The clash of the Gulf’s three princes

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In the past few years, a new generation of princes have come to power in the world’s richest oil-producing monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. While their predecessors maintained a cordial relationship between the three states, the princes have become bitter rivals, competing with each other over everything from sports and culture to armaments. Their ramped-up rivalry threatens a region already destabilised by years of conflict.

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Between 2013 and 2015, three princes started governing the Gulf monarchies: Tamim Al Thani in Qatar, Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and Mohammed Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi. The sovereigns, who are among the richest and most powerful in the world, quickly imposed new, more violent, styles of rule.

Tamim Al Thani, the 39-year-old emir of Qatar, was the first of the three to ascend his throne. Al Thani is a sports fanatic and sparked the envy of his competitive neighbours when Qatar won the honour of hosting 2022 FIFA World Cup. His rivals also accuse him of financing Islamist groups and for keeping too close a company with Iran.

>> Also read: “Nouvel’s desert rose finally blooms as Qatar inaugurates national museum”

Al Thani is up against a powerful duo, however. Mohammed Bin Salman, or “MBS”, is the ambitious 34-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia. With a penchant for video games, MBS is responsible for his country’s costly and deadly involvement in the war in Yemen. With the ambition of becoming the Middle East’s new strongman, MBS has found his ally and mentor in Mohammed Bin Zayed, or “MBZ”. MBZ is the 58-year-old crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. MBZ’s tiny nation is now one of the main military powerhouses in the Arabian Peninsula.

>> Also watch our interview: “‘How many Yemenis must be killed before Western arms sales stop?’ asks activist”

Although their fathers and grandfathers would discretely meet up in Bedouin tents to settle their differences, the princes have instead made it a habit of confronting each other head-on, frequently subjecting each other to cyber attacks, economic blockades and out-right threats of invasion.

From the Arabian Peninsula to the United States, we take a look at the princes’ rivalry and the unprecedented crisis it has triggered in the world’s most militarised region. Their attempts to out-do each other has also destabilised other countries in the Middle East, who feel forced to take sides.

A documentary produced by Quark and Arte in collaboration with FRANCE 24.

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