Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has ongoing to dominate news headlines in new months, next stories of his latest crackdown versus top royals and officials, his relationship with another regional chief has after all over again come to light.
Far more than 20 many years his senior, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is generally portrayed as a mentor for the fewer-seasoned MBS, whom he backed even in advance of he grew to become the future in line for the Saudi throne in 2017.
The two men are de facto rulers of their countries and see eye-to-eye on a selection of domestic and foreign adventures, like their aggressive insurance policies in direction of political Islamist groups and their roles in regional conflicts this sort of as the very long-functioning Yemen war and the blockade on Qatar.
Their intersecting ambitions have introduced the pair with each other on a lot of situations, despite the fact that authorities say MBZ stays the mastermind behind a lot of insurance policies and the more influential determine in the relationship.
“In the major confrontations in the Arabian Peninsula, MBZ is in the driver’s seat,” mentioned Willam Regulation, editor of the Arab Digest, describing the relationship as “one where by MBZ exploits the immaturity, the arrogance and the ambition of MBS to achieve his ends.”
“MBZ is pleased to let MBS have centre phase although he is in the wings, looking at, operating and manipulating,” he extra.
MBS appears to seem up to MBZ’s achievements as a model of achievements, although the latter plays an critical part in supporting the more youthful crown prince.
A single of the essential domestic coverage issues that has united MBS and MBZ is their check out on political Islam, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, which left Gulf monarchies experience that probable unrest may unseat them from electrical power.
“The Arab Spring – and its ramifications – is the one most critical regional concern that has introduced Saudi Arabia and the UAE with each other,” Sami Hamdi, editor-in-main of the Global Desire periodical, mentioned.
“This marked the beginning of the shut cooperation involving Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which would subsequently lead to a coup in Egypt, the rise of [Libyan renegade armed forces commander Khalifa] Haftar …. and a blockade on Qatar,” he extra, referring to 3 essential events that unfolded in the earlier 10 years.
As a signifies to rid on their own of probable rivals, both leaders introduced fierce arrest strategies – an approach their countries had formerly adopted in the 1990s to purge governing administration departments of the Islamic al-Islah team in the UAE and the Sahwa Motion in Saudi Arabia.
Far more just lately, fears of a revival of political Islam led to the UAE’s crackdown on about sixty men and women in 2012, a lot of of whom were associates of al-Islah and were tried out the next year on rates of searching for to seize electrical power.
In Saudi Arabia, the crackdown on political opponents, like spiritual students, came later on. Billing it as an initiative to battle corruption, MBS led a widening arrest campaign versus royals and businesspeople in 2017. He then qualified notable spiritual figures, this sort of as Salman al-Awdah, in 2019, in advance of stories emerged in new months that he had all over again qualified senior associates of the royal family members and civil servants.
Regulation mentioned: “The new purges by MBS … have the exact aim as MBZ’s drive versus political Islam: to consolidate electrical power and do away with probable challengers to their absolute rule.”
In accordance to Courtney Freer, an pro on Gulf states and analysis fellow at the London Faculty of Economics Center East Centre, “Both MBS and MBZ hope to diminish the part of faith in politics and, in so performing, do away with probable political rivals.”
In accordance to Hamdi, the concentrate on getting rid of political Islamists has also introduced both countries nearer to the United States.
“Both have sought to position on their own as indispensable allies to the US, and both have provided on their own as ‘pioneers’ of liberalisation in the Arab earth to galvanise assist in the Western earth.
“They adopted the use of terminology that dominates Western discourse this sort of as ‘terrorism’ to deride opponents, and ‘moderate Islam’ so that their insurance policies are observed to be in alignment to the US’ most critical precedence in the location: de-radicalisation,” he extra.
But, in an endeavor to do away with probable rivals, MBS has also prolonged his crackdown versus dozens of women’s rights activists. He has also confronted accusations of offering orders that led to the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, allegations he denies.
MBZ, on the other hand, has been a whole lot more focused in his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, in accordance to observers.
“Saudi journalists have recommended that MBZ is much more suspicious of and paranoid about the Muslim Brotherhood than is MBS,” Freer mentioned.
Regulation agreed: “For MBZ … political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood is by much the most important existential danger.”
MBZ’s fear of political Islamists seems to have led the way in shaping the UAE’s regional insurance policies and approach in direction of conflicts in neighbouring countries – and inspiring MBS to do the exact.
“MBZ managed to encourage MBS to isolate Qatar, accused of supporting Islamist groups, in exchange for granting him accessibility to Washington, DC, elites,” Freer told Al Jazeera.
“The Qatar siege cemented the Emirati-Saudi relationship and, in fact, because that time the two countries have signed a series of new bilateral ties, demonstrating the growing value of their relationship and their rising alignment,” she extra.
On June five, 2017, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, together with Egypt and Bahrain, imposed a blockade on Qatar and lower all ties with it, accusing it of “funding terrorism” and fomenting regional unrest – allegations Qatar has rejected.
In addition to the Qatar blockade, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to a lesser extent, have taken related positions on the conflict in Libya, supporting Haftar and his self-styled Libyan Nationwide Army (LNA). The UAE, which has provided Haftar with superior weapons, considers him a trusted associate capable of curbing the unfold of political Islam in Libya.
“Every foreign coverage initiative that MBZ embarks on, from the Yemen war to assist for the Libyan warlord Haftar … is pushed by his perception that the Brotherhood and political Islam pose the greatest danger to the Gulf ruling families,” Regulation mentioned.
Due to the fact a Saudi-UAE-led armed forces coalition intervened in 2015 to assist Yemen’s internationally-recognised governing administration led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi following the takeover of the funds, Sanaa, by the Houthi rebels, the Yemen conflict has showcased prominently in the two leaders’ relationship.
Equally countries have also sought to use their proxies in Yemen to restrict the part of Iran, which has very long been accused of providing the Houthis with weapons. Tehran says it supports the rebels diplomatically and politically but denies furnishing them with any armed forces assist.
“Iran figures mostly in MBS’s imagining if only because his ambition to be the regional chief is thwarted by Iran. For MBZ, Iran is not as major an concern,” Freer mentioned, including that both countries’ approach in direction of Tehran was “somewhat aligned”.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to current a united entrance in Yemen, but there are simmering divisions above the long term of southern Yemen. These came to the fore when Hadi’s Saudi-backed governing administration was removed from Aden in September 2019 by UAE-supported southern separatists.
“Although both states look at Iranian influence in domestic politics inside of the Arabian Peninsula a grave hazard, they [MBS and MBZ] have more and more struggled to see eye to eye on Yemen,” Freer mentioned.
Hamdi, nevertheless, noted that the two had “differing insurance policies on Yemen, where by Saudi Arabia prefers a united Yemen as opposed to the UAE which prefers a divided one, the own relationship signifies that they have been equipped to work out their differences”.
MBZ as a ‘model’
Analysts also position out that the more youthful crown prince has appeared up to MBZ as a source of inspiration for a long term Saudi Arabia. MBZ, in transform, has applied this relationship to further his possess passions in the location.
“Domestically MBS has appeared at what the UAE has realized in the way of attracting foreign financial commitment, small business and tourism and with Eyesight 2030 would really much like to replicate the Emiratis’ achievements,” Regulation mentioned.
Due to the fact assuming the part of crown prince in 2017, MBS has introduced a series of initiatives, which he says intention to variety the country’s economic system absent from its dependency on oil as nicely as modernise and liberalise modern society. But his ongoing crackdown on royal family members associates, businessmen, and human rights and women’s rights activists has elevated scepticism about his objectives and widespread worldwide concern.
In conditions of foreign and regional coverage, MBS has similarly tried out to stick to in MBZ’s footsteps, analysts say but, in contrast to his part model, he has been fewer capable of averting grave errors. In spite of both Gulf states’ involvement in Yemen, the war, which the United Nations considers the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, is regularly described as Saudi-led.
“MBZ has a shrewd grasp of what the UAE … can achieve [and] has played a clever hand extending the UAE’s achieve,” Regulation mentioned.
“MBS, on the other hand, has been really inept – his absence of foreign coverage skills has led him into a number of blunders, not least of which is the Yemen war.”
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