The crown prince of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Supreme Commander of United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, recently through a tweet mentioned his discussion with Syrian president Bashaar Al Assad on a phone call. He conveyed to him the updates of coronavirus and assured him that UAE stands by Syria. In addition to this, the Prince said: “humanitarian solidarity during trying times supersedes all matters, and Syria and her people will not stand alone”.
It is pertinent to mention, UAE and Qatar played a vital part in destabilizing Syria and tried their best to change the regime during the US-backed Arab spring in 2011. This they did, by means of their paid mercenaries and political and diplomatic pressure. UAE supported the movement financially and militarily, while the Kurdish led the Free Syrian Army during the Syrian civil war. Moreover, the Emirati Government fully endorsed the decision of the Arab League to suspend the membership of Syria, back in November 2011.
From allies to adversaries
Several years later, a rift developed between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and this time, UAE stood with Riyadh. The main dispute between both parties was over Qatar’s role in backing and spreading the Muslim brotherhood ideology, in the region. Qatar was also found involved in installing their puppet governments in various Middle Eastern states like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
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Doha also tried to play the same game in Syria, which would’ve led towards its greater influence in the Arabian geopolitical environment. It could also have provided a great opportunity for Turkey to safeguard its interests in the region, as the latter has important strategic ties with the former.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2018, lost their eagerness to topple Bashaar Al Assad’s government in Syria. This was partly because Qatar and Turkey had an upper hand, especially after the defeat of ISIS in Syria. Most of the proxies lost their ruling areas to Assad’s Syrian Arab Army — hence they had little space left to maneuver their strategy. This pushed them to extend the hand of friendship towards President of Syria. Also, Turkish military involvement reminds Arabs of the Ottoman Era which spread through Syria.
The tweet of Muhammad Bin Zayed is a part of the changing face of the power struggle in the Middle East. Earlier at the start of December 2019, Chargé d’affaires of UAE said: “he hopes security and stability prevail throughout the Syrian Arab Republic under the wise leadership of President Bashar Al-Assad and Syria-UAE relations are solid, distinct and strong,” according to the Reuters.
In addition to that, last year UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash claimed in an interview, “UAE supported a united, capable, Arab Syria under a single sovereign authority.” UAE also reopened its embassy in Damascus, becoming the first Arab country to do so, except Oman which held a neutral position during the entire conflict.
Why did the UAE opt for a reversal of policy?
UAE’s sharp U-turn in its policies could help in fulfilling two major diplomatic objectives. Firstly, these strategies can create an effective anti-Turkish bloc. Turkey holds strong military presence in Northern and North-Western Syria. They can persuade President Bashar Al-Assad to provide military support in exchange for returning his areas, which are presently under Erdogan’s influence. It can turn out to be a win-win situation for both regimes.
Secondly, these political engagements can lead to the strengthening of ties between UAE and Russia. Russia has supported the Syrian President since the beginning of the Arab Spring. It can prove to be an excellent chance for Abu Dhabi, to strengthen its ties with other major powers, and become less dependent on the United States.
So in the near future, we can expect a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and UAE’s Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Muhammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, or even Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. After these important political proceedings, we should expect some major reshuffling of alliances in the region, and beyond.
Hassan Aziz is a student of LLB at International Islamic University, Islamabad. He’s presently working as a media secretary at Law Students Council. He regularly follows international developments especially in South Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through twitter at @H_AzizPk. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.