In the 1980s and the 1990s, the United Arab Emirates, led by its founding president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, followed a centrist policy to international affairs that placed mediation in regional disputes at its heart. Under Sheikh Zayed, who ruled from 1971 until his death in 2004, the UAE followed a foreign policy predicated heavily on close relationships with Gulf and other states in the Arab and Islamic world.(1) Sheikh Zayed emphasised in the early years of the UAE the construction of close friendly relations with the other member states of the Arab League and, after its establishment in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council. Thus, in June 1972, Sheikh Zayed stated, in an interview with Al-Amal newspaper, that “the Union is eager to have the same attitude, to be headed in the same direction, and to use the same road as Saudi Arabia.”(2)
Another prominent feature of UAE foreign policy during the formative years of the federation was the commitment to ‘Arabness’ and, in particular, Palestine. Support for Palestine took both political and financial forms. The UAE participated in the Arab oil embargo between October 1973 and March 1974 (although Dubai only joined the embargo three days after Abu Dhabi), cut exports to the United States and the Netherlands in retaliation for their support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War, and provided the ‘front-line states’ in the Arab-Israeli conflict with wide-ranging support. UAE-based donors also made very considerable charitable donations and pledges of aid and development to Palestine, with Abdul-Monem al-Mashat estimating that more than US$20 billion was provided in the 1970s and 1980s. Once again, UAE actions were consistent with broader regional trends as other Gulf States during the same period also channelled foreign aid donations to ‘front-line states’.