The United States is gradually losing its influence in the Arab world. This is noticeable right now during the escalation of the Ukraine conflict. Apparently the Arabs want to break away from Washington.
In fact, countries like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates are considered “traditional allies” of the United States of America. A system of interdependence has long ensured that both sides benefited from the “oil for dollar” deal. Regardless of the fact that the Arab Gulf states are absolute monarchies with a dictatorial character, and the leaders of these countries “brought the devil into their country,” as more radical followers of Islam put it.
However, developments in recent decades have gradually undermined American dominance in the region. From the Iraq war to the IS disaster and the problems in Syria to economic shifts in favor of China and other countries of the “Global South”: all this has created new realities. The Americans’ condemnation of the Arab involvement in the Yemen war and the Kashoggi affair are also straining relations with Washington. This also resulted in neither the Saudis nor the Emiratis wanting to join Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. This is also illustrated by the following four current developments:
Growing independence from Washington
First the Visit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the United Arab Emirates last Friday. The warm welcome by UAE leaders was a slap in the face to the US government, which firmly opposed the visit and imposed sanctions to delegitimize the Syrian government. Apparently the Gulf Arabs are trying to find their own solution to the crisis and end hostilities against the Assad government. This could lead to the end of support from the Gulf States for the various jihadist militias in Syria and the government quickly regaining control of the entire country.
Second the growing disregard for US hegemony by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two largest oil producers in OPEC. Above all they rejected the requests of US President Joe Bidento increase oil production to depress prices and allow additional supplies to allow Western sanctions on Russian oil and gas imports to take effect. They know very well that in an emergency they could also be confronted with punitive measures from the West and would then have to count on the support of other countries (such as Russia, China, India, etc.).
Third this failure of the visit by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson — on behalf of Washington — in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, where he delivered blatant threats to both countries should they not align themselves with the Western line in Ukraine, join economic sanctions against Russia, or breach their oil exploration agreements with the country. However, the leaders of both countries were undeterred and remain on their neutral path in this conflict. In addition, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have reportedly received US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken declinedwho wants to tie in with Johnson’s visit to try to succeed where he failed.
Fourth: the Invitation from Saudi Arabia to Chinese President Xi Jinping for an official visit and the openness of Riyadh, its oil sales to Beijing to be priced in yuan. This suggests that the Kingdom, and possibly other Gulf countries, may be ready to join the new global financial system that Russia and China are developing as an alternative to the Western system. For the Saudis, a decoupling from the US dollar would also be interesting in the longer term, especially since the American currency is currently confronted with an inflationary devaluation at a rate not seen in decades.
Arab solution for Syria?
The timing of Assad’s journey – on the 11th anniversary of the start of the US-led war on Syria aimed at overthrowing the Syrian government and three weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and the UAE’s indifference to the angry US response are further signs that a “divorce case” is about to begin. Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates was a major win for both countries and their leaders. He broke Syria’s official isolation from the Arab world and heralded the lifting of the US embargo on the country. This will usher in a broader process of Arab “normalization,” during which Damascus is expected to regain its membership of the Arab League and its role in Arab collective decision-making, and participate in November’s Arab summit in Algiers.
This bold step also benefits the UAE in many ways. He helps offset the extremely negative impact on their image resulting from signing the so-called Abraham Accords and enthusiastically wooing the Israeli enemy. Building bridges of trust and cooperation with the Axis of Resistance across Syria, Iran’s closest ally, could also help the UAE and Saudi Arabia find a way out of their quagmire in Yemen. It is perhaps no coincidence that Riyadh is proposing to host a bipartisan dialogue in Yemen and has officially invited the Houthi-Ansarullah movement to participate.
A peace with Iran?
Should the Saudis and the Emiratis manage to find a mutually acceptable solution with both Syria and Yemen, this would take some of the pressure off the kettle. Especially in relation to Iran. A regional peace solution (which would also have to include Israel) would severely limit the United States’ room for manoeuvre. For the Saudis, however, this would be an opportunity to end the costly but unwinnable conflict in Yemen and score points in the Muslim world on the Syrian issue.
One should also not forget that the Arab Gulf states in particular are important buyers of US (and other Western) weapons of war. However, the Chinese are now also getting involved a bit in this regard, and with peace in the region, the need for new war material will also decrease. Falling defense spending increases the scope for other projects – such as diversifying the oil-dependent economy. This should also slowly become clear to the monarchs in the Gulf. Just like the fact that investors don’t exactly like to put their money in crisis areas, where rockets could turn all investments into rubble at any time.