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MENA in the New International Order: The Politics of Interests, Norms, and Shifting Alliances

Panel X-25, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Pietro Marzo -- Presenter
  • Dr. Tyler Parker -- Presenter, Chair
  • Dr. Yacouba Gnegne -- Presenter
  • Dr. Tyler Parker
    Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have competed for influence across the Middle East, and they have been especially active amid and after the Arab Spring. Myriad monographs have explored the economic, political, and security policies of Qatar (Kamrava 2013 and Ulrichsen 2020) and the UAE (Almezaini 2012 and Esfandiary 2023). Countless chapters have used the duo as a paired comparison (Soubrier 2017 and Mason 2020). These works provide invaluable insights on Qatari and Emirati foreign policy. But a gap persists in the literature in explaining these states’ respective partnerships with their shared security guarantor: the United States (U.S.). Why have Qatar and the UAE differed in their support to the same U.S. foreign policy plans? For instance, why did the UAE fully support the Abraham Accords in 2020, whereas Qatar opposed them? Or, why did Qatar first facilitate transit for Afghans from Kabul in mid-August 2021, whereas the UAE gave lower levels of assistance a week later? I argue that variations in support result from differences in their status-seeking motivations. I develop the theory “deferential status competition,” which hypothesizes that relatively more assured and satisfied smaller partners are more likely to support a larger partner’s plans in order to accrue reputational recognition and reward. Alternatively, more apprehensive or frustrated smaller partners are less like to provide support. I test my theory against two alternatives: an argument related to variations in larger partner pressure and an argument related to variations in intra-GCC societal preferences. My methodology involves a paired comparison of the material and rhetorical support that Qatar and the UAE have granted to or withheld from select U.S. foreign policy plans. Data include primary-source governmental statements, secondary-source analyzes, and responses from dozens of interviews with U.S.- and GCC-based academics and diplomats. My results reveal that Qatar and the UAE decide to support U.S. policies when doing so provides a status advantage over their peer. Qatar has been content with the U.S., a sentiment that has produced a supportive posture during the last half-decade. The UAE is highly aggrieved with a U.S. it sees as dismissive and departing, and has conditioned its support accordingly as it seeks great power alternatives. The main implication of my paper is that smaller partners have greater agency in their asymmetric alliances than foundational theories of international politics afford. Also, my paper adds empirical clarity and theoretical richness to the study of U.S.-GCC relations.
  • Pietro Marzo
    The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a “porous” region to external influences and a regional setting where confrontation between international and regional powers is intense. In the last decade, the resurgence of Russian and Turkish competition for influence, the aggressive Iranian and Israeli foreign policies and the rise of intra-Sunni confrontation (Qatar and Turkey, on the one hand, and United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on the other) have magnified the level of interstate conflict. Interstate rivalries are described as pertinent to understanding regional politics, but little research engages with theoretically driven analyses that explain how rivalries halt political change toward democracy. Interstate rivalries reverberated into third countries, especially during periods of political turmoil and change. In this respect, the regime changes resulting from 2011 revolts have generated a considerable power void in countries living political transitions, increasing the battle for influence among external rival state actors. This article focuses on the competition for influence between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in two countries undertaking political change: Tunisia and Libya. It examines ‘critical junctures’ of contemporary political history of Tunisia and Libya to measure the impact of interstate rivalries on the negotiation of a political transition among national political groups after the fall of the dictators. Relying on analysis of documentary sources (in Arabic, English and French) and semi-structured interviews with diplomats, political analysts and experts, this article argues that the financial, ideological and military resources that Qatar and UAE provided to competing Tunisian and Libyan national political groups have: a) affected their strategic calculations; b) influenced their decision-making at critical junctures of the political transition c) worsened divisions and complicated negotiation between them. This research sheds new light on the connection between regime change and interstate rivalries, showing how domestic and international processes intersect into a dynamic of interdependence.
  • Dr. Yacouba Gnegne
    The Sahel is in its second decade of conflict since the crisis began in 2012, gripped in an ever-growing and intricate cycle of terrorist insurgency, rural banditry, militancy, political Islam and political instability. The number of reported deaths from political violence increased by 77% in Burkina Faso and 150% in Mali between 2021 and 2022 (ACLED 2023). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has supported several initiatives for the region and remains committed as the Sahel seeks to overcome these security threats. This paper asks. “What is the role for the UAE today in the security crisis in the Sahel?” The paper’s main argument is that the UAE has a strategic opportunity to deeply root its international cooperation in the Sahel. Unlike most traditional security partners of the region, the UAE has the military and financial capacity to refocus security and development cooperation with the concerned countries. At the same time, it does not suffer from the legacy or stigmas that have complicated the actions of other traditional external powers in the region. The analysis relies on the DIME-FIL (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic; finance, intelligence, and law enforcement) concept to redraft the UAE’s role in the Sahel. The DIME-FIL model incorporates the key mission areas of all instruments of power in the analysis in order to achieve comprehensive integration of the instruments of power concept. It also provides an internationally integrated approach for analyzing prospects for UAE strategy in the Sahel. The analysis also use primary data collected through interviews with actors and observers of the Sahel region. The study’s main findings is that the UAE has the capacity to support security and socio-economic development in the Sahel using comprehensive integration. This requires the development of a new strategy that includes dialogue with all African and international stakeholders, strategic messaging, public diplomacy, military equipment and training, decision advantage, economic modernization, humanitarian assistance and human rights. In total, this study opens new perspectives for rethinking the role of external partners in the Sahel by further aligning the necessities dictated by the terrain in the Sahel with the engagement strategies of external powers that seek to exert influence in the region. The vision that could advance long term stability in the Sahel is one that fully recognizes and places African political and military legitimacy at its center of gravity.