Briefing 13 September 2020


Increasing Saudi Dependence on the UAE

Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman has promised to bring about social and economic reform in the kingdom and curb conservative influences that, according to Washington, serve to promote and encourage extremist ideologies adopted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is on this basis that he has managed to secure the support of US policymakers despite a string of controversies as he has side-lined his rivals, including once Washington’s favourite Mohamed Bin Nayef. However, with an increasingly uncertain US elections and concerns that a Democrat victory will bring about a major shift in US priorities towards Iran and a potentially hostile US administration, Bin Salman has begun to lean and depend heavily upon the UAE to secure his future. This briefing looks at the dynamics that will govern decision-making in Saudi Arabia in the next few months.

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Normalisation with Israel: What does the UAE seek? (Paywall - GBP 10)

When the UAE announced normalisation of ties with Israel, they expected to be embraced as an equal partner. However, Netanyahu proceeded to humiliate Abu Dhabi, openly calling on the US not to sell the F-35s that UAE officials had claimed were part of the deal, and proceeding to go to war with Gaza despite UAE’s Mohamed Bin Zayed announcing he had negotiated in Palestine’s interests.

The extent of Israel’s humiliation of the UAE was not lost on Oman and Sudan who received an eager US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo keen to convince these countries to follow the UAE lead. Failing to see any tangible benefits to normalisation for the UAE, these countries roundly rejected Pompeo’s overtures, leading to annoyance in the White House and a bid to encourage Tel Aviv to revive its position. Meanwhile, the UAE has exerted immense pressure in conjunction with Riyadh on economically beleaguered Bahrain in a bid to enhance its standing with Trump, in a bid to encourage Washington to ignore Israel’s protestations. This briefing assesses what the UAE seeks to realistically achieve through normalisation of ties with Israel.

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Tunisia President’s gamble for power collapses at the last hurdle

It is no secret that Tunisia’s President Kais Saied harbours ambitions to alter the political system in Tunisia and restore the powers of the Presidency. Saied has successfully channelled popular discontent against a deeply divided Parliament, side-lining the political parties in talks on forming a government and imposing his own candidate on political parties terrified of the prospect of early elections amidst polls that predict a defeat for all. However, just when Saied appeared on the verge of successfully centralising power and becoming the de facto executive authority in Tunisia, he spectacularly fell out with his candidate for Prime Minister and now finds himself on the verge of being isolated in the Presidential palace for the rest of his political term.

This briefing looks at the dynamics surrounding the sudden turn of events.

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Centralising power in Libya - Serraj versus GNA factions

Libya’s Fayez al-Serraj has always struggled to assert himself over the competing militias that fight under the banner of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord. Ministries have had to be appointed in the spirit of appeasement as opposed to meritocracy. Until Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli, many of these militias exerted autonomy on different levels with some, such as those of Misrata, even pursuing their own foreign policy in allying with Washington to fight designated terrorist targets. Misrata’s Fathi Bashagha has established his own ties with foreign powers, irking his rivals and even Serraj who sought last week to remove him and drive a wedge between the Misratan factions. Following the ceasefire, Serraj has embarked on a bid to centralise power hoping to lean on Turkey, Washington, or any other power willing to trust him as he seeks to assert himself on the Central Bank and on Misrata.

This briefing assesses the dynamics behind Serraj’s bid to centralise power.

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Why Macron is rushing into Lebanon

"The reason Macron is rushing into #Lebanon is because he wants to rescue the political elite and wider political framework from the ire of the protestors. Macron fears a new political bloc that might emerge from protests and overhaul a system in which France has a significant stake, and therefore hopes to gently and carefully close the people's window of opportunity."

How Arab states inadvertently created the vacuum for Turkey to exert itself

"There is an inescapable reality that cannot denied. The very Arab states that lament Turkey's policies and are antagonistic to Turkey generally, have inadvertently played a key role in Turkey's rise as a power. Where Turkey has chosen to move towards Muslim exceptionalism and away from Ataturk's secularism, Arab states have moved away from the Muslim exceptionalism they once monopolised towards the very secularist ideologies rejected by the Arab people in the first free and fair elections.

In other words, the Arab states created the vacuum that Erdogan has been able to exploit effectively, and this has allowed him to exert influence on the very populations that the Arab regimes are seeking to keep under control"