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Current Affairs ( 13 Jan 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Phone Conversation that Could Strain Malaysia’s Ties with UAE

By Sharifah Munirah Alatas, New Age Islam

January 13, 2020

World order is conditioned by relations between countries. The breakdown in bilateral relations often determines how world events either progress, or regress.

An important component of why two countries are willing to maintain or end their relations is sometimes governed by their commitment to bigger, more influential powers. World peace or crisis is conditioned by geopolitical interests of several countries.

The claim that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) revelation of a phone conversation between Najib Razak and a United Arab Emirates crown prince could strain Malaysia’s ties with UAE is based on geopolitical ignorance.

Wanita Umno chief Noraini Ahmad stated that the release of the audio clips by MACC chief Latheefa Koya was “driven by politics”.

She also declared that MACC is a “neutral body” and “should not meddle in politics as it will create distrust among the people towards the agency”.

Noraini is clearly confused about foreign policy, bilateral relations and geopolitics. She is also unaware that Latheefa’s disclosure has won the support of ordinary Malaysians.

The disclosure has brought our country closer to solving a catastrophic humiliation of global proportions.

Our previous administration embarrassed Malaysians. The 1MDB and SRC crimes caused enormous credibility issues that will have lasting repercussions on our current leadership. These repercussions are the planted seeds of fear and doubt in every Malaysian mind today.

These seeds have cautioned us against blind trust for leaders. The public is convinced that evil and selfishness are possible in politics, and that leaders are capable of “selling their own country” for personal gain.

Noraini’s “meddle in politics” comment should apply to her, not Latheefa. She has a muddled understanding of domestic politics and foreign policy.

Maybe Noraini’s comments were deliberately made for political mileage. Instead of asking the MACC chief to “carefully study and fully understand” something, it is time our political leaders seriously school themselves.

In Noraini’s case, she is obligated, as a key leader of the opposition.

First, we must be knowledgeable in the fundamentals of bilateral relations. They are part of a country’s foreign policy.

A nation’s bilateral choices are conditioned, in part, by how domestic politics affect systemic conditions. Before Noraini resorts to educating Malaysians on UAE-Malaysia relations, she should first understand the fundamental concepts of systemic and structural conditions.

Second, she should understand geopolitical dynamics. These are conditioned by trade, access to natural resources and the transportation of these resources over vast barriers of inhospitable land and ocean expanse. Seems so basic, yet few of our politicians are able to grasp such fundamentals.

Her reasoning is that Latheefa’s expose of the audio clips will damage Malaysia-UAE bilateral relations. Here is a lesson for Noraini, on global systemic and structural architecture.

A third wave of geopolitics has been making its way into the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.

The first wave began with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, after World War I. The second wave followed World War II, when the European colonial order disintegrated.

The current third wave will reach its apex, should the American order collapse. Therefore, the US leadership under Donald Trump will do anything to prevent an uncertain fourth wave.

The conversations in the audio clips mentioned UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Many Malaysian opposition leaders and armchair political strategists claim that conversations between two heads of government are a secret matter.

Please note it is not a secret matter since one ex-leader is domestically charged with corruption and abuse of power.

Secondly, it ceases to be a confidential matter when a foreign country is a participant in what has already been decided as a global crime.

Thirdly, part of the audio clips disclosed the personal nature of Najib Razak’s request, which is not part of official Malaysian foreign policy.

In the 1MDB and SRC scandals (of which Najib has openly been charged), UAE’s involvement broke Malaysian law. It also contributed to political turmoil, financial duress and public outrage.

We are not concerned with whether the crown prince broke his own country’s law, or whether UAE citizens are outraged.

Exposing this has proven that Malaysia (and MACC) are transparent, which lessens the possibility of a national security threat.

What was not transparent was UAE’s partnership in the crime. Is Noraini implying that the crime involving these two heads of state can impact the systemic and geopolitical stability?

Does she think that Sheikh Khalifa will consider breaking off bilateral ties with Malaysia because of his dealings with a former head of state?

It is already public knowledge that UAE and Malaysia do not see eye to eye on several issues of politics in West Asia. But they have continued to maintain diplomatic ties.

Last year’s KL Summit is a clear example. Both Saudi Arabia and UAE snubbed Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s invitation. Pakistan was also absent. Yet, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE still maintain diplomatic ties with Malaysia.

The systemic argument for these events revolves around the global race for power and influence in West Asia. It involves the Americans as ring leader and not whether Latheefa upset Sheikh Khalifa or not.

Saudi Arabia sits on enormous oil wealth. It is also riding on the psychological hold it has over millions of Muslims around the world.

Mecca and Medina are on Saudi soil, and they control haj quotas as a result. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran challenged a system of leadership in West Asia, which was based on hereditary monarchy. The 1979 Revolution overthrew the last monarch of Iran, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi.

The reason for pre-1979 anti-Shah sentiments among Iranians was their rejection of Western imperialism. It was also a reaction to the Shah’s oppressive, corrupt and extravagant regime. Coupled with extreme economic inequities, commodity shortages and inflation in Iranian society, the public saw their Shah as a puppet of a “non-Muslim Western manipulative power”, ie., the US.

The 1979 revolution therefore challenged a system of monarchy which exists throughout the Gulf States, including in Saudi Arabia and UAE. They perceived the Iranian revolution as a challenge to their positions as monarchs.

Anti-Shia and anti-Iranian sentiments in Israel and the West were exacerbated only after the US invaded Iraq, in 2003.

It is clear that current US hegemony, and a desire to control crude oil shipments and its dollar value have set up a global system of inter-state relations in West Asia. It is unlikely that Malaysia has a direct involvement in this systemic geopolitics of oil and petrodollars. However, Noraini’s comments implied this.

It is inaccurate to accuse Latheefa of bringing a possible rift in relations between UAE and Malaysia. Given the systemic and geopolitical groundwork already in place, it is more likely that any rift in bilateral relations would be instigated by Trump and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Malaysia’s role in the geopolitics of West Asia is miniscule in terms of the likelihood of her proxy role big power geopolitics.

There are different levels of foul-ups that could lead to a breakdown in bilateral relations between two sovereign nations.

Najib is a fallen leader who faces criminal charges. His collusion with the UAE leadership in the past, was clandestine and not part of official Malaysian foreign policy.

There is no threat to Malaysia’s current foreign policy with UAE. We have a new government and a new leader. Should the UAE leadership react irrationally and cease all relations, it is not the doing of Latheefa.

The two are not connected.

Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an academic specialising in geopolitics with a special interest in socio-political issues of developing nations.


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