The Hidden Rivalry of Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The Hidden Rivalry of Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The two countries look like allies—but are increasingly regional competitors.

The Israel-Hamas war unfolded amid an apparent regional trend of peaceful coexistence. The Middle East’s transformation along these lines has been represented by the seemingly ever-closer alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as symbolized by the apparent friendship between their respective de facto leaders, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohamed bin Zayed. The two countries united to counter Qatar’s expanding soft power in the Arab world, as exemplified by the unsuccessful blockade they imposed on it in 2017. They have been on the same side in their military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen since 2014. And they have mutually approached Beijing and Moscow, adopting a more independent policy that diverges from their traditional alliance with the United States.

But what lurks beneath the surface of this apparent fraternal alliance is a quiet struggle, as both countries vie for leadership within the Arab world. Behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are waging an active geoeconomic competition in multiple dimensions.

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