MESA Banner
Gulf Cooperation Council Foreign Policies

Session VII-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • This presentation focuses on the local power dynamics in the Red Sea Region. More specifically it aims to analyze the economic and political policies related to regional port and logistics networks implemented by the Gulf states, primarily United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Horn of Africa. UAE has become an active player in the Horn of Africa. First through investments into African agriculture to secure a steady and affordable supply of foodstuff for their populations. Second, through massive investments in banking, extractive industries, real estate, retail, education and above all, transport in Africa, investments only surpassed by China. And thirdly through maritime trade, and more recently of port management and logistics. With a growing African middle class with higher spending possibilities, maritime traffic through Africa’s ports is expected to increase manifold over the next couple of decades. As such, there are solid economic reasons for UAE through its parastatal port operator DP World to invest in ports in the Horn of Africa not least because Africa is significantly undersupplied with port capacity today. So far, UAE operates the Berbera container port in Somaliland, and has won the contract to upgrade the air and naval base facilities around Berbera airport. UAE furthermore manages the Bosaso port in Puntland, Mogadishu and Barawe ports in Somaila and has established military bases on Socotra and Perim Island in Yemen, and until recently managed the Doraleh Container Terminal in Djibouti. The central thesis of this presentation is that UAE is projecting its power into the Horn of Africa. While most of its engagement is founded on purely economic ground, a part of it based on geopolitics, i.e. on considerations to increase its political influence in the Horn of Africa. One obvious way this manifest itself is the construction of facilities to host military vessels in the commercial ports operated by DP World. Among reasons for this emphasis are efforts to counteract the increasing role that Iran is playing in Horn of Africa. This presentation aims to analyze this development in the light of UAE’s shifting role, from a ‘softer’ to a ‘harder’ foreign policy player in the political landscape in the region. The paper is based on extensive field work carried out in the UAE, Djibouti and Somaliland during the early part of 2022.
  • Embodied in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), Saudi involvement in the Arab-Israeli peace process before the Arab Spring coalesced around support for a comprehensive agreement based on a pan-Arab consensus. Saudi interest in the peace process stemmed from the need to balance their security relationship with the US with the consequent backlash from anti-American forces in the region. To pursue these opposing ends, Saudis adopted the role of “donor-mediator”: utilizing oil wealth and regional political capital, they encouraged, incentivized and/ or hosted negotiations to support diplomacy and defuse aggression at home and in countries like Syria and Iraq. For example, Saudis cautiously supported US-sponsored peace processes in the 1990s-2000s and simultaneously maintained close political and economic relationships with Syria and funded the PLO. The Arab Spring fundamentally transformed Saudi foreign policy behavior. No longer a cautious, balanced “donor-mediator,” the Kingdom emerged as an assertive regional player, seeking influence and even hegemony. It has led both the counter-revolution against forces of domestic reform and the Sunni charge against an ascendant Iran, alongside a shifting position towards Arab-Israeli relations. Its behind-the-scenes support for the Abraham Accords resulted in bilateral normalization between Israel and key Saudi partners, but at the expense of the pan-Arab consensus, Palestinian national aspirations, and comprehensive settlement envisioned in the API. Simultaneously, the Saudis have quietly but deliberately embraced Israel as a strategic partner. This paper argues that four key factors which emerged from the Arab Spring have catalyzed this Saudi shift in security strategy. 1) The Arab Spring neutralized radical challenges stemming from Syria, Libya, and Iraq, removing the need for conciliation, consensus, and balancing. 2) Regional instability and domestic security now eclipse regional focus on the Palestinian national cause, and with it, any pressure for a comprehensive settlement. 3) Iranian regional adventurism and nuclear ambitions challenge Saudi, Israeli and US security. This has decreased the taboo of cooperation, enabling collaboration in other fields of mutual interest including economic, technological, and resource management. 4) Finally, US retrenchment from the Middle East has cast them as an unreliable ally, forcing the Saudis to take a more proactive role in their defense and pursue local security solutions.
  • Previous research on Qatar’s foreign policy has generally focused on economic strength, mainly liquified natural gas and non-material approaches like branding strategies. Nevertheless, the importance of regime and its dominance on shaping the nation and its history can also find its way into foreign policy domain. This paper aims to focus on national narrative as a major factor in explaining the foreign policy of Qatar during Arab Spring. The paper will work on developing a framework that can understand the national narrative that the government shapes depending on internal and external circumstances. Process tracing and case study methods will be in place to refer to the development of Qatari national day as the main institutional framework which the government uses to modify national narratives. The plan then is to put the framework into test by looking at Qatar’s decision to side with people’s demands against regimes during Arab Spring. Moreover, the paper will draw on information that the researcher already collected during fieldwork in Qatar between March and August 2021. The paper will be divided into three parts: national narrative, role theory, and Qatar’s new role. The potential of narratives is demonstrated by focusing on national day narrations as advanced by the Qatari government, which also emerge in foreign policy behaviour. Since introducing the idea of national day in 2007, many stories, traditions, and values have been introduced to public as part of the shared national identity. One of the major values has been Kaabt Al-Mathium or heaven for oppressed people, which has been introduced as part of Qataris’ values and it was initially taken from one of Qatar founder’s poems. This value indicates a basic humanitarian role, which is about offering help to others. Here, Qatari policymakers aim at conceiving and cementing a new regional role for Qatar as Kaabt Al-Mathium. This part of the paper will discuss how a national-inspired value with a tribal dimension has been transformed to be a foreign policy role. To do this, the paper will combine the interpretive narrative analysis with the symbolic-interactionist role theory. Role theory has recently received scholarly attention as a theoretical approach that has the necessary conceptual apparatus to understand decision making, actors and the relationship between states. The focus will be on the role making process in symbolic-interactionism to better understand how Qatari policymakers have relied on the historical and national dimensions to justify their 2011 actions.