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  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Differently from neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Qatar, the northern emirates of the UAE (Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah) and the Sultanate of Oman form a critical sub-region which has entered globalized modernization at a later stage. In the eyes of the ruling elites, current urban development projects, logistical infrastructures, port expansion and tourism should consolidate economic growth, reduce social inequalities (in the northern emirates of the UAE), and design sustainable post-oil paths (in Oman). Trying to balance continuity and change, the northern emirates of the UAE and Oman are renewing their maritime traditions in the context of state transformations that combine national heritage (as trade culture) and connectivity (infrastructures, urban areas, industrial poles) thanks to national “Visions” and the “project-ization of identities”. In fact, new projects do not only aim at attracting investments and create job opportunities, but also at promoting top-down recalibrated values of the new citizenship which in the eyes of the governments, should be business-oriented and community-serving. Tracing the evolution of the northern Emirati and Omani sub-region, which risks to be affected now by the consequences of the US-Iran escalation, this analysis aims to assess economic transformation trends, emerging security issues and geopolitical implications.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Regional Integration, Heritage
  • Political Geography: Iran, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, United States of America
  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: The Western Indian Ocean (the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian/Persian Gulf) is the new Gulf powers’ battlefield. Saudi Arabia and Iran, as already in the Middle East, are vying for hegemony in this sub-region: the Gulf monarchies also compete for influence, especially after the 2017 Qatari crisis and Doha’s boycott by neighbours. Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman but also Turkey, struggle to acquire geopolitical leverage in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). Nowadays, the multipolar system which shapes International Relations maximizes the geostrategic relevance of WIO, at the crossroads between Eastern Africa, the Gulf, and Southern Asia. In these waterways, regional and international players share security and energy interests (as freedom of navigation), but they also compete, more and more, for local alliances, commercial ports, and/or military agreements and bases. In the WIO, China and India are designing rival nodes of influence: the Chinese “One Belt, One Road” initiative (OBOR), which adapted the previous “string of pearls” strategy, pushed New Delhi to counterbalance Beijing’s plans with a policy of connectivity in the sub-region. For the Gulf powers, maritime politics enters a new protagonist season: WIO is its basin. The Gulf “pivoted to East” since the 2010s, in terms of energy export, trade and market routes, investments, and infrastructures. Gulf monarchies’ strategies of economic diversification, as the Saudi “Vision 2030”, have further enhanced this trend: would-be post-oil economies need Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and partners for infrastructural projects. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pursue a new interventionist and military-driven foreign policy: this pro-active posture has to be supported by maritime power and sea expertise, as demonstrated by the military operation in Yemen. On the other shore of the Gulf, Iran seeks economic modernization and recovery after years of international sanctions: Iranian port throughput increased after 2015. Asian markets can boost trade and investments in Teheran, helping the Islamic Republic to develop a new set of alliances since Iran also aims to upgrade its naval power. Gulf powers’ maritime competition in the WIO crafts fresh alignments with Asian and Eastern African players, adding to the traditional map of rivalries in the Indian Ocean (India vs Pakistan; China vs India). This intra-Gulf competition can be traced along three vectors of geostrategic influence: commercial ports, military agreements and bases, and choke-points.
  • Topic: Power Politics, Geopolitics, Economy, Maritime
  • Political Geography: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indian Ocean, Gulf Nations