UAE Border Dispute with Saudi Arabia

UAE Border Dispute with Saudi Arabia



UAE Border Dispute with Saudi Arabia

            The dispute between UAE and Saudi Arabia has long been a source of animosity between the two-countries. It has had a great effect on the governments as they attempt to voice their concern over the oil reserved and territorial waters. This has also endangered the lives of those who are caught in the middle of the dispute. The affected persons in this feud are usually the citizens belong to either of the countries. The main solution that can help solve this solution is if the leaders from Saudi Arabia and UAE have a sit down and agree to solve the conflict amicably by clearly redrawing the map and clarifying the boundaries that demarcate the nations. Several aspects are crucial in learning about the dispute between UAE and Saudi Arabia, which form the basis of the conflict and display the current situation between the two in terms of agreement on the borders.


            In the process of learning about the disparities between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, one must first understand the location and geographic positioning of both the nations. Another factor worth considering is the history of how the conflict started. There have been leaders from both fronts who have played an important role in attempting to resolve the underlying problem. The leader placed in focus in this discussion is Late Sheikh Zayed. He is amongst the leaders who took a firm stand as regards the dispute and attempted to solve it. The relationship that exists between the two nations has also been greatly affected by the conflict. A study on these effects allows one to understand how an issue over borders can influence the peace and coexistence between neighboring lands.    

The Border Dispute between UAE and Saudi Arabia

            There are two factors encompassed in the dispute. Firstly, the territorial waters and land found between Qatar and the UAE. The clashes that have resulted are due to the infringement of Saudi Arabian piece of land in to the territorial waters of the UAE (Cordesman & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009). The second factor that fuels the dispute is that the waters in the coastline belonging to Saudi Arabia extends unusually as compared to other Emirati coastal waters. The held belief is that there exists a narrow space between the Emirate and Qatar maritime borders, with one side extending further into the Iranian boundary.

The beginning of the dispute between UAE and Saudi Arabia

            The dispute has existed for the past thirty years. The issue was quite passive over the years only to emerge when it was least expected. This was following the demise of UAE founder and President Sheikh Zayed. The years that marked the start of the dispute were before 1974. This period was under the rulership of King Faisal (Habeeb, Frankel & Al-Oraibi, 2012). The strain created by the dispute between the two nations caused unrest. In 1974, the founder of UAE, president Zayed formulated a treaty that would bring them to an amicable understanding (Cordesman & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009). The agreement stated that the Saudi Arabia would own the South Liwa territory as well as a coastal strip that demarcated the baser of the Qatar Peninsula from the western border belonging to the United Arab Emirates. The reason behind the agreement of UAE was that the waters on its offshore coast were not permitted to cross beyond a certain territorial boundary (Habeeb, Frankel & Al-Oraibi, 2012). This translated to the Saudi Arabia’s waters being limited to the Median line found in the Gulf.

            Later in 1975, UAE expressed its dissatisfaction of the agreement and forwarded proposals that would suit what they termed as fair adjustments of the old contract. Despite the fact that the late president Sheikh Zayed believed it was a dishonor to revisit the 1974 agreement , UAE has been relentless in its efforts to express its frustration over it (Habeeb, Frankel  & Al-Oraibi, 2012). The UAE felt that Saudi Arabia did not acknowledge the nation and that the agreement contained certain aspects that were not clearly elaborated prior to its signing and implementation. The major issues rising from the agreement include

(i) The Shaybah Field

            The issue raised concerning this field was the proportion given to Saudi Arabia in the agreement. Initially, before the signing of the agreement between the two countries, the field had been discovered by the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company. The field was located south of Liwa and it had extended boundaries, becoming a shared structure in three states, Abu Dhabi, UAE and Saudi Arabia. However, according to the maps present during that period, the field mainly belonged to UAE with 80% of its landmass in the country while the rest of the 20%n was in Saudi Arabia (Habeeb, Frankel  & Al-Oraibi, 2012).. This creates the basis of the dissatisfaction expressed by the UAE in regards to the agreement, which handed the field over to Saudi Arabia. This translated to Saudi’s full ownership of the oil reserves found in the field.

            Another issue responsible for leading the UAE to express discontent is the monetary aspect. The field now been developed by Saudi Arabia is estimated to produce 18 billion barrels of crude oil if EOR and horizontal drilling techniques are implemented (Cordesman & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009). This means a huge revenue generation for the nation. The frustration of the UAE was expressed when it declined the invitation of Arab oil ministers gathering in Saudi Arabia which was an inauguration ceremony. The proposal forwarded about this issue on the ownership of the fields is to permit UAE to mine the Zarrara part of the field on its side in a process on unitizing the agreement.

(ii) The Offshore

            There had a been a constant push and pull between the two countries concerning the development of the Dolphine Pipeline across the limited stretch of territorial waters between Qatar and UAE (Cordesman & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009). Saudi Arabia held the opinion that the development of the pipeline was impossible without it crossing its territories. According to Saudi Analysts, the plan by UAE, Oman and Qatar to develop the Dolphine Project connecting the three nations in a gas lattice will be at the expense of Saudi (Habeeb, Frankel  & Al-Oraibi, 2012). This project has been criticized as having anti-Saudi elements. However, Qatar and UAE felt that it was a doable mission and have continued with its development and strategizing ever since. This issue has represented complications and disagreements present within intra-gulf interrelations.

Late Sheikh Zayed

            President Sheikh Zayed was the founder of UAE, a position he held for more than three decades. He saw the raise of the emirates into an empire that ranks as amongst the richest countries in the world. His character and belief in liberalism is displayed by his efforts to settle the dispute between his country and Saudi Arabia over territorial lands and waters.

During his reign in power, he settled the growing dispute between Saudi Arabia and UAE (Cordesman & Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2009). This was done over the drafting and signing of the Treaty of Jeddah. The stipulated rule was that the Shaybah field was cession to Saudi Arabia whereas UAE was allowed access to the Lower Persian Gulf. Despite the agreement not being ratified by the UAE, it almost settled the feud between the two nations.

Impact of the Dispute on the Relationship between the Nations

            The dispute between Saudi Arabia and UAE has negatively influenced several important factors, which form a fundamental part of a relationship between tow federal governments. The fist issue is the increase in insecurity. In a report published in 2010, the United Arab Emirates Navy open fired at a Saudi patrol boat. This followed their disputed over the territorial water borders. The Saudi sailors were injured in the process as they were forced to surrender (Spencer, 2010). Such an incident has been a shock to many heads in the diplomatic world especially the foreign allies and partners of the two nations. The dispute between the two has greatly disappointed their western allies who hope that they will join forces against Iran, which is seen as a threat globally owing to its military ambitions and possession of nuclear weapons.

            Another negative impact raised from the dispute is the strain on the citizens from both nations limiting their freedom of movement. In 2009, Saudi issued a border policy that stopped UAE citizens from entering the country with ID cards (Riyadh, 2009). This move by Saudi Arabia can be blamed on the move by UAE to pull out from the Gulf Cooperation Council after its proposal to have the Bank of Riyadh as the regional central bank was turned down. This was seen as portraying the kingdom as part of UAE’s territory. This decision surprised some of the UAE’s official who resolved the issue by encouraging the citizens to carry their passports instead when traveling to Saudi.        

            In conclusion, UAE and Saudi Arabia are nations in a passive war. This is because of the ongoing dispute that has threatened to destroy the relationship between these neighboring nations. The complications presented as the two relate warrants intervention from the political leaders who need to make strides similar to those of their late President Zayed if any progress is to be achieved.


Cordesman, A. H., & Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.) (2009). Saudi Arabia: National security in a troubled region. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger Security International.

Habeeb, W. M., Frankel, R. D., & Al-Oraibi, M. (2012). The Middle East in turmoil: Conflict, revolution, and change. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood.

Riyadh. (2009, August 23). Saudi and UAE border in Dispute over ID Cards. Reuters.

Spencer, R. (2010, March 26). Naval Battle between UAE and Saudi Arabia raises fears of Gulf Security. The Telegraph.


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