PM Modi’s visit to the UAE indicates his belief that a stronger alliance could be established between the two countries.
Clearly, this is a relationship that has moved well beyond the confines of diplomatic protocols. The warmth and personal chemistry between the Prime Minister and Sheikh Mohammed are genuine and palpable. It is almost three years since their last meeting in Abu Dhabi when the Prime Minister was bestowed the Order of Zayed, the UAE’s highest civilian award. He had also promised to visit the Dubai Expo in January but a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to the Omicron variant had come in the way. This stopover on the way back from the G7 summit in Germany will be an opportunity to renew that relationship through a one-on-one meeting with Sheikh Mohammed and an engagement with key members of the royal family that include the national security adviser and the foreign minister.
The warmth and personal chemistry between the Prime Minister and Sheikh Mohammed are genuine and palpable.
The Vision Statement is also giving rise to new areas of partnership and one that has started to move quite rapidly is the proposal for IIT Delhi to establish its first overseas presence through a world-class campus in the UAE. Dr Sultan al Jaber, the UAE’s Climate Envoy and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology also came to India on 26 May to sign an MoU on climate action in the run-up to COP28 that will be hosted by Abu Dhabi. Collaboration on technologies that will bring economies of scale to the production of green hydrogen is a key part of the ongoing conversations. On the regional front, the rapid normalisation of ties between the UAE and Israel following the Abraham Accords of August 2020 has also opened new avenues of trilateral and multilateral cooperation. Some Israeli tech companies are already establishing a base in Dubai and seeking to marry niche technologies with Emirati capital and Indian scale. The United States (US) has announced that President Biden’s forthcoming visit to West Asia will see a virtual summit of the new grouping of India, Israel, US, and UAE: The I2U2 initiative. The foreign ministers of the four countries had held their first virtual meeting in October 2021 during Dr Jaishankar’s visit to Tel Aviv, articulating a focus on joint trade, technology, transport, and infrastructure projects. A group like this would have been inconceivable a few years ago but the Abraham Accords and India’s close ties with both the UAE and Israel are giving birth to new possibilities. These positive developments come in the wake of the turbulence caused by critical comments about Prophet Mohammed by two officials of the BJP. While Qatar and Kuwait were the first to summon the Indian envoys and issue strong statements, the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation held back till 6 June before issuing a statement that condemned the comments of the BJP spokespersons, adding that ‘the Ministry underscored the need to respect religious symbols and not violate them, as well as confront hate speech and violence. The Ministry also noted the importance of strengthening the shared international responsibility to spread the values of tolerance and human coexistence while preventing any practices that would inflame the sentiment of followers of different religions.’ Unlike some of the other offended nations, the UAE did not summon the Indian envoy nor did it demand a public apology.
A high-level business delegation from the UAE led by Minister for Economy, Abdulla bin Touq, was in India on 12 May to identify trade and investment opportunities, brief Indian business leaders about the key features of the agreement, and advise small and medium enterprises on leveraging their provisions.
Over the last few years, the UAE has become India’s closest partner in the Arab world and there is enough resilience in bilateral ties to withstand the shockwaves caused by the repulsive comments by party spokespersons. Their comments also reveal a complete ignorance of the crucial support that countries such as the UAE have given to India in the Islamic world, first by inviting our late External Affairs Minister Mrs Sushma Swaraj as the guest of honour at an OIC foreign ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi and later by standing with us on Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370. All in all, India’s image has been dented in the hearts and minds of many ordinary Emiratis. Thousands of Indians living in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and elsewhere are appalled at the wanton injury caused to their interests, first by the two statements and later by the odious and Islamophobic comments of a section of right-wing trolls on social media. A fringe it might be, but it is a fringe that needs to be reined in. Prime Minister’s visit on 28 June and his personal chemistry with the leadership will fix some of the damage but it will take a significant public diplomacy effort to heal the scars. In other countries in the Gulf, the task will be much more difficult.
The Ministry also noted the importance of strengthening the shared international responsibility to spread the values of tolerance and human coexistence while preventing any practices that would inflame the sentiment of followers of different religions.’
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Navdeep Suri is Distinguished Fellow.Read More +