Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ras al-Khaimah Succession

For some reason I thought David Roberts's Gulf Blog was defunct, but Issandr El Amrani highlights an article there about jockeying for position in a battle to become the next Emir of Ras al-Khaimah:
"The quickly declining health of Ras Al Khaimah’s ruler is precipitating a round of intrigue and succession stories in the northernmost Emirate of the UAE. Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi, 92, one of the longest ruling leaders in the world having ascended to the throne in 1948, has been in hospital for at least the past month.

"His son and Crown Prince, Sheikh Saud, has been in charge of the Emirate for some time but his official assumption of the throne faces a serious challenge from the former Crown Prince Sheikh Khalid who was deposed in 2003. The reasons for his removal from power are not wholly clear. It is believed that Khalid was forced into exile by his half-brother Saud for his staunch anti-Iranian rhetoric in addition to leading anti-Iraq war protests during which an American flag was apparently burned. It is even alleged that his ‘pro-woman’ attitude in the conservative emirate contributed to his downfall. Either which way, when he was deposed the UAE central government needed to send tanks to RAK to restore order after protests erupted. Saud has lived in exile since in Oman and London...

"What is different in this case is the 21st century manner in which Khalid has gone about resuming his place in line to the throne. Much like the Emirates’ economy is described as a ‘rentier’ in nature with their income (or rent) largely derived from oil and gas with an exceedingly heavy reliance of foreign workers, this appears to be a rentier coup. Specifically, Khalid hired Californian Strategies, an American public relations firm to devise a plan to return him to power. Some members of the PR staff even reportedly get a $250,000 bonus if they succeed.

"Cognisant of exactly what will grab the attention of America and the world at large, the PR agency — paid some $3.7 million to date according to The Guardian — began to formulate an image of Khalid as a Western-orientated, modern, pragmatic, facebook and twitter-friendly leader...

"The success of this quasi-coup depends on Abu Dhabi. The most powerful of the Emirates, their ruler and Emirati President, Khalifah bin Zayad Al Nayhan, will have a significant say in the decision. He has a vested interest in assuring stability in RAK; any security concerns could quickly end up 80km down the road in Dubai or 120km further on in Abu Dhabi. Installing the (now) clearly pro-American Khalid in power would not only please the Americans but fit in more with Abu Dhabi’s harsher anti-Iranian stance as compared to, for example, Dubai. Nevertheless, interfering in succession issues is always a dangerous business, even more so if there is the suggestion that it was done under foreign (American) pressure."

A bit more could perhaps be said here. Khalid was Crown Prince for a long time, and developed a great deal of influence in the emirate. It wouldn't surprise me if his ouster was partly because Emir Saqr feared being deposed himself. As Roberts notes, a how of military force was needed to suppress the protests over his ouster. It also wouldn't surprise me if his anti-Iranian stance was linked to the Tunb Islands dispute, in which case he'd have a lot of sympathy, not only in Ras al-Khaimah, but the rest of the UAE.

Khalifah b. Zayed Al Nahyan will not casually interfere in another emirate's succession dispute. Any rewards simply wouldn't be worth it when Abu Dhabi can dominate UAE as things stand. However, given the above, it's possible we could see a pro-Khalid movement within Ras al-Khaimah itself. I also wonder what the rest of the royal family thinks. The point about stability is key, and if there's an open dispute, a diplomatic campaign of the sort Khalid is waging could help him.



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