The United Arab Emirates have changed their region with a course of determined modernization and are becoming a prime example of a better, more peaceful Middle East.

The UAE: an Oasis of Calm in a Troubled Region

In an Arab world torn by war and conflict, the United Arab Emirates is one of the few bright spots. The federation, which was only founded in 1971, is built on a promise of prosperity, good governance, and more social freedoms — if not political freedoms — than in most other Arab states.

Simply put, the United Arab Emirates promises a future. The old Arab states, on the other hand, live from the nostalgia of past greatness. The UAE is now rightfully considered the most influential Arab state by many analysts.

Embracing Constant Change

The UAE is continually changing. The latter is a must. To maintain the order of autocratic rulers, constant change is required. Most recently, the country gave up a decades-long Arab blockade against Israel and, on August 13, declared that they would establish diplomatic relations with the state. For years they had forged closer relationships  and showed no reservations and the Abraham Accord just made it official.

In 2009, for example, the “International Renewable Energy Organization” (Irena) was founded in Abu Dhabi, knowing full well that Israeli ministers would now visit the Emirates regularly and the flag with the Star of David would be placed on conference tables — utterly unthinkable in the majority of the other Arabs States.

Moreover, the secret services and the fight against COVID-19 have also allowed numerous avenues of cooperation between the two states over the past years.

Key Dates in Recent UAE History

Two dates, in particular, shape the United Arab Emirates. The attacks of September 11, 2001 were a wake-up call for the leadership of the Emirates, and they quickly learned two lessons from them. On the one hand, religion was supposed to be more than merely a private matter; on the other hand, it was essential to create a modern, attractive state that would prevent any belief in an allegedly superior and extremist Islamic state from emerging.

Good governance and small government have so far been part of Dubai’s success story and women have been explicitly promoted to advance gender rights.

The second turning point was in 2013. In Egypt, President Husni Mubarak, a friend of the Emiratis, was overthrown, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi was made into the new president. However, above all, Muhammad Bin Zayed and the Emiratis see the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential threat and decided to take the reorganization of the near and Middle East into their own hands.

With their petrodollars and their media, they were the decisive force behind Morsi’s overthrow and the installation of President Abd al Fattah al Sisi. Following this, bin Zayed’s government also got involved in Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

Using the Power of Oil and Military Might

The UAE’s vast oil reserves are the first requirement for their regional power expansion. A tenth of the world’s oil reserves lies under the soil of the Emirates. The second prerequisite for this was that in 2009 bin Zayed commissioned elite Australian special forces soldier Michael Hindmarsh to rebuild the Emirati armed forces. Together with modern American weapons, they quickly became the most powerful army in the Arab world.

The Iran Nuclear Deal

Then the hour came when President Barack Obama had the nuclear deal negotiated with Iran in 2015. Emirati confidence in the United States melted.

Bin Zayed now made an increasingly independent foreign and security policy, which he coordinated less and less with Washington, but instead with the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. In relation to Iran, the Crown Prince from Abu Dhabi follows a softer line than America and Saudi Arabia since the Emirates would be an easy target for Iran, and they profit from trade with Iran. He made peace with Syria because he prefers Assad as ruler to a possible rule by Islamist rebels.

Not everything that bin Zayed initiated was crowned with success: the boycott did not bring Qatar to its knees; he hastily withdrew the Emirates from the war in Yemen, in which there can be no military victor; and in Libya, the rebel general Khalifa Haftar did not live up to the hopes placed in him. Still, he has shown remarkable success in leading the UAE into the future.

With the official recognition of Israel, the Emirates and Crown Prince bin Zayed have now underscored their claim to be the preeminent leader and pioneer of the Arab world.

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