The UAE’s use of a warped form of Arab Nationalism for countering Turkey and Iran’s perceived leadership of the global Muslim community works in favor of America’s grand strategic interests by creating a trilateral Dubai-Riyadh-Cairo axis for Washington to rely upon in “Leading From Behind” to break the post-Jerusalem trend of multipolar unity spreading throughout the Ummah.
Emirati officials have recently become embroiled in a Twitter feud with Turkish President Erdogan that strongly resembles a preplanned infowar operation against the most vocal opponent of President Trump’s unilateral recognition of the entirety of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan started the spat last week by accusing “Erdogan’s ancestors” of pillaging the holy city of Medina during World War I, sharing photos that he claimed was proof of “their history with Arabs and Muslims”.
Erdogan, wisely sensing that this was a provocation designed to enflame anti-Turkish sentiment in the Mideast, deflected the attack by reassuring his wider audience that “…Arab people are our brothers. That said, the enmity of some leaders in Arab countries is meant to hide their own incompetence and even treason.” This was a clear inference to the reports that the UAE, among several other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is secretly coordinating a lopsided Palestinian “peace deal” with Israel and the US that might purportedly see the native people’s capital dishonorably relocated from its pre-1967 location in East Jerusalem to a suburb of that city while the entirety of it is planned to remain in Israeli hands.
Ratcheting up the rhetoric and keen to reverse the narrative dynamic after Erdogan’s powerful counterpunch, one of the UAE’s chief diplomatic figures, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash, jumped into the brawl by tweeting that “…The Arab world will not be led by Tehran or Ankara. The geostrategic competition taking place in the region calls for strengthened Arab [unity] with Riyadh and Cairo as its pillar.” This statement is designed to bolster the Arab Nationalist credentials of his country’s Foreign Minister and imply that non-Arab Muslim states are abusing religion for neo-colonial purposes. Furthermore, Gargash’s comments lay out the plan for countering this supposed threat, which is for the Arab World to unite around Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the UAE’s two allies.
It may seem surprising for a Gulf Monarchy to invoke the cry of Arab Nationalism when considering that this very same ideology was at one time believed to be the most dangerous threat to their rule during a period of the Cold War, one which saw Egypt leading the charge for democratizing the Arab World under the leadership of its world-renowned President Nasser. The times have changed, however, because nowadays Egypt is a client state of Saudi Arabia due to the billions that the Kingdom has provided it ever since President Sisi’s 2013 coup against Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, while Riyadh itself is under Abu Dhabi’s influence due to the mentorship that Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) provides to Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS).
The chain of command is thus that the two Emirati officials’ tweets about reviving Arab Nationalism can be seen as orders for Saudi Arabia and Egypt to implement in breaking the cross-sectarian example that Turkey and Iran’s perceived joint leadership of the Palestinian cause and subsequently the Ummah as a whole has created. The “weak link” in the Turkish-Iranian Strategic Partnership is that it doesn’t involve an Arab anchor, notwithstanding the irrelevancy of this to the Muslim-majority areas of sub-Saharan Africa, and Central (the former Soviet “‘stans”), South (Pakistan and Bangladesh) and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei). The Hybrid War battlefield in this case is in the Mideast, the core of which is populated by Arabs, and that’s why the UAE is attempting to employ Arab Nationalism in order to weaken Turkish-Iranian influence here following the defeat of Daesh and Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
Abu Dhabi: Chief Decision Maker
The superficial OIC unity of just a few weeks prior has been completely dispelled and proven to be just as illusory as most objective individuals always realized that it was. The current geopolitical situation makes it impossible for this dream to ever be achieved in real life, and now the UAE is taking the helm in actively trying to divide the region into Arab and non-Arab halves. The Emirates, despite their small size, is actually in many ways more powerful than their much larger and wealthier Saudi neighbor, not least because of the rapid expansion of its military influence since the beginning of the War on Yemen. Abu Dhabi now boasts military facilities in Eritrea, the breakaway region of Somaliland, and the South Yemeni port city of Aden and its offshore Socotra Islands. In addition, MBZ brilliantly leveraged his influence over MBS to compel the “Red Prince” into provoking the Qatar Crisis, all to the UAE and its American partner’s benefit.
In fact, just like with the artificially manufactured Qatar Crisis, the UAE’s zombie revival of Arab Nationalism is also in America’s interests as well. It should be clarified at this point that Arab Nationalism is ordinarily organic and has a proud history in the region, though the new iteration that Abu Dhabi is trying to popularize through Saudi Arabia and Egypt is predicated on insincere ideological reasons and thus being exploited for weaponized geopolitical purposes. The whole point is to counter Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood influence and the Resistance one wielded by its Iranian partner, both of which are seen as much more “expansionist” and “threatening” than war-torn Syria’s constitutionally secular one at the moment.
Old School vs. New School
The UAE hopes that it and its Saudi underling’s enormous wealth can work infowar wonders in convincing Arabs that the historical memory that many of them still hold dearly about Egypt’s Cold War-era leadership of this cause is about to be relived in the present day, despite the fact that the current Cairo government offers nothing substantial at all to this ideology nowadays and is only relying on geopolitical nostalgia and the presumption that the most populous Arab country is the only state that deserves to publicly lead this cause. In addition, the Arab Nationalism being espoused by the UAE significantly differs from the Arab Nationalism of the Nasser period.
Back then, this ideology focused more on uniting the broader cultural-linguistic space and incorporating non-Arab ethnicities such as Kurds and Berbers, like how Syria and Algeria have done, not in obsessing over the racial exclusion of others such as Turks and Persians like the Emiratis want to have happen. This makes the ideology’s Eastern Mediterranean-originating predecessor more “left-wing” and “progressive” than its Gulf-proposed “right-wing” and “conservative” iteration. Not only that, but Nasser’s Arab Nationalism was about multipolarity, embodied in the Cold War as the Non-Aligned Movement of which Egypt was a founding member, while the UAE’s version of this ideology is unipolar in the sense that it seeks to divide the emerging Multipolar World Order in the region along strictly ethnic lines in support of American grand strategic interests to roll back Turkish and Iranian soft power gains in this space.
Arabs Selling Out Other Arabs While Distracting Them With Arab Nationalism
Returning back to President Erdogan’s hints about the UAE and other Arab State’s “treason”, his words now take on an even more loaded meaning when bearing in mind Abu Dhabi’s recruitment of Saudi Arabia and Egypt as pillars for a new Arab Nationalism. This revised ideology will be used as an ethnic nationalist smokescreen for distracting the Arab masses from what can be argued is the quintessentially anti-Arab plan to force the Palestinian Authority to accept the de-facto settlement borders and infamous wall in the West Bank as the formal territorial delineation between their proposed state and Israel, as well as to surrender East Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque (the third-holiest site in Islam) while pitifully “being allowed” to relocate their new capital to a nearby suburb as “compensation”.
This makes it fundamentally different from the traditional/classical Arab Nationalism of the Nasser era that preaches an empowering message and demands at the very least the return to the pre-1967 borders, to say nothing of its Syrian manifestation by the ruling Baath Party which calls for the pre-1948 return of the entire region to its original mostly Muslim Arab Palestinian inhabitants prior to the territory’s post-World War II colonization by European-originating “Weapons of Mass Migration”. It’s precisely because of how disadvantageous the original Egyptian and current Syrian forms of Arab Nationalism are that both states were targeted by Hybrid Wars, first with Sadat being encouraged by the CIA to “flip” his country from the Soviet to the Western camp in the run-up to officially recognizing Israel and then decades later with the War of Terror on Syria that began after the 2011 theater-wide “Arab Spring” Color Revolutions spread to the Arab Republic.
Pertaining to those destabilizing events that first kicked off at the beginning of the decade, they were initially intended to form a transnational Arab superstate run by Muslim Brotherhood governments that would behave as satellites of Turkey, their chief ideological patron at the time, all with the purpose of forming a new geopolitical bloc that could simultaneously “contain” Iran while putting pressure on the US’ Gulf allies. The strategic situation has since shifted dramatically so that’s no longer the US’ “Lead From Behind” blueprint. The new revision of this plan seeks to reverse the dynamic by having the UAE replace Turkey in a more complex formation that sees Abu Dhabi promote Saudi Arabia’s symbolic stewardship of Islam by virtue of its Custodianship of the Two Holy Mosques together with the most populous Arab state Egypt’s historical legacy of traditional/classic Arab Nationalism to craft a warped version of this ideology adapted to modern-day geopolitical imperatives.
The US-backed Emirati reiteration of Arab Nationalism is therefore clearly distinguishable in form from its original Egyptian one and is intended to replace the last remnants of the latter in order to make the “patriotic” case for essentially selling out the Palestinians on the basis of “resisting Turkish and Persian/Iranian imperialism”, an utterly weaponized narrative that’s nonetheless expected to become a key storyline in 2018. Washington’s unipolar geostrategic position in the Mideast is threatened by the cross-sectarian Muslim cooperation between the multipolar Great Powers of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran, and with the sectarian myth visibly busted as a result, the American fallback plan for dividing and ruling the Mideast via a US-led version of Israel’s infamous Yinon Plan is to ironically foster a new, albeit perverted, sense of Arab Nationalism spearheaded by its rising UAE ally.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.