Transformational times for Saudi and Gulf States

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Positive change is taking place in my part of the world and for that I am grateful to the leaderships of all GCC member countries, and especially to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for their decisive and foresighted geopolitical and economic policies. A new era of unity, self-reliance and self-defence is fast unfolding.

I have been alerting the leaderships of Gulf States of impending threats, both internal and external, for many years. I warned about the possibility of a ‘Grand bargain’ between the United States and Iran designed to weaken predominately Sunni countries at a time when the idea was thought to be outside the realm of possibility.

I have long urged Gulf heads of state to adopt a more independent stance towards regional affairs, which involves being less reliant upon the ‘advice’ of foreign powers that ultimately serve their own interests. I have outlined in detail my concerns over a shift in the regional balance of power while stressing that in a tumultuous neighbourhood plagued by conflicts, sectarianism and terrorism, the urgent need to shore up our defences and do all that we can to preserve our economic standing amid falling oil prices.

I did so because I care deeply about the security and stability of my own homeland the United Arab Emirates as well as the safety of all our brotherly neighbours with whom we share tribal bloodlines, religion and culture. I have always longed for the day that we would be united, strong and well positioned to independently react to dangers moving in our direction.

We have been too comfortable for too long. But that was then and this is now. Saudi Arabia and its allies around the Gulf are taking a more assertive role in various fields. The message is loud and clear: “Anyone who believes we can be pushed around is in for a shock”. President Barack Obama wrongly accused us of being “free riders” along with other uncomplimentary accusations. He did us a favour. His opinions related by Jeffrey Goldberg in “The Atlantic” partnered with the resolve of various presidential candidates to bar Muslims as well as Congressional efforts to pass a law allowing individuals to sue Saudi Arabia for its fictitious role in the September 11, 2001 attacks have rung alarm bells.

I have always been a proud Emirati and citizen of the Gulf but rarely as proud as I am today. Saudi Arabia asked no permission from foreign capitals to aid Bahrain in its efforts to quell an Iranian-backed insurgency. And neither did the Kingdom or its partner the UAE seek approval from Western leaders before they launched a military intervention to free Yemen from an unlawful takeover by Iranian proxies and to defend Saudi borders from enemy infiltration. We proved our ability to defend our lands, our people and our brothers.

Our men and women, who did not hesitate to respond to the call, showed exemplary bravery and commitment to the task of rescuing the Yemeni people and it is a certainty they will do the same if the day comes when they need to defend our homes and territories. I salute these fine young people and congratulate our leaders for decisively rising to the occasion. Thanks to them we can hold our heads up higher than ever and know deep in our hearts they will keep our families safe from predator foes.

When the chips are down, GCC states always stand shoulder to shoulder. I was gratified to learn that almost all predominately Sunni countries are with us as evidenced by their willingness to join a Saudi-conceived Islamic Military Counter Terror Coalition and to know that the formation of a Joint Arab Force is proceeding as planned.

In the short time since King Salman bin AbdelAziz became the Kingdom’s reigning monarch, he has displayed rare leadership skills and is fearless in his pursuit of a powerful Arab world no matter how many toes he has to tread on to achieve his aim. He has proven his ability to coalesce Sunni states into a mighty defence bloc and is putting his progressive ideas concerning the Kingdom’s economic trajectory into effect with his unveiling of a 15-year economic blueprint titled “Saudi Vision 2030”.

“Saudi Vision 2030” includes three core themes – a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation – and is premised upon reducing the country’s reliance on oil revenues through the expansion of its investment portfolio and the capitalisation of opportunities in hitherto untapped sectors, such as tourism, industry, mining, trade, commerce and business.

During a rare interview on Al Arabiya aired on 25 April, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defence Prince Mohammed bin Salman revealed his nation’s core aim. “We seek to develop our economy and create an attractive and perfect environment in our homeland,” he said. To this end there will be job creation, improved health care and the provision of recreational and cultural opportunities.

People sometimes assume that GCC governments are captive to a fluctuating oil market. Saudi Arabia has put pay to that false assumption. Those oil producing countries that have flooded the market driving prices to new lows, while piling pressure on Riyadh to cut production in the hope of bringing Saudi to heel, will be disappointed, with this announcement.

This brilliantly-conceived plan will prove Saudi’s capability of competing on a global level. No one should underestimate the Kingdom’s economic know-how or determination to succeed and anyone who was rubbing his hands together in glee predicting the country’s economic collapse should beware because it will not be long before Saudi and its Gulf allies are economic world leaders.

We Gulf Arabs are not empty boasters. Our actions speak louder than words and it is indisputable that we are now on the right economic, security and geopolitical paths. Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund is set to be the biggest in the world worth $1.9tn by 2030. At the same time, we are also leaders in philanthropy. The UAE was one of the largest donors in the world in 2014 and 2016, and the Kingdom has historically come to the rescue of its Arab allies in need and has shown unstinting generosity towards countries facing economic woes.

Our eyes are fixated on the target. We will show the international community that we are not dependent on anyone or anything, and prove that we can be successful surpassing all expectations. Watch out world! We are very close.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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