July 03, 2005
Burning bridges, breaking borders
Gulf Arabs and expats are fairly consistent in their opinion of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom and its oppressive laws and corruption are resented and despised, and businesses trips to the Kingdom are generally loathed and dreaded. The statement: "I've got to fly to Riyadh tomorrow" provokes more sympathy and spine-shuddering among males (given female expats are lucky enough to usually escape the experience by dint of owning a vagina) than any personal tragedy.
Now Saudi Arabia is objecting to a causeway that the UAE plans to build to Qatar, to make travel easier. One could already travel between the UAE and Qatar by land, if the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wasn't so backwards, restrictive and uncooperative as to make it impossible for anyone to pass through a tiny bit of its land. Land which - according to some maps and opinions - does not even belong to KSA anyway.
Click maps to enlarge
According to other reports, Saudi Arabia is also dead set against the building of a bridge that Qatar and Bahrain are currently planning to build. “This is because Riyadh fears this kind of bridges would enhance the affinity and rapprochement between the small member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council."
"Relations among the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are currently witnessing improvement, making the kingdom to see how their relations develop within the Gulf environment. This follows the distancing of Bahrain and UAE from the kingdom in recent times, while Oman is closer to the new Gulf bloc of the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. As for Kuwait, it is now keeping a close eye on the developments before it decides where to align itself", the report said.
Saudi Arabia's objection to the bridges is increasing its unpopularity among other GCC states. GCC ministers see the links as an important step to better GCC integration.
"It should not be opposed by another member. On the contrary, it should be encouraged and supported," one unnamed diplomat is quoted as saying.
Even local people are angry about Saudi Arabia's obstructiveness:
"The UAE-Qatar causeway MUST be built to show the Saudis that they dont control us. It is Saudi power hunger that objects to its being built as this will weaken saudi's position in the region," one UAE blogger notes.
There are several serious border disputes in the Gulf, as well as territorial claims over many islands. One of the most significant is the massive Al Sheba/Shebeih/Zararah oil field on the UAE-Saudi border in the Empty Quarter:
A 1974 border agreement between the two Gulf states should have settled the disagreement, but it was never ratified by the UAE government and is not officially recognised by the Saudis.
If Saudi presses its maritime claims, given it was "granted" its corridor to the sea by the grace of Abu Dhabi back in the 1970s, the UAE may well to take a more assertive approach with its claims on Zararah, even more so since the recent of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the greatly-loved UAE ruler who presided over the Zararah "treaty". The more business-minded new guard now in place in Abu Dhabi is likely to show less patience.
Posted by secretdubai at July 3, 2005 01:21 PM
Filed Under: Gulf
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Having read up just a teensy little bit about this, I can tell you that the strip of land between Abu Dhabi and Qatar, Khor Udeid, was originally claimed by Abu Dhabi, but ceded to Saudi Arabia in return for the latter's renunciation of its claim to Buraimi/Al Ain, a claim it tried to enforce militarily only a few years before that. This agreement was made soon after UAE independence, when Saudi recognition of the new government in Abu Dhabi was a political imperative. The UAE claims that the agreement was made under duress, and has since tried to renegotiate it. The UAE and Saudi Arabia share sovereignty over the water off Khor Udeid, and so the question of whether the former may build a bridge over it is probably far from clear-cut.
The UAE is extremely unhappy about Saudi Arabia's claim to Zararah, made as part of the same 1974 agreement with the Kingdom. The absence of its oil minister (the only one from the GCC to fail to attend) when Saudi Arabia opened an oil field there was seen as a sign of resentment.
After 9/11 and the subsequent downward spiral in US-Saudi relations, the smaller Gulf states have sensed some breathing room, after years of Saudi domination. This is best exemplified by the free trade agreement between Bahrain and the US, as well as the ones currently being negotiated by Oman and the US. These have caused great Saudi displeasure. Qatar has been a thorn in the Kingdom's side for a while now. Kuwait is adopting a wait-and-see policy on whether it will side with the smaller states or its large neighbor.
In other news, do we have HTML code enabled here? Italics, underlining, etc. would be great. Oh, and paragraph breaks too.
Posted by: Dubaiwalla at July 3, 2005 04:12 PM
Yes - a lot of tit-for-tat appears to have gone on. Abu Dhabi also forbids Saudi from sinking wells in certain areas, lest they deplete the UAE's oilfields.
I really think that now Zayed is gone, a lot of the things he signed to and agreed to for the sake of peace will be swept aside. He was an exceptional uniter and a great peacemaker. But times change, and as you point out the power balance is shifting - this article has an interesting discussion on that.
HTML is enabled. Hopefully in comments too, or this one is going to look really screwy...
Posted by: secretdubai at July 3, 2005 04:29 PM
Then again, maybe not, or maybe I just messed up the coding.
Posted by: secretdubai at July 3, 2005 04:30 PM
Ah. It would be cool do be able to post a hyperlink with different text, especially long ones, eg a href= etc.
Posted by: secretdubai at July 3, 2005 04:41 PM
Ok fixed. God damn you people are so demanding!
Posted by: eerie at July 3, 2005 04:48 PM
Interesting. Very interesting. Thanks to Dubaiwalla for the note as well.
Posted by: Lounsbury at July 4, 2005 12:37 PM
So I asked around a bit more about that bridge today. There is no commercial logic to it whatsoever. The Emirates and Qatar are probably doing this just to bother Saudi Arabia. So far, it's working pretty well. The two countries can probably later withdraw the proposal in exchange for some sort of Saudi concessions.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is desperate to keep its influence in the region. In this case, that involves having some modicum of control over who from the other two countries can drive between them. Even as they do this, the GCC is proposing a Schengen-style free transit arrangement that would let people drive between the UAE and Qatar anyway (albeit with the presumable exception of women, who have infamously heretofore been forbidden from driving in the Kingdom). The word 'tragicomic' probably arose out of situations like this one.
It is also amusing to think that not all that long ago, the idea of Westphalian sovereignty- over land, rather than people (tribes, in the case of this region)- hadn't spread to this part of the world. Now Saudi Arabia is desperately trying to guard a tiny and uninhabited patch of land that is probably of relatively low strategic value to it, for reasons of state interest.
Posted by: Dubaiwalla at July 11, 2005 02:05 PM