With the exception of the monarchical political regime, nothing or almost nothing brings the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and the Gulf countries in general, most of which are recently created – closer to the centuries-old Shereefian kingdom. History, however, teaches us that ancient civilizations exist in the Near and Middle East and, less obvious, that they have maintained links with Africa for millennia.
In -4,000 BCE, Sumerian sailors, from lower Mesopotamia, had trading relations with the ancient civilizations of the Indus. But after the expansion of Islam, Gulf sailors traded for centuries with East Africa. It was only around the 19th century that we found real warning signs of the rapprochements taking place today between the countries of the Gulf and the Maghreb.
At the time, of course, neither the UAE nor the other Arab entities – Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Sultanate of Oman – existed. It is par excellence the era of Western colonization. The first of the imperialist countries, England, will take an interest in the region. And for good reason: it is located on the maritime route taken by the East India Company. The only drawback, and a major one: the piracy rampant on this “route to the Indies”.
The English in the Gulf
Faced with this threat, and again this is reminiscent of our most recent news, the Royal Navy will bomb various ports in the Gulf, notably that of Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven Emirates making up the UAE today, completely destroyed in 1820. A truce followed between the various sheikhs of these Emirates and the English, then agreements. The Pax Britannica then begins. The “pirate coast” now becomes the “truce coast”, formed by the seven emirates which, in 1971, came together to form the UAE. Better yet, the English presence seems to stimulate the economic growth of the Arab countries of the Gulf, particularly with the pearl trade and shipbuilding, with the famous dhows.
But it is above all with the discovery of hydrocarbons that the situation completely changes. From the 1930s, deposits were gradually uncovered by prospectors, most of them English. After the Second World War, even if American influence grew in the Middle and Near East, the Emirates remained the preserve of London.
It was not until the second half of the 20th century that the union came to fruition. “From February 25 to 27, 1968, the sheikhs of nine Emirates met in Dubai and decided to create a federation of Arab emirates […]. On August 15, 1971, Bahrain proclaimed its independence and concluded a ten-year friendship treaty with Great Britain; on September 1, Qatar followed this example […] Meanwhile, on July 18, 1971, six of the seven Emirates of the coast of Oman constituted the “State of the United Arab Emirates” which joined, in February 1972, the seventh emirate, Ras al-Khaymah”, traces the historian Charles Zorgbibe in his work Geopolitics and History of the Gulf. A simple glance at a map of the region allows you to realize that, geographically, these small countries face the Iranian juggernaut. To exist better, what better tactic than regrouping?
Ten years after their independence, the Gulf countries set up the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council. We are in 1981. Two events seem to have accelerated this geostrategic cooperation: the Revolution of the Ayatollahs in Iran, in 1979, and the outbreak of the Iraqi-Iranian war, in 1980. It is in this context that this regional alliance comes into existence and even, for once, the small emirates decide to join forces with the gigantic Saudi Arabia. All this under the careful supervision of the Americans.
The GCC’s mission concerns both the economy, with the establishment of a free trade zone, and the military, with the creation, in 1984, of the Peninsula Shield. A tool that aims as much to defend against the outside world as to ensure internal security, as we will see during the Arab Spring of 2011 when a rapid GCC force was deployed in Bahrain. For the states in the region, there is no doubt that the hand of Tehran is behind the protest movements launched by the Shiites.
However, despite the existence of the Council, the different Gulf monarchies are far from always being in tune. One of the most striking proofs of this was provided in 2017, during the brutal breakdown of relations between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and on the other hand Qatar, accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in all directions. It must be said that the dispute dates back to the 1970s, at the time of independence, when Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were unable to agree on the outline of the borders inherited from the English colonization.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan (United Arab Emirates) during a welcome ceremony at Algiers airport, July 16, 2007.
A disagreement to which is added a real ideological fault line, which the Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera continues to feed. Qatar is in fact closer than its neighbors Turkey and Iran, which results in sometimes notable differences in approach, as on the Libyan issue. As for the UAE and Bahrain, they are used to going it alone in matters of foreign policy, which notably led them, in August 2020, to establish diplomatic relations with the State of Israel within the framework of the Agreements of ‘Abraham. A decision which tends to bring them closer to the Moroccan position.
This proximity helps to understand why, in 2011, the GCC countries, meeting at the headquarters of Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, decided to invite Morocco to join their organization, on the economic, cultural and security levels. Since then, the process of rapprochement seems to be on track, as evidenced by the number of trips by King Mohammed VI to Gulf countries over the past ten years. As for the capitals of the region, they support respect for the integrity of Moroccan territory, including the Sahara, which constitutes one of the main subjects of concern for Sherifian diplomacy.
In 2023, during a meeting of the Special Committee of 24 – responsible since 1961 at the UN for decolonization in the world – the Gulf States reaffirmed the Moroccan nature of the Sahara, even if it meant alienating Algeria. It must be said that beyond shared interests or values, there are also personal ties. King Hassan II and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan forged close personal ties since the 1970s and the current President of the Emirates, MBZ, studied at the Royal College in Rabat, alongside the future Mohammed VI.
Which may suggest that if relations between Rabat and Abu Dhabi have every reason to remain in good shape, those of the Emirates with Algiers could well continue to deteriorate.
This article is originally published on .jeuneafrique.com