Map of United Arab Emirates

The World Today for February 17, 2022


Guns and Butter


Last week, an explosion rocked Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Many in the financial and tourism hub immediately jumped to the conclusion that the blast was a rocket fired from Yemen, where the UAE is part of a Saudi Arabian-led force fighting Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

Missile and drone strikes have become more prevalent recently in the UAE, “shattering” the Gulf country’s reputation as an “oasis” of calm in an otherwise “turbulent” region, noted Haaretz. UAE forces have managed to intercept some of those attacks.

But the Feb. 9 explosion was just a gas cylinder exploding – an industrial accident that was certainly dangerous but not an act of war, reported the Jerusalem Post.

The incident was a metaphor for UAE’s place in the Middle East. Its leaders are implicated in the bloody civil war in Yemen while also working hard to develop their economy and make connections with other countries that could smooth the way for less excitement in the region.

On one hand, this split national personality is a difficult balancing act.

“Leaders in Abu Dhabi…seem caught between their active – even aggressive – foreign and defense policies of the past decade, and their current efforts to turn inward and focus on domestic development,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine.

Rocket attacks as well as Covid-19 fears could make a dent in the UAE’s tourism industry, for instance, argued Forbes.

On the other hand, though, the UAE’s domestic development has been coupled with international cooperation, especially with Israel and the US. In 2020, the UAE sealed a deal with Israel to establish ties between the two countries despite antipathy toward the Jewish state among many Arabs in the region. Economic growth and social liberalization have occurred as a result.

Everything isn’t rosy, explained Reuters. The two countries recently engaged in a public spat over security at Dubai International Airport because of Israeli flights to the country, for example. The spat wasn’t necessarily a sign of that agreement breaking down. But it was a sign of how the two sides had stitched themselves together close enough to have a spat about commercial air travel.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the United Arab Emirates Monday, a trip signaling a further thaw in strained relations over the two nations’ different views of Islamists in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring: Turkey backs them while the UAE sees them as a top security threat, ABC News reported. Erdogan said he hoped his visit would push the “big potential” of trade between the countries, one of the few subjects the two agree on.

Meanwhile, the US also recently dispatched a warship and a squadron of fighter jets to the UAE to help fend off Houthi rebels’ attacks, too, wrote Bloomberg. American military commanders were also meeting with UAE leaders to coordinate on other defense measures, added the Washington Post.

At the same time, the UAE is investing heavily in American, French, Israeli and South Korean weapons in order to bolster its defenses on its own, Al Jazeera reported.

One day the UAE might need to choose between guns and butter. For now, it chooses both.

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