What are the problems in the UAE

Guest comment: The United Arab Emirates - From model country to problem

Things are not going well for the UAE right now. The small but extremely rich country on the Persian Gulf has gotten bogged down in too many conflicts. It has now officially withdrawn its troops from Yemen, in Libya the advance of her husband Haftar has been stalled for months, and in Sudan the allied military there are unable to silence the demonstrators.

These and other conflicts last longer than the rulers in the capital Abu Dhabi had imagined when they decided to intervene. The engagement becomes expensive and also has a political price: internally through increasing repression, and externally through a decline in the popularity of the Emirates.

Once the most liberal society in the Arab world

The United Arab Emirates, founded in 1971, had long been the place where many people in the Near and Middle East - and beyond - wanted to live. Because under the founder of the state, Zayed, who died in 2004, the Emirates offered everyone opportunities that they did not have at home. They were the most liberal society far and wide - both internally and externally looking for balance. Today, however, their leadership, with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed at the top, wants to be the power of order in the region. And inside, the new repression pushes the earlier openness to the side.

Rainer Hermann is editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Three factors contributed to this change, which happened slowly and over decades. The ruling families saw the first existential threat in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. From then on, the Emirates made massive armaments, and the rise of Muhammad Bin Zayed, born in 1961 and trained as a fighter pilot in Sandhurst, UK, began. Second, the persecution of the long-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, who challenged dynastic rule in the Emirates, began when they were successful in elections in neighboring states such as Kuwait and Bahrain; the space for liberties has now been tightened. After all, the protests of 2011 and the overthrow of allied authoritarian rulers terrified those in power in Abu Dhabi.

One of the first consequences was that since then the Emirates have been fighting alongside Saudi Arabia as the new regulatory power to maintain the status quo. With their military and financial resources they became the leaders of the counter-revolution. One goal is to prevent elections, another to eliminate the Islamist movements that could win in free elections. The armament of the country - thanks to weapons from the USA, also from Great Britain and France - predestines the Emirates as a determined front in the conflict with the hated Iran.

The Emirates have overstretched

But the ambitions were greater than the resources. The Emirates have overstretched. In Yemen, where the aim was initially to drive out the pro-Iranian Houthis and break up the Muslim Brotherhood, the increasing perception of the emiratis as occupiers has led Abu Dhabi to withdraw its troops. The new strategy is to use pro-Emirati militias to split off South Yemen around Aden from North Yemen with the capital Sanaa in order to then control South Yemen.

The blockade of Qatar failed. It is pursued even more decisively by Abu Dhabi than by Saudi Arabia. But the blockade has strengthened Qatar, both politically and economically. And the hosting of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is no longer in question.

The Emirates have pumped billions of dollars into Egypt to stabilize the Sisi regime. Success remains questionable, however, as Egypt is not creating sustainable jobs for the population, which is growing by 2.5 million every year. In addition, repression on the Nile has reached unprecedented levels.

A battered leadership duo

Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Egypt and Qatar are just the most important conflicts in which the United Arab Emirates have a significant hand today. It would be dangerous for the Emirates if the failure in one or more countries hit the leadership in Abu Dhabi.

But Muhammad bin Zayed still holds the reins tightly in his hand. Together with the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, he forms the leading duo in the Arab world. But Muhammad bin Salman is also ailing. Because he initiated the war in Yemen, which became the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time; the murder of Jamal Khashoggi sticks to him; he is held responsible for human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

The Emirates are no longer the model country they once were. Your policies today are aimed at halting the changes that are overdue in the Arab world. That won't go well in the long run.