside Arabia on February 27, 2019. The discussion on whether reopening embassies in Damascus would “normalize” al-Assad, and whether al-Assad, who already was receiving limited political support from Egypt vis-a-vis Turkey, as explained by the author and Mohammed Maher in Modern Diplomacy on May 6, 2019, was considered a fait accomplit for Syria for the time being by some of the pragmatists in the Arab world and thus the reestablishment of diplomatic relationship was at that point merely a formality acknowledging that Assad is there to stay remains an open question. Was Saudi Arabia being “unreasonable” in refusing to restore relations with Assad, where the other three members of the Anti-Terrorism Quartet chose to pursue a different path? And did that decision create or further divisions between Riyadh and the other three countries? Or was this step merely a reasonable and agreed upon approach given the differences in the countries’ interests, that did not affect much their cooperation on other points?
The reality is, in fact, it was a bit of both. For Saudi Arabia, Iran is a central and existential danger. Although KSA’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had articulated that Iran, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey are part of a triangle of evil, in terms of policy, Saudi Arabia clearly has prioritized opposing Iran over complete eradication of the other two “sides” of the triangle. Although the Saudi government has gone to great lengths to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood from within the country, it has cooperated with the Islamist brigades that are fighting on behalf of the Yemeni government as a a part of the Arab Coalition against the Houthi terrorists in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, despite tensions with Turkey, which escalated after the death of Jamal Khashoggi, retained diplomatic relations with Ankara, and although there has been a limited boycott of some Turkish products, the majority of Saudi investments have remained in place. Turkey remains a political challenge to Saudi Arabia’s interests in Middle East and Africa; Erdogan is looking for Sunni primacy through populist Islamism, and has invested heavily in various operations in Africa and Asia, to counter Saudi soft power with defense and humanitarian investments.
How Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood overshadow Iran threat for UAE
However, Erdogan has also suffered recent defeats and setbacks, primarily through the fall of his ally Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, and through the stalemate in Libya. Turkey is a political threat to Saudi Araabia’s influence; however, Erdogan has suffered political blows inside the country, such as the loss of his candidate in Istanbul, the economic fallout from the rising tensions with the United States, and other problems. For that reason, while Erdogan may be a longer-term concern, (any nationalist, even without Erdogan’s Islamists connection, in pursuit of a renewed Ottoman empire will not be looked upon kindly), he is not an immediate existential threat. Furthermore, most of his Arab following comes solely on the basis of his strongman, anti-Israel, anti-American image, but will not likely remain loyal to a non-Arab leader with a vision of reimposition of the Ottoman system from which many of their ancestors have suffered.
Saudi Arabia views Erdogan’s incursions into Syria quite negatively; however, Assad has become increasingly dependent on Iran as a result of the civil war, and Iranian presence in Syria has grown substantially. Where the various jihadist and Muslim Brotherhood factions are mere annoyances used by state actors to attack each other, Assad is opening doors to Iran’s ideological and political influence, in addition to a military build up and the building of “land bridges” that will facilitate the influx of fighters and weapons into the area. From that perspective, and given the Saudis’ concern with countering that threat above all, not cooperating with Assad in any substantial way makes perfect sense. Turkey is unlikely to take over Syria completely; however much damage it can cause with its presence, Assad is likely to retain control over most of the country. Quite simply, Assad and Iranians are the stronger forces.
For UAE, however, the analysis was quite different, as its tensions with Turkey have intensified over time, with the arrests of UAE-based Palestinian workers (one of whom was found dead and disemboweled in a Turkish jail cell), attacks on Emirati bases in Somalia by Turkey and Qatar-backed militias, as explained by the New York Times on July 22, 2019, as well as Turkey’s support for the Arab Spring, which threatened UAE, a relatively small country, as well as Bahrain, which nearly suffered a coup, as well as the view of the UAE, that Turkey’s incursions into Syria represents an attack on the sovereignty of Arab lands, as written by Bilo Biskan for the Middle East Institute on May 1, 2019.
Erdogan’s support for Muslim Brotherhood and his backing of UAE’s regional rival, Qatar, contributed significantly to this deterioration in relations, as well as a perception of an immediate attack on UAE’s interests. Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological proclivities have received a zero-tolerance treatment from Abu Dhabi, which has supported Southern separatists in Yemen and has had disagreements with Saudi Arabia over cooperation with the Islamist brigades within the Coalition. Furthermore, UAE has spared no expense in lobbying efforts and backing think tanks in the West to counter Qatari and Turkish backing of the spread of ISlamist ideology, whereas Saudi Arabia has taken a step back from involvement in these ideological battles.
By contrast, Dubai has had a sizeable Iranian community and while UAE has sided with Saudi Arabia against Iran politically, its trade relations with Iran are lively and ongoing. UAE was one of the eight countries to receive a temporary waiver for oil trade with Iran from the United States; the exports from UAE to Iran are four times the number of imports. UAE considers Iran a threat; it has largely withdrawn its forces from Yemen in response to the increasing tensions in the Gulf and to secure its own citizens from any potential attacks by Iranian forces. However, ultimately, countering Turkey and Sunni ISlamists in Syria may simply have been more of a political priority, and if Assad did not present a direct threat to the Arab states, from UAE perspective, having modest political presence in the country could be beneficial to ensuring that other Emirati interests in countering additional primary threats could be protected.
By the same token, Emirati and Bahraini presence in Syria could be the bridge to keep Saudi Arabia informed and its interests observed if only by proxy. In either case, this minor presence inside the country might not ultimately make much of a difference, particularly if Syria remains outside the Arab League and otherwise largely isolated by the coalition members. From the Western perspective, however, these pragmatic differences that ultimately may not matter all that much on the strategic level of countering primary threats by the ATQ may signal to the West a deepening rift within the Quartet, which makes formulating coherent policy by the White House, already fraught with internal controversies and contradictions, still more difficult. If, for whatever reasons, some of the Arab partners are staunchly opposed to any convergence with Assad, whereas others find any compromise with Turkey unacceptable while limited dialogue with Assad appears to be not only within reason, but essential to making progress, no matter what the White House ends up doing in Syria, one or more of the parties will be dissatisfied with the outcome.
Recent clashes in Aden expose and exacerbate fissions inside the Arab Coalition, alarming the West
Yemen further complicates the situation. UAE withdrawal, although allegedly coordinated, has been largely interpreted by the Western press, the cadre of analysts, and the political establishment as a significant difference, if not a rift, among the Coalition members. Increasingly, from Western perspective, Saudi Arabia appears to be isolated, and the war, at least in the manner it is being handled today, hopeless and chaotic. Although the Trump administration has recognized the dangers from various non-State actors inside Yemen, as well as Iran’s role in backing the Houthis, the White House has not deemed it necessary either to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, even after multiple, and in some cases, lethal attacks on Saudi civilian sites, nor has it pushed for a new AUMF that would allow combat troops to counter Hizbullah and Houthi forces in addition to Al Qaeda and ISIS. While the White House appears to count on the Saudis to settle the issue, the situation is complicated by the UAE-backed separatists who have intervened in Aden, demanding independence.
The Houthis, at the same time, demanded the expulsion of the Sunni Islamist fighters and separatists as reported in The Daily Star on August 15, 2019. The talks over managing and settling the new conflict in Saudi Arabia appear to be thwarted by the refusal of the various parties to compromise on the solution. The Islamists, from the Saudi perspective, appear to be a necessary lesser evil to counter the Hizbullah trained Houthis; furthermore, the Yemeni government has taken a step back , with the Saudis shouldering most of the burden. UAE has attempted to mediate between the Southern Transitional Council writes Bel Trew for The Independent on August 14, 2019, and the other parties in an attempt to avoid further violent clashes.
However, so long as the separatists feel they have backing there appears to be no reason for them not to continue taking advantage of the seeming splintering among the allies to push their own agenda. The optics of it all are chaotic, and the only party benefiting is Iran, which thrives on mayhem and divisions among anyone who opposes Tehran’s agenda. The natural question of course arises is why would UAE continue backing a group that clearly has less of an interest in broader agenda of the coalition than pushing for its own bid that could only strengthen Iran’s goal.
The Houthis which largely reside in the lesser developed Northern part of Yemen seek continuity into the South. Dividing the country which had been held together, albeit imperfectly, under Ali Saleh, would not change the goals of Iran, the Houthis, or the various other terrorist groups on the ground, and would only create additional political complexities on top of the existing military and humanitarian difficulties. Furthermore, the unseemly vision of UAE forces clashing with the Saudi-backed forces in Aden and elsewhere are already being exploited by Iran for propaganda value and to create additional tensions and distrust between UAE and KSA.
Contradictory Coverage of the UAE Meeting with Iran Underscores the Role of Information Warfare
Putting aside these considerations for a moment, it is worth examining the dynamics between UAE and Iran outside Yemen. Of course, the meetings between the officials were spun very differently by the pro-Iran media and former Obama officials, now firmly ensconced in the Western foreign policy establishment, and the Gulf responders. Much of the Western media covered the story as a political rapprochement between Iran and UAE, a political and diplomatic victory to Tehran, and a heavy blow to KSA, which is being stabbed in the back in the midst of a crisis. as reported by Washington Post on July 31, 2019. The Gulf press, on the other hand, disputed the version of significant maritime security agreements that would position UAE as having bought off its own safety in exchange for throwing Saudis under the bus, and instead pointed out that the meetings were routine and focused on relatively trivial fishing issues that do not affect the larger calculus nor change the nature of the relationship.
See for example Khaleej Times coverage on July 31, 2019. One can argue whether such coverage is merely a face saving measure by the ATQ in light of this turn of events; a cynical viewer could even make claim that UAE withdrawal from Yemen had less to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation or the threat emanating from Iran than with some secret backchannel dialogue with Iran, which would preserve or even grow the trade relationship between the countries in exchange for the PR victory UAE would grant Iran by withdrawing its relatively small forces from Yemen (without necessarily ceasing its backing for the Southern forces). That interpretation would make sense if indeed the more significant nature of the meeting between the two countries were confirmed. However, following the Aytollah Khamenei’s public support for the Houthis, UAE officials publically linked Iran with the Houthis, which Iran had previously denied as Arab News points out on August 14, 2019.
Furthermore, the Emiratis and the Saudis accused Qataris and Turkish media of deliberately fabricating non-existent details to advance Iran’s agenda of creating divisions where there are not any, and fomenting tensions between the close allies, which have consistently pushed for diplomacy and opposed military confrontation with Iran as Radio Farda reported on August 3, 2019. Regardless of what is actually going on behind the scenes, however, neither version of events ultimately answers the question of what exactly Iran is hoping to achieve through this chain of events. Of course, it may have achieved a propaganda victory against the ATQ through the gossipy coverage which exploits or creates differences between UAE and KSA.
How does Iran benefit from the controversy over UAE meeting?
Certainly, whatever the actual reason for UAE’s withdrawal, it is to Iran’s advantage to have fewer people opposing the HOuthis in Yemen, particularly if they do not also change the strategy to become more effective in countering the ground forces with the intimate knowledge of the land and far greater information warfare skills. And most definitely, even a very minor meeting with Emirati officials, sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that Iran is a “reasonable” country that looks to cooperate with its neighbors if not major issues than on routine ones, and that the view of it as a regional aggressor with nothing of value to offer to the region is at the very least exaggerated. In other words, even if from a practical perspective it made sense for the Emiratis to meet with Iranians and to address diplomatically whatever is possible to address, it very likely was a mistake to agree to do so during a public visit to Iran rather than in some neutral and benign location.
The most likely view of the situation by Iran is as follows: regardless of UAE’s interests in the matter, it is clear that Iran has its geopolitical agenda of dominating the region and rebuilding the Persian empire, however long that will take. UAE, most likely, is not its primary target, as Iran has been consistent in pushing for the creation of a “Shi’a crescent”, and UAE simply would not fall into that category. Furthermore, at the current juncture, Iran needs all the financial help it can get, and attacking its trading partner’s territory does not make sense until such point as Tehran has secured its positions sufficiently elsewhere. Attacks on tankers will not warrant much of an international reaction, but a direct attack on UAE could be altogether different.
Likewise, Iran has no intention of stopping Houthi or Iraqi militia attacks against the Saudis; if anything, for the first time Iran’s reach to its proxies is sufficiently strong that it can now coordinate among these different bodies without facing much of a response from the US or anybody else. However, creating and fomenting distrust among all allies, and making the White House confused and cross with all the parties involved, ruining any possibility of creating some version of an Arab NATO, and ensuring that no coordinated political action, such as a blockade, can be taken against its own interests is the most likely aim of all of this maneuvering. The meeting with UAE may not have been of much strategic value in and of itself; particularly if Iran had no intention of attacking UAE to begin with, securing maritime agreements would be rather a symbolic and useless step. All agreements can be violated in a blink of an eye if Iran so chooses, as some have discovered through the folly of the nuclear deal.
However, creating the optics of a meeting and a dispute has furthered the tribalist differences Iran has long since alleged against its rivals, ensuring that any future steps in the Gulf area may not encounter an unanimous response, because some may feel more invested in preserving a potential symbolic defense than others. If UAE believes that the rapprochement with Iran, even a minor one, is to its benefit in protecting it from physical harm, it will be less likely to be vocal in pushing for additional measures against Iran, and could be even used to oppose further tough actions by the United States, if it ever chooses to launch a military strike for instance.
UAE may not view the situation that way at all; for all anyone knows, the sole point of that expedition was to determine that Iran, once again is playing games, check off this last-resort attempt at peacemaking from the list, and go on business as usual in close coordination with Saudi Arabia. But UAE’s intentions here are irrelevant to Iran; most of this charade is aimed at generating panic among the Gulf masses and to for the benefit of the West, that will now be less sure of its Arab allies because they appear to be splintered, hedging their bets in light of Trump’s relative inaction, or else untrustworthy even towards each other, as some are already alleging. Iran may have engineered the entire situation for the benefit of the West and to create further distrust in the Arab allies and their ability and willingness to advance effective anti-Iran agenda and their overall worth to the United States.
Qatar meeting with Iran may underscore Qatar’s support for Iran agenda in Yemen
As for the meeting with Qatar? FM Zarif, recently sanctioned by the United States, notably visited with Qatari officials right after visit by a Houthi official as reported by The National, on August 11, 2019.. NOt only is Iran flagrantly demonstrating the depth of its relationship with the Houthis, but it is now fairly open about Qatar’s support not merely for some trade with Iran in light of the boycott by the ATQ, but Qatar’s support for Iran’s political positions and agenda in the region, which includes the backing of the Houthis. The de facto finance minister of the Houthis was killed during the factional clashes in Sanaa, but the HOuthis blamed his death on the US. Houthis, too, appear to be experiencing infighting. One of their leaders may have been killed during a power struggle. Qatar, which is right across from Iran has a front row view of the attacks on the Emirati and Saudi tankers; it also shares a gas field with Iran.
Despite Qatar’s stated concerns over Iran’s supposed threat, none of Qatari sites or tankers have been attacked by Iran or any of its proxies. Left out from the background to the meeting is that Qatar has retained ties to both the Houthis and the Islah (ISlamist) brigades in Yemen, funding and backing both sides of the war, though ultimately the ISlamists are hostile to Saudi and Emirati interests in Yemen, writes Samuel Ramani in Al Monitor on November 19, 2018. Qatar’s support for the anti-Houthi Islamists has not appeared to have alarmed Iran, because this step ultimately only creates further friction between the Saudis and Emiratis and further advances Iran’s agenda. In other words, Iran is happy to have a fifth column inside the Arab Coalition, without which, nevertheless, countering the Houthis is unimaginable for lack of sufficient forces with knowledge of the physical landscape, especially after withdrawal by many of the other former Coalition members (including Egyptians, Moroccans, and Sudanese, and now the loss of most Emirati fighters).
However, the meeting with Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has not raised much interest in the Western press, primarily because it is a dog bites man situation and there is less controversy to be explored. The meeting very well may have been planned to coordinate the agenda on Yemen, and certainly on the information warfare campaign in smearing the Arab Coalition members, and setting them up against one another. It is a shame that none in the press have stepped away from sensationalism to ask deeper, more troubling questions about this steadily growing relationship and Qatar’s apparent support and approval of Iran’s backing of the Houthis and their terrorist activity. Instead, they have focused on exploiting perceived divisions and fueling attacks against the allies in Yemen, with the hope of undermining their mutually important relationship and their partnership with the US.
UAE and KSA should ignore such provocations; instead of playing into the hands of adversarial propaganda, they should issue joint statements emphasizing common goals on the ground; then quietly sit down and hammer out the challenges that have prevented them from unifying behind the same forces. As mentioned above, there is already evidence that much of that has been caused by miscommunication and social pressures of various types, rather than any bad intent or blind unwillingness to embrace the strategically sound positions. However, if there is anything to be learned from these episodes is that Iran is a ruthlessly deceptive and calculating manipulator which will go to any lengths to clear its path to dominance, and that no matter the priorities and the political differences, the members of the ATQ should not fall for its dirty tricks.
Wanted: A Democracy Assistance Strategy for Iran
At the second Summit for Democracy, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the importance of advancing gender equality and women’s participation worldwide, including by commending the brave women of Iran for fighting for “woman, life, and freedom.” Yet, the people of Iran continue to face brutal repression as the Islamic Republic kills, tortures, arrests and assaults Iranians who are fighting for basic rights.
Iran has seen a sharp rise in human rights violations over the past seven months, when protests erupted across the country—sparked by the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini, a young Kurdish Iranian who died in the custody of the morality police for an “improper hijab.” These protests have trained a spotlight on deep societal grievances fostered by over four decades of persecution, oppression and impunity which cannot be reversed by the regime’s crackdown. The Islamic Republic now faces a dire crisis of legitimacy.
Although the United States has taken some steps to support the democratic movement in Iran, including by expressing solidarity with the demonstrators, the time has come for a more active stance in supporting those risking their lives to promote change by helping opposition leaders and providing assistance to pro-democracy forces to enable them to advance peace and human rights in Iran. Working through the State Department, USAID and independent NGOs, the U.S. can draw on existing resources and experience on promoting peaceful, political transitions to help democratic activists articulate their vision of a democratic future.
To begin with, the U.S. government should amplify and support the opposition leaders in developing a united vision for Iran’s future. Momentum for change has found footing as opposition leaders collaborate to establish a new political identity that rests on the principles of democracy, secularism, and human rights. This has also taken shape in inclusion, which is a first step in enshrining the principles of human rights, inclusion and a secular democracy.
The U.S. should seize this opportunity to provide dialogue platforms for opposition leaders and activists inside Iran to work across divides to refine their strategy, key policy priorities and their vision for democratic transformation. This could also entail providing technical assistance to Iranian activists on issues of peace, democracy, and governance. International support for the opposition as a legitimate alternative to the regime could reinvigorate hope among the protestors in Iran, while helping activists become better organized around clear goals could maximize the chance of a democratic breakthrough.
The U.S. government should adopt a long-term strategy and start planning how to support a democratic Iran, in line with USAID’s emphasis on supporting “bright spots” and leveraging the momentum of democratic openings. Given that protest movements and political transitions alike sometimes stall or encounter barriers, the U.S. should maintain flexibility as it anticipates and supports a democratic breakthrough. Whether the regime falls in the next few months or years, the U.S. should be prepared to provide assistance that empowers the Iranian people to build a new democratic foundation. This could include assisting an interim government, preparing leaders to govern, supporting political party development, codifying inclusion in a legal framework, mitigating the impacts of spoilers and managing security sector reform.
In designing these plans for assistance, policymakers should take care to encourage an inclusive approach that recognizes the rights and priorities of youth, women, ethnic, religious, sexual, and racial minorities. Under the Islamic Republic, these groups currently face extreme forms of discrimination, persecution and violations of human rights. After decades of oppression, women and youth are at the forefront of the uprising today—the U.S. should amplify their messages and support the fight for women’s rights as part of its policy objectives.
Minimizing the risk of elite capture and maximizing public participation will be critical to unifying the Iranian opposition, as well as helping ensure that inclusion is featured in a long-term vision for democracy in the country. This should include mitigating backlash from elite and dominant groups by educating and informing the public of the benefits of expanding political participation to include women and ethnic, religious, sexual, and racial minorities.
Advancing democracy and governance in any country is a long-term endeavor, and in Iran it would be no different. If the democratic movement in Iran were to succeed, it would represent an extraordinarily consequential event in the global fight for democracy. As President Biden has said, “We’re at an inflection point in history, where the decisions we make today are going to affect the course of our world for the next several decades.” Enabling the Iranian people to lead the way in defining the future of democracy in their country could impact the future for decades to come. The U.S. should stand on the right side of history.
Gulf states test the boundaries of their agency
More than three years after burying the war hatchet, erstwhile Gulf rivals are moving in separate ways as they maneuver big power competition.
Ironically, anti-Islamists like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have drifted towards greater independence from the United States while Qatar, long seen as a haven for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, is hueing closer to the region’s long-standing security partner.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia led a 3.5-year-long diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar in a failed bid to force it to change its policies and break its ties to the Brotherhood and others. The embargo was lifted in 2020.
Since then, the UAE has spearheaded efforts to return Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab fold, improve relations between Iran and the conservative Gulf states, and accommodate Russian efforts to circumvent Ukraine-related US and European sanctions.
Saudi Arabia last month hosted Mr. Al-Assad at an Arab League summit in Jeddah. Mr. Al-Assad’s presence ended the League’s suspension of Syria’s membership a decade ago because of his brutal conduct during the country’s civil war.
The United States opposed Mr. Al-Assad’s rehabilitation and has vowed to maintain its sanctions on Syria.
In support of the US, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani left the summit before Mr. Al-Assad addressed the Jeddah gathering.
Mr. Al-Thani’s walkout demonstrated Qatar’s deepening ties to the United States in response to the UAE-Saudi-led boycott. Last year, NATO designated Qatar a major non-NATO ally for its role in the US evacuation from Afghanistan.
The deepening ties have not stopped Qatar, home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, from keeping its lines open to China, among others, by granting the People’s Republic access to Hamad Port and purchasing Chinese ballistic missiles.
Even so, Qatar, in contrast to the UAE, has been careful not to irritate the United States or stray too far from US policies.
In the latest move to chart its own course, the UAE recently pulled out of a US-led maritime security force, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
Led by a US admiral, the CMF groups 38 countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in a bid to halt Iranian attacks on commercial ships, weapons smuggling, and piracy.
The UAE said its withdrawal was part of an assessment of “effective security cooperation” in the Middle East.
The UAE foreign ministry maintained that “the UAE is committed to peaceful dialogue and diplomatic engagement as a means of advancing the shared goals of regional security and stability.”
The Emirati withdrawal follows Iran’s recent seizure of two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. One of the tankers was travelling between two Emirati ports, Dubai and Fujairah, when it was attacked. The attacks reinforced Emirati doubts about the US ability and/or willingness to protect Gulf shipping.
In response to the seizures, the US announced increased allied patrols in the Strait but did not send additional ships or personnel to the region.
Similarly, like the UAE, Saudi Arabia increasingly appears willing to go against US policies. It has resisted US pressure to recognise Israel. The US sees recognition as crucial to its efforts to fashion an integrated regional air defense that would allow the United States to rejigger its security commitment to the Gulf.
By attaching conditions to potential recognition, including a firm US defense commitment and support for a Saudi civilian nuclear programme, Saudi Arabia has created a litmus test for US attitudes towards the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has rejected US preconditions for nuclear cooperation, including a demand that it follow the UAE’s example and surrender its right to extract, enrich or process uranium.
At a mining conference in January, Saudi Oil Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud insisted that the kingdom seeks to own “the entire nuclear fuel cycle which involves the production of yellowcake, low-enriched uranium and the manufacturing of nuclear fuel.”
In response, the kingdom turned to China. As a result, China and Saudi Arabia extended nuclear cooperation beyond uranium exploitation to nuclear technology last month.
The stepped-up cooperation follows a Chinese-mediated agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations. Relations ruptured in 2016 after mobs stormed the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in protest against the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.
While competing on multiple levels, Saudi Arabia and the UAE gamble that they can successfully play the United States and China against one another as they position themselves as regional leaders. In doing so, they place big bets.
China has a significant interest in Gulf security but has neither the ability nor the will to replace the United States as a guarantor.
Meanwhile, Gulf states remain dependent on an external guarantor.
Their large-scale sophisticated arms acquisitions have yet to enable them to create credible fighting forces. Their inability is not due to lack of resources. Instead, they have shied away from turning their militaries into fighting forces fearing that these could challenge monarchical rule.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia is groping for a face-saving exit from its failed eight-year-old military intervention in Yemen. At the same time, the UAE has established a string of strategic outposts along the Red Sea and in the Horn of Africa that it may not be able to defend sustainably.
“Saudi-US relations are achieving a renewed equilibrium. The UAE is still testing the waters and brinkmanship while Qatar plays it safe. There’s an element of bluff poker in this. But, sooner or later, reality will reassert itself, and the Gulf states will accept that dependence on a security guarantor comes at a price,” said a Western diplomat.
Erdogan’s Victory: Five Challenges He May Face in His Third Term
Erdogan, as Turkey’s leader, must negotiate a complicated web of local and foreign challenges while retaining power. One of his most difficult tasks will be to strike a balance between the demands of his conservative constituency and the need to promote democratic norms and preserve human rights. He must also find solutions to economic issues like high unemployment and inflation while also handling Turkey’s ties with important trading partners such as the EU and Russia. At the same time, Erdogan must endeavor to keep the region stable in the face of violence and instability, notably in Syria and Iraq. Notably, he must find a solution to Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish problem, which has been a source of contention for decades. – With so many obstacles ahead of him, Erdogan will need to use all of his leadership abilities if he is to succeed in this new chapter of his political career. Now it’s time to observe the issues that Erdogan may face in his third term and their ramifications for Turkey’s political environment.
Consolidation of Power and Erosion of Democracy
In his third term as President of Turkey, Erdogan faces a serious challenge: the consolidation of power and the deterioration of democracy. He has attempted to consolidate authority, raising worries about an imbalance in the division of powers and the weakening of checks and balances. To solve this problem, Erdogan must emphasize power decentralization and ensure that democratic institutions have the autonomy and capacity to function independently and efficiently as a check on presidential power. Furthermore, the erosion of democratic ideals is a major problem in Turkey’s elections, threatening accountability, openness, and justice. To overcome this dilemma, Erdogan must emphasize the building of these institutions, assuring their independence and ability to function as effective checks and balances on the government. This necessitates a dedication to the rule of law as well as a readiness to engage in constructive discourse with opposition parties and civil society organizations. Furthermore, Erdogan must address the core reasons for political division in Turkey, such as economic disparity and regional differences. This might include enacting laws that encourage inclusive growth and investing in infrastructure projects that benefit all parts of the country. Finally, Erdogan must try to reestablish faith in the political process by ensuring free, fair, and transparent elections. This involves ensuring that all eligible voters have access to the polls and providing enough resources for election monitoring. Erdogan can help ensure that Turkey’s democracy stays strong and vibrant for many years to come by implementing these actions.
Erdogan has been chastised for his treatment of journalists, activists, and political opponents, with concerns raised regarding media control, prohibitions on public rallies, and restrictions on free expression. Erdogan must commit to defending free expression, creating a climate that stimulates open conversation, and respecting individuals’ rights to peacefully express different views. Furthermore, protecting the integrity and fairness of elections is critical for maintaining democracy. Gerrymandering, limits on opposition parties, and questions about election transparency have all posed obstacles to Turkey’s electoral independence and impartiality. Erdogan must emphasize strengthening electoral institutions, maintaining their independence and impartiality, and enacting election reforms that promote justice and inclusion.
Furthermore, he should endeavor to create a more diversified and inclusive political scene in which opposition parties have equal access to the democratic process. This might include things like boosting the political representation of women and minority groups, supporting free speech and assembly, and cultivating a culture of political discourse and compromise. Erdogan should also address foreign observers’ concerns about human rights violations and limits on journalistic freedom. Erdogan can demonstrate his commitment to democracy and guarantee that Turkey remains a stable and affluent nation for many years to come by following these actions. The success of Turkey’s democracy will be determined by its leaders’ capacity to respect the ideals of openness, accountability, and inclusion.
Economic Stability and Growth
Inflation, unemployment, fiscal discipline, income inequality, and foreign variables all offer obstacles to Erdogan’s third term in power in terms of preserving economic stability and attaining long-term growth. Erdogan must establish effective monetary policies, maintain fiscal discipline, and work with the central bank to keep inflationary pressures under control. To address high unemployment rates and offer opportunities for the rising population, he must also prioritize policies that stimulate investment, assist small and medium-sized firms (SMEs), and improve vocational training programs. To minimize dependency on foreign borrowing and promote fiscal stability, he must maintain fiscal discipline and competent debt management. In order to negotiate these hurdles and ensure economic stability, he must diversify trade partners, develop diplomatic connections, and execute smart economic policies.
To achieve these objectives, the leader must prioritize investments in infrastructure and technology to improve productivity and attract foreign investment, as well as education and training programs to develop a skilled workforce capable of competing in the global market. He must implement policies that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship to foster economic growth. The leader must address income inequality and ensure that economic growth benefits all citizens. The success of the leader will be determined by his ability to balance conflicting priorities and make tough decisions in the face of uncertainty. He can guide his country in the right direction by prioritizing investments in infrastructure, education, innovation, and social welfare while simultaneously preserving budgetary discipline and sound economic policies.
Managing Geopolitical Relationships
Managing Turkey’s geopolitical ties will be one of the most challenging challenges Erdogan will confront during his third term as president. Because Turkey is strategically placed at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, its external arrangements and universal relations are vital to its national interface and stability. Exploring the complicated geographical characteristics and maintaining connections with numerous world powers may be one of Erdogan’s most pressing challenges. Relations between Turkey and nations such as the United States, Russia, and European Union members have a considerable influence on its political, financial, and security relationships. Erdogan must closely supervise these ties in order to protect Turkey’s national interface while also strengthening regional structural integrity.
Erdogan may also face difficulties as a result of the Syrian war and its consequences for Turkish security and territorial stability. Turkey has been directly touched by the crisis, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the country and coping with security concerns along its border. Erdogan must study the conflict’s intricacies in order to seek a peaceful settlement that protects Turkey’s security interests, promotes regional stability, and addresses the emergency. Furthermore, the Eastern Mediterranean debate is a significant impediment to Erdogan’s third term. Turkey’s claims and confrontations with neighboring nations about maritime borders, natural resources, and energy exploration have heightened regional tensions. Overseeing these issues while protecting Turkey’s interface requires mediation and dialogue with territorial partners like Greece, Cyprus, and other Eastern Mediterranean countries.
Additionally, Erdogan’s foreign policy decisions and opinions on a variety of global issues have the potential to affect Turkey’s worldwide reputation and ties with other countries. Erdogan must handle issues such as human rights concerns, territorial clashes, and geopolitical competitions while maintaining Turkey’s national interface and growing its image as a capable and powerful global performer. Erdogan must also deal with the challenge of balancing the East with the West in Turkey’s distant approach. Turkey has maintained close ties with both Western and Middle Eastern territorial powers. Overseeing this delicate shift requires Erdogan to advance interaction and engagement with a broad range of performing artists while avoiding alienation or overdependence on any one nation or area.
Addressing Human Rights Concerns
One of the primary problems Erdogan confronts in his third term as Turkish president is dealing with the country’s human rights concerns. Turkey’s human rights record has attracted worldwide attention and criticism, with concerns raised pertaining freedom of expression, press freedom, judiciary independence, and minority treatment. One of the most difficult tasks that President Erdogan must tackle is ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Turkey has been accused of stifling dissenting voices, with journalists, activists, and opposition organisations subjected to restrictions, censorship, and legal action. Erdogan must promote free expression by allowing for varied viewpoints, constructive criticism, and open and public discussion. A dynamic and democratic society requires the strengthening of press freedom and the independence of the media.
Erdogan must also address concerns about judicial independence and impartiality. A fair and independent court is required to defend the rule of law and protect citizens’ rights. Erdogan must work to improve the judiciary’s independence and guarantee that judges are appointed on merit rather than political reasons. Maintaining public faith in the legal system requires the establishment of a fair and transparent judicial system that promotes human rights. Dealing with ethnic minorities, notably Kurds, is another difficulty, and President Erdogan must address their concerns, encourage their integration, and safeguard their rights and cultural autonomy. This involves dealing with concerns such as discrimination, access to education and health care, and cultural and linguistic diversity.
Implementing comprehensive measures to promote discussion, reconciliation, and the empowerment of minority populations are critical stages in tackling Turkey’s human rights challenges. Furthermore, Erdogan as president should emphasize the battle against impunity for torture, ill-treatment, and abuses of human rights. A solid human rights framework must include the investigation of charges of human rights breaches, the holding of criminals responsible, and the provision of reparation to victims. Improving Turkey’s human rights status requires strengthening oversight systems, providing access to justice, and encouraging law enforcement openness. International collaboration and engagement can also help to address human rights concerns. President Erdogan should collaborate with international organizations, civil society groups, and other nations to exchange best practices, learn from successful experiences, and promote human rights discussion. Productive collaboration with foreign partners would help Turkey enhance its human rights protection and build a favorable image on the global stage.
Kurdish Question and Ethnic Tensions
The persistent Kurdish crisis and ethnic tensions in Turkey are among the fundamental difficulties Erdogan faces in his third term as Turkish president. The Kurdish community in Turkey has long demanded greater acknowledgment of its cultural and political rights, leading to decades of war and turmoil. President Erdogan must manage a complicated web of political, cultural, and social concerns in order to address the Kurdish issue. Finding a balance between the government’s security concerns and the Kurds’ genuine demands is one of the most difficult tasks. President Erdoan must work for a peaceful resolution via conversation and talks, as well as a long-term solution that safeguards the rights of both the Kurdish people and Turkish society as a whole. In order to promote inclusion, it is critical to promote Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights.
President Erdogan should emphasize policies that allow for more cultural autonomy within the framework of a united Turkish state, as well as policies that support the preservation and promotion of Kurdish language and culture. Equal access to education, health care, and economic opportunities for the Kurdish minority is also vital to eliminating socioeconomic disparity and strengthening social cohesion. President Erdogan must also address issues of prejudice and injustice among the Kurdish people. Ethnic conflicts can be reduced by ensuring equitable legal treatment, eliminating prejudice, and fostering social inclusion. President Erdogan should work to foster trust between the Kurdish people and the government, as well as an atmosphere in which all residents feel valued and included. Furthermore, effective institutions for Kurdish political representation must be established. – President Erdogan should support policies that allow Kurdish political parties to engage effectively in the democratic process and guarantee that the different perspectives and interests of the Kurdish population are reflected and represented in decision-making bodies. Erdogan must handle the security issues surrounding the Kurdish issue. Counter-terrorism and national security are vital issues, but it is critical to distinguish between violent extremist organizations and peaceful Kurdish political activities. Erdogan should pursue extremist forces while also creating prospects for constructive political engagement and reconciliation with the Kurdish people. International participation and collaboration can help solve the Kurdish crisis. Pesident Erdogan should be open to constructive conversation and collaboration with international players, particularly neighboring nations and regional organizations, in order to gain insights and aid in managing ethnic tensions and maintaining peace and stability.
To summarize, the Kurdish question and ethnic tensions are important issues for Erdogan in his third term as Turkish president. President Erdogan can lessen ethnic tensions and foster social cohesion by supporting cultural rights, combating discrimination, ensuring political representation, and pursuing peaceful solutions. Addressing the Kurdish issue successfully demands a broad and inclusive strategy that respects the rights and aspirations of all citizens and leads to a more peaceful, united Turkey.
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