Mosque and State

The United Arab Emirates' Secular Foreign Policy

Iranian workers rest on a commercial ship at Dubai Creek, UAE January 17, 2016.  Ashraf Mohammad / Reuters

The Arab Gulf is characterized by regimes that blend church and state in their foreign policy. Saudi Arabia hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, and its ruling family’s power stems from a bargain its forefathers made with a fundamentalist Sunni religious sect. Iran is the world’s largest Shia state and has backed Shia groups throughout the region since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Both states have been irresponsible in their tactical and strategic use of Islam in order to further their own foreign policies and to boost domestic political support.

But in between these regional behemoths lies the United Arab Emirates, a small state that is rich in oil and gas. Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1971, the UAE has emerged as an influential actor in the Middle East, one less interested in sectarian geopolitics. Instead, the UAE often supports nationalist groups and strives to enforce a

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