UAE President Visits Qatar, Mending Fences Broken by Years-Long Blockade

United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan attends a working session on energy and food security during the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on November 15, 2022. (Photo by BAY ISMOYO / POOL / AFP) (Photo by BAY ISMOYO/POOL/AFP via Getty …

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Qatar on Monday, meeting with the nation’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and congratulating the country on hosting the FIFA World Cup, the world’s most prestigious soccer tournament.

Mohamed bin Zayed (MBZ, as he is commonly referred to) visited Doha following a similar stop by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), for the opening ceremonies of the World Cup. While a variety of world leaders and prominent political personalities have availed themselves of the opportunity of visiting Doha for the event, the two visits from Qatar’s neighbors are of particular diplomatic significance given that, as recently as two years ago, their respective countries and Gulf allies had cut off ties with Qatar entirely.

The fellow Arab states are supporting and praising Qatar’s hosting duties at the World Cup following years of outrage against FIFA, the international soccer agency, for granting such an honor to a repressive sharia state. Human rights activists have accused the Qatari government for years of severely abusing migrant workers, rendering them effectively slaves, and committing human rights atrocities against people the regime identifies as LGBT. A Qatari official admitted that between 400 and 500 people died building facilities for the 2022 World Cup, significantly fewer than the thousands journalists and human rights groups estimate actually died.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia led its neighbors – Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain and, later, the legitimate government of Yemen and the Maldives – in severing diplomatic relations with Qatar. Qatar has long harbored Sunni Muslim terrorist entities, hosting an official office for the Afghan Taliban throughout the 20-year war in that country and informally supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Riyadh’s top concern with Doha, however, is the country’s friendly relations with Saudi Arabia’s primary geopolitical enemy, the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Arab states followed up cutting ties to Qatar with an economic blockade, one particularly supported by UAE, which accused Qatar of backing regime change in the country through ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. At its peak, tensions between Saudi Arabia, in particular, and Qatar reached a point in which the Saudi government considered building a canal between the two countries to effectively saw Qatar off of the Arabian Peninsula. The blockade was lifted in January 2021 but left Doha’s relations with its neighbors, aside from Iran, in severe disrepair.

File/UAE’s President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan delivers a speech on the second day of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of the same name, on November 7, 2022. (JOSEPH EID/AFP via Getty)

The state-run Emirates News Agency (WAM) did not report any signs of tension in the meeting between MBZ and Sheikh Tamim.

“UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani discussed on Monday the brotherly relations and ways of enhancing their cooperation to advance the common interests of the two countries,” WAM reported.

MBZ reportedly referred to the World Cup as “a source of pride to all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and to the Arab world in general.”

“He added that Qatar’s success in hosting this international sporting event is a testament to the ability of the people of the GCC countries and the Arab world in organizing global events with great levels of excellence and efficiency,” the president reportedly added.

WAM did not offer many details on what the two leaders discussed, reporting only that they sought to expand “the prospects for growing their cooperation to boost prosperity in both countries and serve their common interests across economic, investment and trade areas.”

The National, an Emirati newspaper, reported that the short visit involved significant amounts of quality time between the two leaders.

“He [MBZ] was welcomed to Hamad International Airport by Sheikh Tamim. The two leaders were photographed on a brief drive in Sheikh Tamim’s Bentley,” the newspaper noted.

Both leaders shared photos of their time together, including the Bentley ride, and expressed satisfaction with the visit.

Sheikh Tamim wrote on Twitter that, in addition to discussing business opportunities, the two held talks on “ways to support security and stability in the region,” suggesting that MBZ raised his country’s concerns regarding Qatar’s ties to Iran and jihadist groups.

“I welcome my brother, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, to Doha, whose visit allowed us to discuss ways to strengthen brotherly relations between our two countries,” the Qatari Emir wrote on Twitter, “and to exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern, foremost of which are ways to support security and stability in the region.”

The visit was the second time the two leaders had exchanged words in person since the blockade. Their first meeting occurred in February at a lunch hosted by Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, who maintains friendly ties with both countries.

MBZ’s visit to Qatar appeared more business-oriented and less personal than the Saudi crown prince’s, which included time at a soccer stadium for the World Cup opening ceremonies.

MBS extended support for Qatar’s hosting privileges at the tournament but the Saudi government did not indicate that the visit involved any in-depth political or economic discussions, merely an endorsement of Qatar as a worthy international sporting event host.

In return for MBS’s support, Sheikh Tamim conspicuously attended Saudi Arabia’s first match against Argentina in late November, waving a Saudi flag and cheering on his neighbor’s team. Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in a stunning upset of one of the favorites to win the entire tournament, but did not make it out of the knockout stages of the championship.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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