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The geopolitical rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
Material posted: Publication date: 10-12-2019

Rising tensions in relations between the largest players in the middle East - Saudi Arabia (KSA) and United Arab Emirates (UAE) - may be one of the factors of the further transformation of the geopolitical landscape of the region. Two States, publicly declaring their fraternal ties of mutual respect, has become "sworn" friends, dividing neighboring countries into zones of influence.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without exaggeration one of the most active actors in international relations in the middle East. The CSA exists in the minds of Arab citizens as the historically unquestioned authority and hegemony, largely due to the status of a center of the Islamic world. Emirates also in recent years won a reputation as a popular tourist destination and the country where crowds of workers go (which, by the way, in percentage terms much more than domestic ones) in search of better wages and living standards. In other words, at least among European experts UAE no one believes for a major serious political player. And, it so happened that thanks to a neighborhood religious conservative - Saudi Arabia progressive and thoughtful of the object PR a - Emirates - have, to some extent, forced to play with only one goal, and deliberately put on display warm and friendly relations. For example, according to the Prime Minister of the UAE, ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, “...our country [the UAE and KSA] are United in our fate, in the service of Islam and the protection of the Arab nation.” Also in 2016, announced the establishment of the UAE-Saudi coordination Council .

But how these relationships friendships? In fact, Saudi-UAE relations are a perfect example of a double bottom in the bilateral relations. Of course, at first glance it may seem that the UAE is simply no real possibilities to compete with Saudi neighbor. KSA UAE exceeds in size and population, but the number of military capacities and, importantly, on the historical aspects. The fact that the CSA in its current form is the result of "picking up" (albeit violent) territory under the authority of one ruler in was the third Kingdom , because until 1925, the year of its founding in its current form, Saudi Arabia has experienced two of its "subspecies": 1st (1744 - 1817.) and 2nd (1824 - 1891), was the Saudi Kingdom. UAE - the sample is a voluntary Association of state-like units (Emirates) in a single structure that appeared after the departure of the UK from the Middle East region, only 48 years ago in 1971 Thus, KSA, at first glance, has an obvious advantage over his young neighbour, an impressive political baggage.

Of course, UAE and KSA due to the geopolitical location can not be similarities. First, it is a single path of development (culture, language, religion, United Arab "family"). Second, both countries are the richest and most developed countries in the Middle East and Gulf region in particular (which also includes Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman). Thirdly, despite the formally proclaimed in the Constitution of Emirates presidential controls (UAE Chapter officially called the President), like Saudi Arabia and UAE are managed according to traditional principles of tribalism (tribalism), the rules of Arab monarchy, with a noticeable slope to authoritarianism. Fourth, the Emirates and the KSA have been linked to joint participation in activities of organizations such as the League of Arab States (LAS), the cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG). And finally, they (officially) have a single traditional rival Iran. These factors allowed until recently the rulers of the two States confidently call themselves friends, and by blood and by spirit.

But in the Arab mentality is no full-fledged concept of "friends" - and there is an eternal quest to catch and better to overtake your "friend". And hence one small but seemingly perfect relationship between the two leaders. Emirates, which, as already mentioned, many wrongly perceived in the narrow sense "Dubai-beaches-entertainment-business", suddenly the 2010s began louder to voice their grievances at the regional (as in the Gulf region and the middle East) the lead. Of course, this did not happen out of the blue. Since its Foundation in 1971, the UAE has enough diplomatic and political experience as well as financial and military resources, sufficient in order to promote their agenda and to put pressure on other players to implement their national interests.

This turn was a revelation for Saudi Arabia because KSA used to be a truth of the highest authority for all Gulf States. It is known that according to secret instructions of Saudi Arabia all zalivskiy "the company" regularly applies a state - Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, then with more ardent zeal of Iran. It so happened , because Saudi Arabia is not only the largest and historically Mature state in the Gulf, but also the religious center of the Muslim world. KSA also stood at the origins of all groups of countries in the Gulf and was a pioneer in the implementation of joint projects. That is why the Saudi authorities are accustomed to the fawning obedience of neighbors who, in their understanding, are required to share and support the KSA in all foreign policy endeavors. And here - a surprise in the UAE.

Of course, this is not the first case of "disobedience". The CSA already faced (and facing still, remember started in 2017 Qatari diplomatic crisis) with Qatar, which, though in the settings its close to the country of the dwarf, also intends to become a leader. Yet Qatar is not yet enough influence. The UAE has overtaken it in terms of creating a recognizable and stylized image abroad and in more intensive pressure on partners. Such a betrayal from their Emirati 'brothers' the Saudis did not expect. Moreover, they would be quiet, if I hadn't seen in the UAE is its real competitor.

The fact is that while Saudi Arabia was busy fighting Iran (which, however, already all used) and inner turmoil (the moment when the current crown Prince of KSA Mohammed bin Salman took office, was a real shock to many and slightly rearranged the distribution of power in the state) and external uncertainties (CSA got involved in the war in Yemen, which still can't get out), UAE went on his way. They slowly but steadily and actively embraced all the methods of modern marketing and branding; he earned a reputation as the financial center of the Middle East; come to grips with cultural and humanitarian ties with foreign countries, and quite independently of the will the CSA build relationships with its immediate neighbors. Now it is about Iran, with which the Emirates, though tacitly, established very active cooperation. Via UAE are the major export and import operations of Iran, banks Emirates placed the financial assets of Iranian officials . Thus, the Emirates supports the CSA's tough rhetoric on Iran, but advantageous from a financial point of view, relations with Iran don't plan to stop.

Another stumbling block between the Saud and the UAE became the Yemen, which the CSA considers its sphere of influence. On the one hand, the Emirates is headed by KSA Arab coalition that was created with the implicit, but obvious goal of all the forces to confront Iranian support for Houthi rebels in Yemen. On the other hand, during a disaster for Saudi Arabia's military operation in Yemen that led to the world's largest humanitarian disaster , there has been a clear trend to the fact that thanks to the efforts of the UAE will be a separation of southern Yemen. And despite the claims of the Emirates on the partial withdrawal of troops and the conclusion of the agreement in Riyadh between the government of Yemen and the Transitional government of southern Yemen on 5 November 2019, UAE carried out an active policy to maintain the southern secessionists to separate the southern part of Yemen. The separation of South Yemen allows Emirates not only to “purchase” a kind of dependent territory, which will strengthen the position of Emirates in the region and to further economic benefits. Under the UAE would take over Aden, the largest sea port of Yemen, and for him and the Bab-El-Mandeb through which each day transported nearly 5% of its worldwide crude oil and all the oil of the Gulf, for the most part oil KSA . It is easy to see that Saudi Arabia is in the section of Yemen not too interested, since North Yemen could become a full-fledged Autonomous stronghold hostile to the Saudis and the Houthis. Emirates also by its plans for the partition of the country (and thus fulfilling its main objectives in the conflict), is likely to refuse to help the CSA in the fight against the Houthis and no longer will participate in the Yemeni conflict.

The geopolitical game according to the division of spheres of influence between the KSA and the UAE spread to African States. One of the main sources of contradictions – investments UAE and KSA in the Sudanese and Ethiopian agriculture. Financial aid KSA Sudan allows you to operate the Sudanese economy, in principle, an agriinsurance was for Saud a way to turn Sudan into his "slave" territory, in order to prevent a possible consolidation of the Emirates there, which are also investing heavily in Sudan. There is another important point – the Sudan has tense relations with Egypt, a close ally and protégé of the Emirates, and the financing of Sudan by Saudi Arabia in this case clearly illustrates the hidden Emirati-Saudi confrontation in North Africa. Saudi investments in agriculture in Ethiopia are also the obvious reaction to the growing influence of Emirates in Eritrea and Somaliland, where the United Arab Emirates have military bases . Taking into account the differences between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Saudis support Ethiopia in defiance of the strengthening of the UAE in Eritrea. Other strategic interests in Ethiopia the CSA is not intended.

Thus, before the CSA, despite all his influence, has suddenly emerged rightly declaring themselves rival in the Emirates. Moreover, promoting the development of progressive and modern agenda, while Saudi Arabia, despite the crown Prince's reforms, is still deeply immersed in the tradition, and the Western partners are perceived as conservative. “Allies on the words” the Emirates and Saudi Arabia – is not possible unambiguously to coordinate their positions. UAE aim to become the most influential regional actor and oust competitors, Sauda quite concerned about this situation. Of course, officially, the UAE largely continue to follow in the footsteps of the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia, but do not want to submit completely to the Saudis and to abandon any part of their sovereignty (within the framework of the GCC, for example). Emirates understand that enhanced integration on the proposals of the CSA could lead to the complete Saudi leadership in all areas. However, what degree of confrontation can achieve a Saudi-UAE relations remains unclear.

Anastasia Ilyukhina


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