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World Awkward allies? The pitfalls of UK’s Gulf Arab relations

11:20  29 october  2020
11:20  29 october  2020 Source:   bbc.com

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In 2018 relations between the UK and the UAE went through a rocky period after the arrest in Dubai of Matthew Hedges, a British PhD student. Several factors combine to ensure that, barring a complete change of policy in London, relations with the Gulf Arab states are likely to grow closer still.

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Allegations that have emerged this month made by a British woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by a senior member of the United Arab Emirate's ruling family are shocking.

Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan et al. posing for the camera: Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan denies the allegations © Getty Images Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan denies the allegations

Caitlin McNamara, 32, told the Sunday Times how she was allegedly sexually assaulted in a secluded palace by the UAE's 69-year-old Minister of Tolerance, while curating the Hay literature festival in Abu Dhabi in February.

The minister, Sheikh Nahyan Al-Nahyan, who denies the allegations, is a senior member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and has property in the UK worth millions of pounds.

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The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf ( Arabic : مجلس التعاون لدول الخليج العربي‎) , originally (and still colloquially) known as the Gulf Cooperation Council

Saudi Arabia ' s allies cut or downgrade their diplomatic ties with Iran, after the Saudi embassy in Tehran is attacked over a Shia cleric' s execution. It accused Iran of "increasing, flagrant and dangerous meddling" in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab states.

Ms McNamara has returned to the UK and in July she gave the Metropolitan Police a detailed description of the alleged sexual assault.

A formal investigation has yet to be opened, for several reasons. The alleged incident took place outside the Met's area of jurisdiction, there is no police report of it in the UAE and, as a member of the ruling family, the individual accused is likely to have sovereign immunity from prosecution.

Discussing the case on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, acting for Ms McNamara, said she would like to see the UK government pressing the UAE for redress but admitted it would be difficult in legal terms.

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Hay festival has expressed outrage and says it will not be returning to Abu Dhabi while the Sheikh in question remains in his post.

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Like Saudi Arabia , the UAE was dismayed by the overthrow and US abandonment of Egypt' s Hosni Mubarak. Now it is the leading supporter of Emirati assertiveness has been felt, too, in relations with its western allies , including Britain, a leading trading partner. Last year the UAE became the first Arab

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries that was established in 1981. Its primary decision-making entity is the Supreme Council, consisting of members’ heads of state. The GCC’ s activities have included joint security ventures and the formation

But there has been little response from the UAE side, other than for the Sheikh's lawyers to issue the denial and to express disappointment at the allegations and the way they have been aired publicly.

Sheikh Nahyan, who has been a member of the UAE government since 1992 and is a familiar and largely respected figure in his own country, has not been suspended from his post.

Diplomatic storms

The case is the latest and one of the most disturbing in a succession of incidents that occasionally bedevil the UK's close relations with its Gulf Arab allies.

These go right back to 1980 and the diplomatic storm triggered by the ITV drama-documentary 'Death of a Princess' about the public execution of a Saudi princess and her lover who was beheaded.

The film cost British businesses an estimated £250m in lost contracts. Today it is largely forgotten, but women's rights in Saudi Arabia, while slowly improving, still fall way short of standards acceptable in the rest of the world.

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The United States’ relationship with the Arab League prior to the Second World War was limited. However, the first country to officially recognize the US was Morocco. Moreover, in comparison to European powers such as Britain and France which had managed to colonise almost all of the Arab

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Then in 1984 the outgoing British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir James Craig, wrote what should have been a confidential valedictory cable to his boss in Whitehall, in which he accused his Saudi hosts of being 'incompetent, insular and ignorant of the world around them'.

Much to the embarrassment of the Foreign Office, the cable was leaked and went public.

In 2018 relations between the UK and the UAE went through a rocky period after the arrest in Dubai of Matthew Hedges, a British PhD student.

Hedges was researching a thesis on post-Arab Spring security but Emirati officials said they found incriminating evidence on his laptop proving he was a spy, which he denied.

Hedges was detained for months before being pardoned, during which time he said he was subjected to 'psychological torture' in solitary confinement.

To this day, the Emiratis believe he was a spy and Britain says he wasn't.

Then shortly before Covid-19 erupted onto the world stage, there was the high-profile case in London's High Court involving Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and his former wife, Princess Haya of Jordan.

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Kuwait – United Arab Emirates relations are the relations between the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. The UAE has an embassy in Kuwait City while Kuwait maintains an embassy in Abu Dhabi and a consulate-general in Dubai.

The United States has said that Iran was behind naval mines that damaged five oil tankers in the Persian Gulf this spring, and in June Iran boasted of shooting down an American surveillance drone. Yet President Trump did little in retaliation for the tanker attacks and called off a planned airstrike

a man wearing a hat: Princess Haya fled to the UK last year with the couple's two children © Reuters Princess Haya fled to the UK last year with the couple's two children

Despite the Sheikh's best efforts to stop the publication of her damning allegations the judge ruled against him.

The world then learnt how the (then) 70-year-old, a giant figure in the horseracing world and often pictured with The Queen at Ascot, had abducted and incarcerated his own daughters when they had tried to leave the family.

The judge also ruled Sheikh Mohammed 'had conducted a campaign of fear and intimidation' against his former wife, who fled to Britain last year with her children saying she was in fear of her life.

The story briefly sent a shudder through the racing world amid calls from some quarters to sever links with the Sheikh.

Of all Britain's relations with the six Gulf Arab nations, Saudi Arabia is the most controversial. Its opaque, draconian and much-criticised justice system has produced countless cases of human rights abuses, well-documented by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

However Saudi Arabia is seen by Whitehall strategists as a vital bulwark against Iran's aggressive expansion across the region.

It also provides jobs for thousands of Britons, especially in the defence industry.

But aerial bombing raids by the Royal Saudi Air Force in the Yemen war - at times using aircraft and munitions sold by Britain - have contributed heavily towards the UN classifying the conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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Perhaps the incident that most shocked the world was the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Jamal Khashoggi wearing a hat and glasses © Getty Images

His body was dismembered and never found. Western intelligence agencies concluded that in all likelihood Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was complicit, something he has denied.

In July Britain sanctioned 20 Saudi officials for their role in Khashoggi's murder but relations with Riyadh have continued largely uninterrupted.

Astronomically rich

Several factors combine to ensure that, barring a complete change of policy in London, relations with the Gulf Arab states are likely to grow closer still.

In an unstable Middle East where ISIS and Iran are still seen as strategic threats, the Gulf monarchies are viewed as necessary allies.

RAF jets regularly fly into and out of bases up and down the Gulf and Britain now has a permanent naval base in Bahrain - HMS Juffair.

A joint squadron of Typhoons has been set up with Qatar and increasing use is being made of facilities provided by Oman.

And of course the Gulf states are astronomically rich, thanks to their oil and gas reserves.

Collectively, they form the UK's third biggest trade partnership outside the EU, investing billions of pounds into the UK economy and in a recent interview with the UAE newspaper The National, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of the region's importance to Britain.

Two things are certain here. There will be more incidents to come and the PR consultancies hired by Gulf governments look set to stay in business for many years to come.

Beyond Dubai's shadow, Sharjah shines light on Arab art .
It doesn't have the malls of Dubai or the mega-projects of Abu Dhabi, but the conservative Gulf emirate of Sharjah has carved out a role for itself as a cultural capital. "Sharjah is not the richest emirate in the Gulf, but it is in terms of being the richest culturally," said the 42-year-old who has taught in universities in the United States and France. - 'Go local' - Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, an innovative and oil-rich country which has poured huge sums into culture.

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