Updated: Jul 9, 2020
When one thinks of these two Arab Gulf states, wealth comes into mind. With an abundance of oil, these two nations have been granted a gift that has propelled their economies sky high. Their enormous wealth has given them the freedom to splurge huge amounts on defence and extravagant buildings. However, this fairy tale will be short-lived. Both nations are heading towards certain collapse.
The United Arab Emirates is world-famous for the city of Dubai which has become synonymous with the ultra-rich. Though unknown not too long ago, Dubai is a household name in 2020. This is a testament to the UAE's rapid economic growth which has sparked massive projects such as the Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah.
Saudi Arabia has been looking to emulate the Emirati model by opening up to tourism and improving its international image by loosening some of its tough laws. It should be noted that both nations are currently engaged in a propaganda effort to improve their image. Meanwhile, they both pump out news which aims to delegitimize their regional rivals, Turkey and Iran.
Despite their efforts, there is nothing that can save them. The problems for both countries are so deep that collapse is inevitable. This is contrary to the image that both nation's display to the world; one of stability, wealth, and a prosperous future.
The first major issue is the elephant in the room. The future of oil. Whether they run out of it or if most of the world moves onto alternative fuels/technologies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will face an existential crisis when the day comes. The consequences of this upcoming nightmare will turn both nations into nothing but hollow shells. They will lose their main source of wealth. Investors will run away and never look back. UAE has attempted to draw in the wealth of investors, making Dubai seem like the place to be for the ultra-rich. However, once the oil ends the United Arab Emirates will wake up to a mass exodus.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the shortage of water. Saudi Arabia has used up most of its aquifers. As of 2020 around half of its water needs are provided by desalination. The problem with desalination is that it consumes a lot of energy, made worse by the fact that desalinating with fossil fuels always leads to a financial loss. This has made Saudi Arabia and the UAE anxiously search for alternatives. Recently they've made a push towards solar-powered desalination. However, this can only solve half the problem. Realistically, neither country can simultaneously provide water via desalination to both households and the agricultural sector. For decades Saudi Arabia has relied on its aquifers for irrigating agriculture. With the underground water running out the only option left is to purchase land overseas for agriculture, and that's precisely what's happening.
Running out of oil, water, and investors, the future is not bright for the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. However, it gets even worse. Much worse. They happen to have chosen the wrong enemies. Turkey and Iran hold all the answers to Saudi and Emirati problems. Yet it appears as if the KSA and UAE want to tackle the two regional giants head-on. This is a massive mistake. A mistake that will further drive them into the abyss. Both Iran and Turkey could have been cheap suppliers of food. Better still, the Saudis and Emiratis could have purchased cheap yet fertile agricultural land in northern Syria and Iraq. Not only that, but they could've signed an agreement with Turkey and Iraq for water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in order to sustain agriculture close to Saudi borders. To be fair the Saudi's have invested in Iraqi agriculture. However, dams built upstream on the Tigris and Euphrates mean that they are at the mercy of Turkey.
The truth is that there are countless issues that are currently hurting the UAE and the KSA. Expats are leaving, their money is shrinking, property prices are falling, etc. However, these are all linked to their three fundamental problems. The future of oil, food/water supply and picking the wrong enemies. Only one of the three can be fully resolved. The rest is just a product of geography. Allying with Turkey could've made the future of Saudi Arabia and UAE much easier. It was the logical choice. Instead, they are playing a game of chess with nothing but irrational and emotional moves. They lost in Yemen and are now also losing in Libya. If the KSA and UAE fail to realise that good relations with Turkey is their only choice then their end will only be accelerated. The wealth gained from fossil fuels has clouded the judgement of KSA and UAE leadership. If they do not wake up and resolve their spat with Iran and especially Turkey then their future is bleak. In less than 15 years we could see Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, once beacons of wealth, buried deep in the Arabian desert.