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Islamic State draws U.A.E. into fight against extremists
By Bloomberg -

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, told the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2014 that the Islamic State’s menace was expanding beyond the Middle East. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, told the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2014 that the Islamic State’s menace was expanding beyond the Middle East.

For the desert cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, luxury, prosperity and security in a region torn by conflict are things worth protecting.
In a country known more for building glitzy shopping malls and trophy skyscrapers than battling terrorists, the United Arab Emirates is involved in the fight against Islamic militants like never before. It took part last week in U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic State, underlining the scale of the perceived threat from the extremists after they took cities in Iraq and this month gained ground in Syria.
“This is more than a red line for them and that is why they are pro-actively taking part in those strikes,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East. Islamic State has “the ability to expand whereas al-Qaeda did not,” he said.
The U.A.E. and fellow Gulf Arabs regard Islamist groups as an existential challenge to their thriving economies and monarchies relatively untouched by the uprisings over the past four years. The Emirates has one of the world’s most modern air forces and increased military engagement in recent months, with U.S. officials saying the country teamed with Egypt in cracking down on Islamists in Libya in August.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27 that the Islamic State’s menace was expanding beyond the Middle East.
Unified strategy
“The U.A.E., therefore, calls upon the international community and member states to cooperate in combating these terrorist groups and to take comprehensive measures to fight them through a clear, unified strategy,” he said.
Last year, the Emirates put on trial 94 members of a local franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. It has also bankrolled the Egyptian economy with billions of dollars following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi after an army-backed uprising.
The U.A.E. said claims of its intervention in Libya last month were an attempt to divert attention from political reversals suffered by Libya’s Islamists. The country then joined airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria in the biggest U.S.-Arab military venture since the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
More assertive
“The U.A.E. is acting more assertively,” Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati academic and author of “The Gulf Regional System,” said in an interview. “It’s becoming more visible maybe lately. It has made clear that it knows who the friends and the enemies are, and it’s attending to all of that more forcibly these days than ever.”
The first harbingers of a change in foreign policy appeared when a new leadership took over after the death of the country’s founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in 2004 after 33 years. While backing the Arab oil embargo in protest against U.S. support of Israel during the 1973 Arab Israeli War, Sheikh Zayed mostly shunned confrontation.
Current foreign policy is ascribed to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, following the emergence of the Islamist threat in the wake of the toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Military power
The U.A.E.’s air force operates some of the most advanced military hardware, including dozens of American and French fighter jets and the latest upgrades of the Patriot anti-missile defense system. The government plans to improve its fleet of Dassault Mirage 2000-9 with a more advanced aircraft.
“It’s been a surprise because no one knew that they view the Islamists as a danger,” said Andrew Hammond, Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “That’s been one of the shocks of the Arab uprisings.”
The U.A.E.’s $390 billion economy is the second largest in the Gulf Cooperation Council, after Saudi Arabia. The six council members supply about 20 percent of the world’s oil.
Dubai is the financial hub. Bankers, company executives and tourists rub shoulders in the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The city attracted 11 million hotel guests last year, an increase of 11 percent on 2012. Abu Dhabi, the capital and home to about 6 percent of global proven oil reserves, is building branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and has a Formula One motor racing circuit.
Defensive move
The U.A.E. is concerned that Islamists would eventually shift their attention to overthrowing Gulf monarchies after the Muslim Brotherhood won power initially in Egypt, according to Abdulla, the political science professor.
“The U.A.E.’s foreign policy behavior with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood is more defensive rather than offensive,” he said. The government went after the group because it had evidence presented to courts that it had been plotting to overthrow the government, he added.
Qatar was the only member of the six-nation GCC to support the Brotherhood in Egypt during Mursi’s one-year rule. In March, the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, recalled their ambassadors to Qatar for failing to halt support for those “who threaten the security and stability” of the group.
U.A.E. policy makers view both Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the Muslim Brotherhood as two sides of the same coin, Nuseibeh at Cornerstone said.
“They belong to the same ideological camp and are seen as an expansion to each other in different fields,” he said. “One of them on the political front, one on the military front.”
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the U.A.E.’s vice president and ruler of Dubai, said that “lasting peace” requires eliminating the root causes that led to the emergence of militant groups, such as radical ideology and unemployment.
“Only one thing can stop a suicidal youth who is ready to die for ISIS,” he wrote in an article published in local newspapers on Sept. 28. “A stronger ideology that guides him onto the right path and convinces him that God created us to improve our world, not to destroy it.”