From Identities to Politics: UAE Foreign Aid
Since the emergence of the Gulf states, foreign aid has been the most important tool in their foreign policies, particularly for the four main aid donors; UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. In the 1970s, these states played a significant role in supporting Arab states and have been pivotal in the establishment of several aid funds. Identities and ideas have been shaping the Gulf aid orientation, directed mainly to Arab countries. The UAE, the case of this study, is the third largest aid donor and has significantly been an active donor since the 1970s. Aid from UAE is dictated by several factors, mainly identities and interests. However, since 2001, humanitarian aid has increased significantly from UAE, yet the so-called Arab Spring has shown that diplomatic and political interests appear to influence UAE’s aid during political instabilities across the Middle East.
Therefore, this paper examines the UAE foreign aid since 2001 and asks several questions: Do identities still play a role in UAE’s foreign aid since the announcement of the UN Millennium Development Goals? How did the UAE use aid as a political tool of influence? And will UAE joining DAC-OECD change its aid objective? The paper argues that despite the increase in UAE aid, its foreign aid program moved from being dictated by identities and ideas to political and regional dynamics. While Arab solidarity was an important factor in influencing UAE aid, recent regional changes proved that UAE is using aid to increase its influence in the Middle East. This has led to the decrease of aid to non-Arab recipients. Since 1970s until late 1990s, both Arabism and Islamism influenced aid orientation, yet a non-religious approach led to the decrease of aid to some countries but increased UAE humanitarian aid. Recently, UAE provided $10 billion of financial support to Egypt to counter the rise of Muslim Brotherhood, as well as aid to all states that play a role in fighting the rise of political Islam movements in the region. In addition, it has contributed up to $3 billion to Bahrain to support the region. This seems to go against the UN MDG and contradicts its main aid objectives.