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"The Gulf countries want to participate in the global conversation," said Prince Faisal Ben Farhan al-Saud, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs. AHMED YOSRI/REUTERS
ANALYSIS – In the Gulf as in Asia and Africa, the countries of the South want to increase their influence.
Source: These middle powers that refuse to align themselves with the United States or China

For several years, the American withdrawal and the retraction of the Western world have been pushing the diplomats of the South who want to have more influence in international affairs. In the United Arab Emirates, as elsewhere in the Gulf, in the Middle East, in Asia or in Africa, this tendency to change its alliances to rebalance them has been exacerbated since the Russian invasion of February 24. "With the Russian-Ukrainian war but also in the China-United States conflict, we have chosen balance", summed up in one sentence Anwar Gargash, the “Kissinger of the Middle East”, diplomatic adviser Emirati President Mohammed Ben Zayed (MBZ), at the World Policy Conference (WPC) organized by Ifri in Abu Dhabi. That is to say, concretely, a distancing from the Chinese and Russian policies of the White House.

The relationship between Washington and Abu Dhabi has crumbled since Barack Obama, the one who decided on America's Asian pivot, but also the one who abandoned the Egyptian ally Mubarak, gave up enforcing his red line on chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, committed his country in 2015 to the Iranian nuclear agreement, the JCPOA, unfit to prevent Iranian bomb. The United Arab Emirates are not the only ones in the region to want to emancipate themselves from the powerful American ally, encouraged by the drop in tensions in the Gulf, the Abraham agreements with Israel and the truce in Yemen. Ties have also weakened between America and Saudi Arabia since the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The United States has both a lighter and more confused approach in the region. The signals they send are ambiguous. We don't know what they want. This confusion pushes the region to act and take sovereign decisions to protect its interests., explains Abdulaziz Othman Sager, president of the Saudi think-tank Gulf Research Center, at the Abu Dhabi conference.

Less America, but more China. "In just under five years, the United Arab Emirates has accelerated its rapprochement with Xi Jinping's China and has become the first Gulf state to find itself at the heart of the rivalry between Beijing and Washington", notes the specialist Jean-Loup Samaan in a note for Ifri. In July 2018, the Chinese President's visit to Abu Dhabi was an opportunity to establish a "global strategic partnership" between the two countries and give substance to the Asian turn of the Emirates. Of course, the United Arab Emirates, which has placed itself in the American fold since its creation in 1971, is still bound by defense agreements with the United States. But Abu Dhabi wants to avoid the bipolarization imposed by the Sino-American rivalry in the Persian Gulf. “China will not replace the United States, but the Emirates do not want to be caught up in the conflict between Washington and Beijing. For an average country like us, it is impossible to choose categorically between these two giants. We don't want to be the grass under the elephant.", says a senior Emirati official.

End of bloc alliances and global globalization?

Could this be the end of bloc alliances and global globalization, rejected by the partisans of a new non-alignment? As Prince Faysal Bin Farhan al-Saud, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, summed up at the World Policy Conference, “countries in the region want to play a bigger role and participate in the global conversation”, choosing their alliances according to their interests. Quit contradicting them. They are not the only ones.

India does the same when it allies itself with the United States while refusing to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine. Similarly Turkey, which plays both in the NATO camp and in that of Vladimir Putin. “There is no more global alignment”, summarizes Mayankote Kelath Narayanan, former adviser to the Indian Prime Minister. His country, like Indonesia and Southeast Asia, defends an approach "multi-alignment" in foreign policy and refuses to choose between the United States and China. How he hesitates to choose between Ukraine and Russia. “I know the conflict in Ukraine occupies strategic thinking in Europe, but the potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific is more important”, Judge Mayankote Kelath Narayanan. This is also the case in the Middle East, in the states that are trying to take their destiny into their own hands between the various foreign influences. “These countries are not anti-Russian. Many of them look at China with admiration. They don't want to align themselves with Westerners.", summarizes the Egyptian senator Mona Makram-Ebeid.

Complacency vis-à-vis Vladimir Putin's Russia is even clearer in African countries, which are struggling, like Moscow, to change the international order and end Western domination. The Russian invasion of Ukraine even indirectly boosted anti-European and anti-American feelings in some countries. On the platform of the WPC, African officials complain that they can no longer buy weapons from Westerners since the start of the war in Ukraine, which cannibalizes stocks. “If 10% of aid to Ukraine had been devoted to helping the Sahel, we could have resolved the issue of instability”, judges one of them. Seen from Africa, the terrorism infusing the Sahel and the west of the continent is more worrying than the war between Ukraine and Russia. It also feeds resentment against the West and particularly against France, the main driver of the military intervention against Gaddafi's Libya in 2011. “Africans are primarily concerned about their economic situation and the rise of terrorism. Contrary to what Europeans think, the expansion of terrorism is not due to the incompetence of local governments, but to the destabilization of Libya in 2011”, he continues. In these new forums, Europe seems to be the soft underbelly of history. And the West, a great power in retreat.

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