Saudi-UAE alliance has filled Gulf leadership void

The people in the Gulf must realize that they cannot operate independently in a region beset by social, economic and political problems

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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The move by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to form a formal strategic alliance could well turn out to be a masterstroke of creative political decision-making.

It comes at a time when there is a paucity of ideas on how to lift the region from seemingly endless cycles of conflict, which has allowed outside players to interfere and set their own agendas.

This formal union could provide significant compensation for the current lack of regional direction, and much-needed impetus for Arab causes and development.

The people in the Gulf must realize that they cannot operate independently in a region beset by social, economic and political problems

Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthy

The facts on the ground are clear: Most countries are involved in petty disagreements, particularly with Qatar, that have weakened the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a stabilizing and unifying force. There is hope, of course, that Gulf countries would be able to see eye-to-eye again on a myriad of important issues that need urgent attention.

However, there is little point in sitting back and waiting for things to change. This is why the Saudi and UAE leaders, who agree on most issues, have taken this initiative. The two nations are ideally placed to create the catalyst that sparks change in the region. Saudi Arabia is the region's largest economy, with the UAE in second place. They both have a track record of bolstering the economies of other countries in the region and resolving disputes.

French-German alliance after the Cold War

This relationship is a reminder of the French-German alliance after the Cold War that eventually led to the formation of the European Union in its current form. Europe has since become an important player in the world with this grand union that has largely overcome racial, national and religious divides for the benefit of 500 million people.

The Gulf region is different but can draw significant lessons from this experience in Europe, which has proven that two countries can bring about broad political and economic integration whatever the hurdles placed before them.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so who better than the Kingdom and the UAE to fill it by developing a center of power in the region. Recently an important meeting took place between Prince Saud Al-Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to find ways to implement the strategic visions of the countries’ leaders. The meeting was attended by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Minister of State Musaed Al-Aiban, also known as the man to call on for difficult missions.

The recommendation to establish a higher joint committee confirms the deep and strong ties between the two states. After all, they have similar political systems, external agenda, society and culture. The main aim of the project is to set up a legislated, institutional framework that would remain in place under all conditions, including leadership changes. This would be similar to the way the European Union currently operates.

The success of this alliance will pave the way for other states with a similar bent to join. This body should never replace or undermine the status of the GCC but merely highlight the importance of its role to create harmony between members. In the end, the project is driven by necessity because this region does not have the luxury of time.

It must be stated, however, that this rapport between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is not new. The two countries’ leaders have shared similar views on issues for a while. In March, the UAE summoned Iraq’s ambassador to condemn Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki for making unsubstantiated accusations against Saudi Arabia. Such an approach is based on the GCC’s inclusive philosophy.

The people in the Gulf must realize that they cannot operate independently in a region beset by social, economic and political problems — including full-scale civil wars. In addition, they are the envy of the world because of their resource-rich land, which makes them ideal targets for foreign meddling.

Many here have therefore welcomed the news of this Saudi-UAE coalition. They see it as building a new powerful foundation based on justice, moderation and common interests that would command respect in the world.

This article was first published in Arab News on May 28, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

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