July 25, 2021

In the Middle East, cracks in the Saudi-Emirati axis

It was the most influential alliance in the Middle East. The partnership forged in recent years between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has weighed heavily on the balance in the region. Associated in the war in Yemen, the blockade against Qatar and the fight against political Islam, the strongmen of these two petromonarchies, the heir to the throne of Riyadh, Mohammed Ben Salman, and his counterpart from Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Ben Zayed were considered the most enterprising duo in the Arab world. “MBS” and “MBZ” as they are called, two followers of “hard power”, ambitioned to reshape the Middle East.

But in recent days, cracks have appeared in this alliance. At the last summit of OPEC + (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and nine other producers, led by Russia), organized in early July by video conference, the Emirates derailed the policy of limiting the production of Arabia , intended to stabilize the price of the barrel, arguing that the quota allocated to them is insufficient. The debates were suspended sine die Monday, July 5, on a disagreement – unusually public – between the Saudi energy minister, Abdelaziz Ben Salman, brother of “MBS”, and his Emirati counterpart, Souheil Al-Mazrouei, liege of the Sultan Al-Jaber, the boss of the UAE oil company, who is one of the lieutenants of “MBZ”.

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On the same day, another indication of a cooling of relations between the two Gulf neighbors, the Saudi kingdom revised its customs policy unilaterally. Riyadh has decided that imports from free zones, as well as all products made in Israel or by a company controlled wholly or in part by Israeli investors, will no longer benefit from the preferential tariffs offered to member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. (CCG).

This stab in the agreements regulating trade between the six monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain) primarily targets the UAE. The model of economic diversification set up by this state is based in part on the attraction of foreign capital and talent in tax-exempt areas, of which Dubai, one of the seven emirates of the federation, has made its specialty.

“The disagreement becomes frontal”

The Saudi announcement also comes a few days after the visit to Abu Dhabi of the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yair Lapid, who came to inaugurate the embassy of his country, recognized by the UAE in August 2020. On this occasion, the head of the Israeli diplomacy had welcomed the increased trade with the Emirates, famous for serving as a regional re-export platform.

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