Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provided a brutal reminder to the world—but especially to the West—that hard power matters and that employing military means to alter political realities has not been relegated to a distant past. For countries in the Middle East and North Africa, this is something with which they have lived for decades, and their response to the war in Ukraine has generally been to remain neutral and pursue their own interests.
In the Gulf monarchies, power is still highly centralized and personalized. However, policy-making is no longer exclusively centred around royal families, religious establishments, and traditional bureaucracies. Indeed, the post-hydrocarbon transition reveals the significant presence — besides that of rulers — of national technocrats, non-royal elites, diplomats, and experts.
Over the past few years, the faces of Gulf power have significantly rejuvenated, while political and diplomatic power remain highly personalized. First, in some Gulf Arab States, leaders are much younger than in the past: Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani succeeded his father, Hamad bin Khalifa, at age 33 in 2013, and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud started his meteoric rise to power at age 29 in 2015.
Dependency on hydrocarbon revenues among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states has been a consistent concern for decades. This is now prompting policy reform and new Visions or development plans aimed at ambitiously diversifying Gulf economies. Through the years, each Gulf country has elaborated and updated its own economic and social transformation plan, as epitomised by Qatar’s National Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Bahrain’s Vision 2030, Kuwait’s Vision 2035, Oman’s Vision 2040, and the UAE’s Vision 2021.
The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed insights on the most significant developments in the MENA region, bringing together unique opinions on the topic and reliable foresight on future scenarios. Today we focus on the broadening technological and military partnership between Israel and the Arab Gulf States.
The concept of khaleeji identity, also referred to sometimes as Gulf identity or identity of the Eastern Arabia, is characterized by its fluidity and is by no means a univocally recognized one.
Too often depicted as yet another arena in the proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, the Yemeni conflict has much more to do with a domestic struggle for power rather than sectarian – and supposedly archaic – rivalries. But with the opening of a new round of conflict after the 2011 Arab Spring, and even more after the 2015 Saudi-led intervention, the conflict underwent a dynamic of “sectarianisation”, or politicization of religious identities.
On 13 June, the Saudi-led coalition started airstrikes on Hodeida, the biggest urban centre of Yemen’s Western, Red Sea coast. A city of 600.000 inhabitants, Hodeida is controlled by the Iranian-backed Huthi insurgents since 2015.
Six years after the first free elections in Egypt’s post-Arab uprisings era, the Persian Gulf media’s attention to the country’s presidential election has considerably changed. Although the Gulf countries’ political support for Egypt remains unchanged – also expressed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s two-day visit to Cairo earlier this month in which he reaffirmed the highest level of bilateral cooperation – this election appears to be less important for Cairo’s Arab allies.
Over the last years the Gulf monarchies have emerged as assertive players both in the MENA region and in the global context. Relying on their huge energy reserves and financial assets, these states acquired increasing international leverage. On the one hand, the oil monarchies moved eastwards exploiting the opportunity provided by emerging Asian markets to diversify their energy relations and economic interests. On the other, in the wake of the Arab uprisings they adopted a more proactive approach that dramatically altered their influence in the region. Nonetheless, Gulf activism comes at a time when the monarchies are facing important internal and external challenges.
In this complex puzzle, the report aims to assess to what extent the rising Gulf monarchies are able to play as key actors both at the regional and the international levels. Are these monarchies adopting sustainable domestic policies in the long-term? How have they extended their influence in the MENA region? How are they reshaping their international relations? How do they act in the world energy market? What are the implications of the Gulf’s new assertiveness for the EU?