When the “New Middle East” meets the “New Europe”

Middle Eastern specialists have commented extensively on the “new” overseas coverage of the United Arab Emirates. Many of those identical commentators have gone as far as to time period it the coverage of a “New Middle East.” The UAE’s latest approach is outlined by a extra assertive and aggressive overseas coverage –as demonstrated by the UAE’s latest alliances with heretofore non-traditional companions. Many of those companions are what European specialists name “New Europe” – these nations, largely in Eastern and South Eastern Europe who, within the post-Cold War period, are themselves seeking to set up assertive overseas coverage agendas of their very own.

In this text, we have a look at the latest relations between the UAE and three members of the so-called “New Europe” – Serbia, Greece and Israel – to attempt to decipher this development and decide whether or not that is merely a short lived alliance of comfort or whether or not that is actually the realities of a brand new world order.

The UAE is made up of seven separate Emirates that united in 1971 to construct a extra steady and safe federation after the invention of huge oil reserves within the desert wastelands that after dominated their land. This union of emirates additionally ensured that overseas coverage choices can be each centralized and unified, and directed from the brand new capital in Abu Dhabi.

While the nascent UAE’s preliminary overseas coverage agenda was restricted to native points (vis-a-vis Iran over sovereignty of islands within the Persian Gulf, land borders with neighboring Saudi Arabia, and so forth.), the present-day UAE’s coverage is far more wide-ranging. 

The UAE has been closely concerned militarily towards the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, participating in air raids in each Libya and Syria and even brokering peace offers between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The central goal of the UAE’s overseas coverage has been an aversion to and a suppression of Islamic actions, most particularly the Islamic Brotherhood who, within the wake of the Arab Spring, acquired a second wind by way of recognition and attraction among the many newly emancipated, voting, Arab plenty.

Complicating the image for the UAE is the presence of Islamic or neo-Islamic political regimes amongst two of the area’s traditionally dominant actors: (the Islamic Republic of) Iran and in a Turkey dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (a kind of Turkish model of the Muslim Brotherhood).  

The UAE’s enmity to the Brotherhood has left it with only a few pals within the area: even neighboring and fellow GCC member Qatar is Brotherhood pleasant. Qatar’s stance was a root reason behind the well-publicized spat between the UAE and Qatar and the following blockade between the 2 nations. The UAE’s companions within the blockade of Qatar are shut regional allies: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. These alliances, although, are shaky.

The Saudi-UAE alliance is momentary at finest since Saudi-UAE relations, as any scholar of Gulf historical past will attest, is traditionally antagonistic. Bahrain is small and militarily insignificant within the wider regional and world context.  Abdul Fattah El-Sisi’s authorities in Cairo, alternatively, should at all times regulate its Brotherhood-friendly citizens. The dearth of potential allies nearer to home has led the UAE additional afield and to nations with traditionally anti-Islamist agendas. 

These so-called “anti-Islamist nations” of “New Europe” carry comparable geo-political traits: positioned within the east and south-eastern Europe, all bordering Muslim nations and every with border grievances with their mentioned Islamic neighbors.

The case of Serbia is illuminating; with its borders being encroached by each Muslim-majority Bosnia and Herzegovina and extra not too long ago by an Albanian-backed Kosovar independence motion. Balkan massacres involving Orthodox Christian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims are nonetheless imprinted in latest living reminiscence.

The identical elements apply to Greece, and although the Greeks have prevented the form of violence related to the previous Yugoslavia, its lengthy 400-year historical past of Ottoman occupation and its continued clashes with the trendy Turkish state in locations like Cyprus stays. The Greco-Turkish rivalry is sophisticated additional by the latest discovery of fossil fuels within the Eastern Mediterranean area and the complexities of maritime border demarcation.

Israel, although technically not in South-Eastern Europe, is geographically and culturally shut sufficient. Israel’s points with its Arab neighbors are well-known; the eruption of violence in May 2021 in Jerusalem and in Gaza being the latest manifestation.

These elements haven’t stopped the UAE in its pursuit of nearer ties with every of the above nations. The first indicators of this new overseas coverage pivot got here as early as 2013 when the UAE’s nationwide airline Etihad Airways signed a strategic partnership settlement with Air Serbia which included the previous buying a 49% stake within the latter.

Ties with the Government of Serbia have been additional enhanced in 2014 when it was introduced that an Abu Dhabi-based funding firm would develop the “Belgrade Waterfront” mission within the coronary heart of the Serbian capital. The mission consists of the constructing of a brand new 40-story mixed-use skyscraper often called “Belgrade Tower.” The mission was controversial from the beginning, with many Belgrade residents protesting the mission for, amongst different issues, its perceived backroom nature and the involvement of a murky overseas companion (i.e. the UAE). Other offers made between the UAE and Serbia included an estimated $1.5 billion mortgage to Serbia and main investments in Serbia’s protection and semi-conductor industries by the UAE.

The UAE’s ties with Greece have been strengthened extra not too long ago as each nations share a mutual animosity with Turkey, although for differing causes. Those variations haven’t stopped Greece and the UAE from concluding, in November 2020, a political and protection settlement in what was termed a “strategic partnership.” This follows the occasions of May 2020 when Greece, the UAE, Cyprus, Egypt and France issued a joint assertion condemning Turkey’s vitality exploration within the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey responded by calling the nations an “alliance of evil.”

In January of this 12 months, stories indicated that the UAE would quickly take part in joint navy workouts with Greece. Other members in these joint workouts embody, amongst others, the United States, Cyprus and Israel. 

The Abraham Accords that the UAE signed with Israel have garnered essentially the most consideration amongst observers. The UAE’s resolution to normalize ties with Israel was unpopular on the “Arab Street”, however was extensively praised within the West. The Accords transcend normalization as Israeli’s have been granted one thing akin to “preferential status” with the UAE by way of travel, commerce and investments. Israel’s well-known protection business is a key think about bringing the 2 nations collectively, however offers have additionally been signed within the medical, cultural and scientific fields.

The contentious nature of the deal was uncovered earlier than the ink used to signal the Accords was barely dry when battle arose between Israel and Palestine in May.  It was the primary take a look at for the brand new UAE-Israel alliance and it appears to have handed with little hindrance.

Will these alliances between the so-called “New Middle East” and the “New Europe” maintain? A change within the total state of affairs within the Middle East, even a small one, might change the complete image outlined above. It must be remembered that the UAE is a one-man dictatorship with out an elected parliament. Should there be any form of change in authorities in Abu Dhabi, then coverage adjustments are doubtless as properly. Likewise, coverage within the UAE (and within the Gulf area typically) is usually transactional and private. This implies that a single occasion may cause large adjustments in outlook and in the end coverage.

Alliances within the Middle East shift as usually as sands of the area shift. The latest information of a rupture within the Saudi-UAE alliance on account of disagreements over oil output quotas won’t shock Middle Eastern analysts, and analysts of Europe – particularly of “New Europe” – have been warned.


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