UAE president makes surprise visit to Qatar in bid to strengthen bilateral relations

Abu Dhabi has not appointed an envoy to Doha, but travel and trade ties were restored between the two states.

The president of the United Arab Emirates arrived in Qatar on Monday in a surprise visit, marking the first such trip since Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies lifted their blockade on Doha almost two years ago.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani welcomed Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, or MbZ, the UAE’s de facto ruler for years before he was elected president in May, upon his arrival, according to the amir’s office.

The visit is also the first for bin Zayed since he became president.

The state-run Qatar News Agency said Sheikh Tamim met “his brother” Sheikh Mohammed on arrival at the country’s massive Hamad International Airport.

“Today I arrived in Doha to discuss areas of mutual interests and strengthening bilateral ties between our nations. I congratulate my brother Tamim bin Hamad and the people of Qatar on hosting the FIFA World Cup and wish them continued success,” the UAE leader wrote on his Twitter.

Addressing the move to create a closer relationship between the two sides, MbZ added: “I was pleased to discuss fraternal relations and ways to strengthen and develop them to serve common interests.”

The trip signifies “another step towards strengthening Gulf solidarity and joint action,” Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, wrote on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, lifted a three-years-and-a-half long embargo on Qatar early last year.

However, relations between Doha and Abu Dhabi have not improved as quickly as those with Riyadh and Cairo, who already restored diplomatic connections with Doha.

The president of Egypt and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia both attended the opening FIFA World Cup 2022 ceremony on 20 November in Qatar.

The UAE sent its vice president, who also serves as ruler of Dubai, where many World Cup fans have chosen to stay. This was despite its rapprochement with Doha being slower than that of Riyadh and Cairo.

The UAE was among four countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, that imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar in 2017 over allegations that Doha had supported terrorism and was ‘too close’ to Iran.

The embargo had a massive impact across the board, with diplomatic ties broken, imports coming to a halt and nationals of all involved countries bearing the brunt of the political crisis.

However, the crisis came to an end in January 2021, when the Al Ula Declaration was signed to restore diplomatic and trade ties between Qatar and the blockading quartet.

Since, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have made moves to engage with Iran in a bid to contain tensions in the region.

A communication portal between Iran and Saudi Arabia saw four rounds of discussions last year and a fifth in April take place in a bid to restore diplomatic ties and diffuse tensions, especially regarding their respective stances on Yemen.

The cautious establishment of those relations came as the United States gradually forgoes the close-knit relation it enjoyed with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi during the former Trump administration.

Numerous talks held between Iran and United Arab Emirates officials in both countries also signal a thawing of relations between the sides. The UAE began engaging with Tehran back in 2019 following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters, as well as Saudi energy infrastructure.

Separately, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, national security adviser for the UAE, made two trips to Doha as part of an effort by Abu Dhabi to settle regional disputes.

Qatar and Bahrain have not yet had bilateral discussions. Like Manama, Abu Dhabi has not named an envoy to Doha yet, but has reinstated trade and travel ties between the UAE and Qatar.

Due to agreements between Doha and neighbouring cities, including tourist hotspot Dubai, for daily shuttle flights, multiple entry ways for UAE’s economic benefits has opened up, whether through daily flights or accommodation during the World Cup 2022.

Due to the tournament, fans are expected to flood the UAE, particularly Dubai, causing an unparalleled boom in tourism, especially since the country is less than two hours away by a plane ride.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring emirate has also designated fan zones at parks, beaches, and the financial district in preparation for the rush. Hotels are also promoting special deals.

As for accommodation during the tournament, property owners in Dubai are reportedly shifting to short-term rentals rather than the usual annual leases in preparation for fans flocking to the region for the World Cup.

A number of properties have been placed under short-stay listings in Dubai, according to Gulf News.

Beyond Dubai, Sharjah amended its policies on short-stay rentals to cater to fans wanting to stay in the UAE until the end of the year, after the World Cup ends.

Separately, English football fans in Dubai are booking up private jets for the World Cup, in hopes of taking it home, The National reported.

There are bookings for a 64-seat business-class passenger VIP jet at the cost of AED 6,500 on 18 December, the day of the World Cup final.

Superyachts are also offered in Dubai that cost $20,000 per night to watch the much-anticipated World Cup matches on enormous screens while sailing through the Persian Gulf.

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