While GCC policymakers have responded swiftly to the threat of COVID-19 domestically, some Gulf states deftly used the crisis to advance their foreign policy objectives with states with which they have had adversarial relationships. Only time will tell whether these new diplomatic opportunities will lay groundwork for concerted regional efforts.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, United Arab Emirates (UAE) helped dispatch aid to several countries, including Iran. As part of efforts to combat COVID-19, UAE throughout month helped channel aid to several countries, including Pakistan, Indonesia and Botswana; humanitarian gestures followed late-March telephone call between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and Syrian President al-Assad, which had marked first contact between Arab leader and al-Assad since start of Syria’s civil war in 2011, and during which UAE had offered to dispatch aid to support Syria’s efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic. After UAE helped channel aid to Iran in March, Iran FM Seyed Abbas Mousavi 6 April responded that COVID-19 response had brought “more reason and logic” to bilateral relationship. Govt 12 April reached agreement with Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to reduce global oil production by 9.7mn barrels a day after oil price war between Saudi-Arabia and Russia broke out early March. To slow spread of COVID-19, govt 17 April announced extension of 24-hour curfew in Dubai city, repatriation of thousands of foreign workers back to home countries and warned that it will review labour ties with countries refusing to take back citizens; Govt 22 April said UAE and Pakistan deepened cooperation over repatriation of Pakistani citizens.
The UAE, together with its ally Saudi Arabia, played a highly visible role in helping make peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. As its footprint across the Horn of Africa grows, the UAE should avoid having intra-Gulf competition colour its engagement.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.