By Marcela GANEA, local agent of the NMC (UAE) in Bucharest
During an interview given for international journalists on 25th November 2014 in St Regis Hotel in Abu Dhabi, on the occasion of the 43th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates, Dr Anwar Gargash, secretary of State in the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the UAE views upon the latest problematic developments in the Middle East.
Although the UAE is usually seen as part of the elite club of the GCC countries, a stable and blossoming area of the world, it is also part of the Middle East region and concerned about events that may have an impact upon its progress. Dr Anwar Gargash reminded that there are 20 Arab countries and only 4 are prosperous, and a schism took place in the Arab world, which calls for cooperation because the Arab world is working within a framework of convictions and beliefs. “We are concerned about the interference of other countries in Arab countries’ affairs, such as Turkey, and we do not like that”, said Dr Anwar Gargash, “which means weakness of those Arab countries”. Dr Gargash explained that the UAE took over a leading role in foreign policy because there is an imperative need of stability and prosperity in the Arab world: “The beginnings of the UAE were very modest but the political leadership was very clear and developed a model. The UAE is concerned about other peoples because we cannot be prosperous and stable without peace. We see a role for the UAE in foreign policy but not in a pre-conceived manner, we are only seeking prosperity and stability. The UAE is a successful model in terms of stability, moderation, living conditions and what matters is the continuation of traditions for further development. Many countries suffer from legitimacy, and territorial integrity. People speak of the 3rd wave of democracy. It is important to try to balance these things that the Arabs are seeking: security or opportunities. The UAE, during these difficult times, support the forces of moderation and stability”.
Speaking of Egypt, Dr Gargash gave a positive view: “Egypt is a good example because it was a land of stability and prosperity. Egypt is important for us and it must be stabilized because it contributes to the Arab culture. During the Gulf leaders’ summit in Riyadh in November 2014, the Saudi king stated that the GCC would work for Egypt’s stability and we are positive about Egypt. I’ve read a report in Financial Times and there seems to be an increase of tourists of 17%, factories start working again and the political roadmap is being implemented”.
Despite occasional misunderstanding and deviations, the GCC leaders feel they belong to the same family and they come to terms sooner or later. Dr Gargash confirms this attitude in explaining the short-lasting disagreement with Qatar: “We had some misunderstanding between Qatar and other GCC countries but we shall meet in Doha on 9 December for the GCC summit and I am sure we’ll be on the right track. We lost 8 months in misunderstanding and now we’ll need time to “mend the fences” and the media discourse. The Riyadh meeting was very successful and it took us out of the vicious circle”.
Dr Gargash reminded that “all problems currently are going on within a few thousands kilometres from the UAE such as Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine…and the failure of many states has actually contributed to extremism in this region. To solve this difficult period, we must work together as Arab countries sharing the same values and with the help of the international community, by focusing on stability and moderate approach towards religion. Stability is not a call to remain where you are, but a call of evolution”.
Regarding the Palestine issue, Dr Gargash said that the UAE support the moderate solution, the two-state solution, and also does the international community, “but Israel’s leadership is tactical, not strategic”. The good news is that the Israeli-Arab conflict has calmed down somehow “but we still see walls and destruction”.
One of the major problems is ISIS and terrorism, and Dr Gargash expressed the official standpoint of the UAE which is zero tolerance: “We are against terrorism, we have clarity regarding terrorism and we have a methodology for that, consisting of laws, and a list of terrorist organizations defined under these laws. We have identified 84 groups, and those instigating and financing terrorism are also considered terrorists, and our law reviews the list whenever it is necessary. We see a link between extremism and terrorism, and we believe that intellectual extremism is spread through social networks. Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, and all groups that are building instigation, seem to act similarly. About the Muslim Brothers, I can tell you that we know they are the main instigators, and most jihadists have Muslim Brotherhood roots, there is evidence supporting this claim”.
Dr Gargash explained that Political Islam took advantage of the failure of some regimes and turned the democratic will until it reached authority. “The UAE cannot accept the foreign policy that expands the Arab world confessionaly because if one agrees on a confessional expansion, it ends up in an abnormal distribution which does not build nations” said Dr Gargash, who emphasized that the Arabic scene is very complicated and it takes years to settle it, as well as a return to pan-Arabism in a more civilized manner.
To explain the UAE involvement in the military operations against ISIS, Dr Gargash stated that “The UAE approach is to be part of the international community. The UAE played a military role in several operations, in Lebanon in 1976, in Somalia, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kuwait, because the UAE is part of international community, and if something happens in our region, we make our contribution and expect people to do the same. The UAE cannot just watch, we must be part of the coalition that fights ISIS. If you want to be taken seriously and to be protected against the problem you suffer from, you must be part of that coalition”.
In his interview given on 21 November 2014 to Bret Baier from FoxNews in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE minister of foreign affairs explained ISIS’ approach: “ISIS tries to hijack our religion. They don’t like the way we practice our Islam so they want to impose their views upon us and our families and our countries. We cannot finish ISIS if the situation in Syria is not dealt with in a proper manner. Over 100,000 Syrians are dead and over 2 million Syrians are refugees or displaced. Yes, we listed as terrorist organizations the CARE – Council of American Muslim Relations, and the Muslim American Society because our threshold is quite low, we cannot accept funding . For many countries, the definition of terrorism is to carry a weapon and terrorize people, but for us, it’s far beyond that”. Asked by Bret Baier why the UAE fought with Egypt against terrorism, a fact that took Washington by surprise, Sheikh Abdullah replied: “We believed that the countries that played a role in getting rid of Gadhafi should play a better role in getting Libya on the right track. Libya could be a huge ticking bomb for the region. The entire coalition had a big responsibility which unfortunately they didn’t live up to”.
The gloomiest view Dr Gargash gave was on Syria: “Syria is another challenge for all of us, and to be honest, we don’t see the end to the tunnel yet. We see a government that is lost and on the other hand, various groups of terrorists that control the problems, we see a political process that is not kick-starting, a transition process that is not working. Looking at the distribution of forces in Syria, we see that if left alone Syria will be an escalating problem for many years. Syria’s war has impacted Lebanon, Iraq…No one is going to win, everybody is losing in Syria. The only way to win is a political transitional solution but we do not see this possible at present”. The Syrian population is homeless within national borders and there are 2 million refugees in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, and the biggest problem is the thousands of foreign fighters pouring into Syria and the foreign interference, such as Fatah. The UAE sees no way out for the next several years. “Nobody will win militarily in Syria”, said Dr Gargash, “We must have an emphasis on a political solution. First, we must have the alignment of the great powers, and this remains valid for other countries with conflicts, such as Ukraine. Also, to see what is the role of president Bashar Al Assad in any transition. While we see a sort of plan in Iraq, we don’t see the same in Syria. We want a moderate opposition but it is too fragmented, and this is a major issue in the Middle East. And my fear is further escalation and disintegration. The regime is already exhausted in Syria. We need now sensible minds that sit together and big countries such as Russia and the US. This conflict affects the whole region and leads to radicalization and jihadism, which in its turn has an impact on Russia, Europe and the US. It’s a very gloomy picture”.
Dr Gargash explained the presence of foreign fighters in Syria through escalation of extremism, not necessarily through a mechanism aiming at Syria itself: “There are 20,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq because there is instigation towards extremism. These fighters could have been very well in Cashmere, Mali elsewhere… not only in Syria”.
Dr Gargash explains that the UAE makes efforts to explain the region and its specifics to the Western countries: “I think our Western friends increasingly come to us to ask for our opinion, and this is good. We have been part of coalitions with these countries in many parts of the world. We invest our resources only where we have reliable partners. One thing that is appreciated about the UAE is stability, we are a pillar of stability in the region. Sometimes it works, some other times it takes time, but eventually it still works. We have to be resolute in Libya because we have seen the example of Syria. Resoluteness now is easier than crisis management later. Three years ago many Western countries thought we were a little bit alarmists on the issue of Syria. Today they no longer believe this, they know we had a clearer picture. And this gives us credibility. Even if our partners accept it 50% only and by doing this, we have earned a lot of respect. Our interest is to be clear and resolute. At the same time, we try to understand each country’s consideration. But we shall always come forward and say: This is our view! About extremism and terrorism, over the last 10 year, we have given our constant message. When Gadhafi regime fell in Libya, we were among the first to come and say: We cannot give arms to everybody because this will lead to many problems!”
Sheikh Abdullah, in his interview for FoxNews, also expressed the opinion that the West should listen to the local wisdom: “I think we should move away from the time when Washington, Brussels, London and Paris thought they knew the region better than the people of the region. Our biggest challenges are extremism, radicalism, fascism and social challenges in this region and I think the West are our historical partners and they are too busy with their own problems or a bit sore about the problems in this region. I don’t think they have given us up but they are in a shield room, a glass room where they think that their interpretation of the region is the right one”.
About the Iranian nuclear issue, Dr Gargahs said that the UAE has been following the 5 plus 1 Iran negotiations, and support the transitional extension and would like to see a successful viable agreement that supports non-proliferation. The UAE has a nuclear program that does not allow enrichment. Asked by Bret Baier about the latest Iran nuclear deal during the interview in Abu Dhabi, mentioned above, Sheikh Abdullah suggested that Iran may have a component of enrichment in its nuclear program: “We would like to know what Iran would get out of that deal, we’d wish Iran to have much of what we have in the UAE – no enrichment, no re-processing. But obviously, that’s far from what it’ll happen”.
The UAE relations with Iran imply historical aspects, commercial ties but also things not agreed upon yet, such as the three islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, occupied by Iran in 1971, before the UAE’s becoming a state in 1972. The UAE has been working for 40 years through bilateral agreements to settle this issue, asking Iran to produce evidence, and there is still no response from Iran. Dr Gargash emphasized that “The problem becomes bigger when people talk about this issue, popularity complicates this issue”.
The United Arab Emirates is an exceptional country in terms of economic growth, prosperity and wise leadership. Created 43 years ago, its economic growth has been 263 times since its creation and it has had the fastest pace of development in the world. Despite biased perceptions, oil is currently only 30% of its GDP, while prosperity is not only the effect of money but also of wise leadership and clear vision about the future.
Opinions about the UAE should be expressed only after visiting the country as not having personal direct contact may result into distorted perceptions because the UAE is a unique phenomenon.