Regional Rivalries In The Middle East Threaten Ongoing Cooperation


The ongoing rivalry between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates flared up once more this week as the two sides engaged in a war of words over the ongoing crisis in Libya. On Thursday 30 April, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed concern over Turkish interference in the Libyan Civil War, alleging that the nation was deploying fighters and smuggling war materiel into the country. The UAE criticised Turkish intervention on behalf of Libya’s UN-recognised government, and simultaneously praised the Libyan National Army, led by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar. Turkey responded by claiming that the UAE was pursuing “destructive” and “two-faced” policies in the region. This is the latest in a long line of political conflict between the two nations, and it paints a worrying picture for stability in the region.

Turkey and the UAE have been at odds with one another for nearly a decade at this point. Time and again, the two nations come down on opposite sides of regional issues, and there do not seem to be attempts to cooperate. This regional fracture was likely triggered by Turkey’s support of the Arab Spring uprisings. Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and the chairman of Istanbul’s Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) think-tank, voiced this sentiment to Al Jazeera: “The rivalry between the two sides mainly stems from Turkey’s support for Arab Spring uprisings and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which were viewed as threats by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.” He added, “As time passed and issues piled, Turkey and the UAE engaged in a regional power struggle. They see it as a zero-sum game, in which there is no way for both sides to win. If one wins, other one loses.” Much like the superpowers during the Cold War, Turkey and the UAE are engaged in a political conflict where (they believe) only one can triumph.

The rivalry between Turkey and the UAE is not the only political conflict of its sort in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a similar rivalry for many years, one which seems to be coming closer and closer to armed conflict. In fact, these two ongoing rivalries appear to be pushing Turkey and Iran, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, into separate, antagonistic blocs. These regional power struggles are an ongoing cause for concern. The Middle East already struggles with serious stability issues – in part, the result of decades of Western interference in the region. The region is also having to deal with ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, as well as armed Islamic fundamentalists and insurgents throughout the area. The only way to successfully combat these issues is for strong international and regional cooperation.

If relations continue to sour and the nations in the region continue to view their policies as part of some ‘zero-sum game,’ issues will continue to mount. The continued coalescing of these political ‘blocs’ risks bringing the entire region into a Cold War-esque situation. It is crucial that the region’s governments – in fact, governments throughout the world – stop viewing international politics in this manner. It is an incredibly reductive view that only leads to suffering, international conflict and a polarized world incapable of meaningful dialogue. Long-lasting international peace and stability can only be achieved when this international posturing is left in the 20th century (where it belongs) and the people are put first.

Turkey and the UAE have been at odds with one another for nearly a decade at this point. Time and again, the two nations come down on opposite sides of regional issues, and there do not seem to be attempts to cooperate. This regional fracture was likely triggered by Turkey’s support of the Arab Spring uprisings. Sinan Ulgen, a former diplomat and the chairman of Istanbul’s Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) think-tank, voiced this sentiment to Al Jazeera: “The rivalry between the two sides mainly stems from Turkey’s support for Arab Spring uprisings and the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which were viewed as threats by the UAE and Saudi Arabia.” He added, “As time passed and issues piled, Turkey and the UAE engaged in a regional power struggle. They see it as a zero-sum game, in which there is no way for both sides to win. If one wins, other one loses.” Much like the superpowers during the Cold War, Turkey and the UAE are engaged in a political conflict where (they believe) only one can triumph.

The rivalry between Turkey and the UAE is not the only political conflict of its sort in the Middle East. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been engaged in a similar rivalry for many years, one which seems to be coming closer and closer to armed conflict. In fact, these two ongoing rivalries appear to be pushing Turkey and Iran, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE, into separate, antagonistic blocs. These regional power struggles are an ongoing cause for concern. The Middle East already struggles with serious stability issues – in part, the result of decades of Western interference in the region. The region is also having to deal with ongoing civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, as well as armed Islamic fundamentalists and insurgents throughout the area. The only way to successfully combat these issues is for strong international, regional cooperation.

If relations continue to sour and the nations in the region continue to view their policies as part of some ‘zero-sum game’, issues will continue to mount. The continued coalescing of these political ‘blocs’ risks bringing the entire region into a Cold War-esque situation. It is crucial that the region’s governments – in fact, governments throughout the world – stop viewing international politics in this manner. It is an incredibly reductive view that only leads to major suffering and international conflict, and results in a polarized world incapable of meaningful dialogue. Long-lasting international peace and stability can only be achieved when this international posturing is left in the 20th century (where it belongs) and the people are put first.