UAE showcases Middle East leadership role - analysis

The UAE has hosted a number of key meetings with Middle Eastern countries lately.

 The Negev Forum meets for a working groups meeting in the UAE. (photo credit: UAE FOREIGN MINISTRIES)
The Negev Forum meets for a working groups meeting in the UAE.

The UAE hosted an important meeting last week with regional leaders which was one of several important initiatives of Abu Dhabi in the region in the last month.

The UAE also recently hosted a meeting of the Negev Forum steering committee. The forum includes the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and the US. Abu Dhabi has also done outreach to Damascus this month, amid moves by Damascus to reconcile with Turkey. 

The most recent important meeting in the UAE was the Abu Dhabi Consultative Meeting which local reports said brought together the leaders of the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. A photo handout from the meeting showed the Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II during a “fraternal consultative meeting at the St Regis Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 18 January 2023.” They arrived at the invitation of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. 

According to various reports, including by Al-Ain media, the officials discussed fraternal relations between their countries and different aspects of coordination and cooperation between them in all fields. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the fraternal meeting - held in the capital, Abu Dhabi, under the title ‘Prosperity and Stability in the Region’ - aims to consolidate and deepen cooperation between the brotherly countries across various sectors that serve development, prosperity and stability in the region through cooperation and regional integration.” 

There are many ways that the UAE can play a leading role in this group, and it was important to see these leaders together. Many of these leaders have met in other formats as part of similar regional groupings over the years.

 Representatives for the six Negev Forum countries are seen at the working group meeting in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY) Representatives for the six Negev Forum countries are seen at the working group meeting in Abu Dhabi in the UAE. (credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)

What are some of the issues at hand?

First of all, is the issue of “promoting Arab integration” based on common interests and economic cooperation. The region desperately needs economic support for some of the countries. For instance, Jordan has had economic challenges and rising costs. This is not just an issue in Amman, but a global issue of inflation and supply chain chaos that has broken out in the wake of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.  

Stability and prosperity are two of the key terms that these leaders highlighted. Stability means not having the breakdown of the state again and not letting extremists gain a foothold anywhere. This is as important in Sinai as it is on the northern border of Jordan. In Syria, for instance, drug smuggling has become a problem while Egypt continues to face terror threats. The UAE says it is a key partner and supporter of the developments in this region in relation to a variety of issues such as food security, climate change and addressing epidemics and poverty.  

The meeting underscores the overlapping interests of the Gulf states with the broader region, especially Egypt and Jordan. Beyond those two states are other important countries, such as Iraq and Syria. In addition, recent news has indicated that the extremist Al-Shabab group is suffering defeats in Somalia, a potentially good sign for the region, and there are major questions about what comes next in Libya and Tunisia.  

The article in Al-Ain says that the UAE is interested in strengthening ties with these states and highlighting the fraternal ties between these countries.

“The summit also bears special importance in terms of timing, as it is held while the region and the world are suffering from the economic repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war,” the article at Al-Ain said. “One of the objectives of the summit will be to enhance cooperation with the economies of brotherly and friendly countries at this time, with the aim of developing societies, diversifying sources of income, and supporting the economic system of these countries.”

The report notes that Egypt, the UAE and Jordan signed an agreement last year on industrial partnership.

“The UAE believes that the changes taking place in the world necessitate deepening economic partnerships among the countries of the Arab region, inventing new forms of cooperation among them, enhancing their integration, and investing in the qualitative advantages of each country,” the article noted.  

The article also highlighted the importance of the Palestinian cause and the desire of the countries to continue to show support for the Palestinians. In that context, Egypt hosted a meeting with the Jordanians and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. That meeting, on January 17, included a warning to Israel’s new government about measures that might undermine peace.

Al-Ain noted that “while the UAE is pushing forward with efforts to promote peace and maximize its gains, it continues its pioneering efforts in supporting the Palestinian cause at various levels.” Indeed, the article points out that “the UAE established relations with Israel, believing that this step provides an opportunity to advance the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has remained stagnant for decades.” 

The recent meetings, if you add them up, continue to illustrate the importance of regional foreign policy infrastructure in terms of face-to-face meetings and how that underpins the trend towards unity on some issues, between the UAE and these countries. This includes the core countries of the UAE, Bahrain, and usually Saudi Arabia; along with Oman and Qatar sometimes; as well as the UAE partnership with Egypt and the Gulf relationship with Jordan.

Whether that arc of stability can extend to include more initiatives with Iraq and Syria remains to be seen. There are important ties between the Gulf and the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and this month has also seen the Arabian Gulf Cup soccer events take place in Iraq, bringing together 8 countries from the Gulf and Iraq.  

There is much to be built on here and many challenges. This is not only the challenge of integrating the Arab countries in the wake of the crises that began in 2011, or even the conflicts that go back to the 1990s and before. This is not just a question of confronting extremism or paying attention to what regional powers Iran and Turkey are doing.

This is also a question of how the traditional cultural-economic capitals of the region, such as Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad, will play a role in this century. It is also a question of how peace with Israel will play out. Jordan has expressed concern about the status quo in Jerusalem. It is unclear whether low-level violence in the West Bank will continue to get worse. It is also unclear whether some bureaucratic hurdles in economic trade between Israel and the Gulf will be remedied. There are many issues, and the UAE’s continued attempt to show leadership of various groupings of states will impact developments this year and in the future.