The news today included this piece, that Canadian citizens not only lost the right to enter the UAE without a visa, but that they must now pay between 250 and 1,000 USD to get that visa. This step is but the latest in an ongoing spat between the UAE and Canada over extended landing rights in Canada for the Dubai-based Emirates airline (Abu Dhabi-based Etihad also wants extended landing rights, but they are a smaller airline and the flights they want are less controversial). The Canadian government wanted to preserve those routes for Air Canada, but the UAE government insisted on giving them to Emirates.
This airplane would look especially good in Winnipeg
The new visa regulations are the UAE’s latest move to pressure Canada, as well as send a message to any other countries thinking about standing in Emirates’ way. It is not the first or most drastic step, however. In October, the UAE government ordered Canada to leave a covert military base used to support Canadian operations in Afghanistan (and add implicit support for the small UAE in a difficult region). Up until that point neither the UAE nor Canada officially acknowledged the base’s existence, but extended landing rights for Emirates in Canada was important enough to admit the base existed and kick the 2,900 soldiers there out.
Why does the UAE care so much about Emirates? As I mentioned above, supporting the airline against Canadian regulators also serves as a lesson to other countries dealing with other businesses that Emirati business interests should be taken seriously. In part, it is solely to help Emirates, a major UAE business. Perhaps another reason is the influence that its president is Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum.
In addition to being a noted toffee lover, Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum is the son of one Dubai ruler, brother to another, and uncle of the current ruler, Sheikh Mohmmad bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. In addition to running Emirates Ahmed Al-Maktoum is a government official himself. His most influential position is that of Deputy Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, the body which formulates policies and strategies for the Emirate of Dubai. He is also runs a major investment organization and sits on teh boards of several key groups, councils and firms.
In short, he is an influential man and he wants his Canadian landing rights. Now. International politics, defense and security, attracting skilled expat labor to a place where nationals are only 17% of the population and even tourist [Canadian] dollars are less important.
To outside observers, ejecting a military base and raising visa fees may to exorbitant heights may seem like an overreaction, but at least there is something real worth fighting over; the millions of dollars to be earned from control of the landing rights in Canada. Qatar started a similar spat with Jordan due a dissagreement between their two queens!
Sheikha Moza and Queen Rania with Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan a year ago at an event in support of Palestine (officially they made up by then, but…). Judging from this photo I’d say they are angry at each other because they both have the same plastic surgeon, and neither will give him up.
Queen Rania of Jordan and Sheikha Moza of Qatar are two of three Middle Eastern ruling women (the third is Asma Al-Assad, wife of Syria’s President) all vying for the position of leading “enlightened” Arab women (and international society glamor ratings too if possible). Queen Rania is the most famous of the three, mostly because she is also the best looking/most fashionable. A few years ago Queen Rania and Sheikha Moza were at a conference in support of women and development in the region, where they had a falling out. I am not sure what the full details were, but it was a personal disagreement completely related to politics, diplomacy, or commerce.
The result? For two years getting a visa to Qatar became nearly impossible for Jordanians. no official law was passed, just visas were not available (regional consultates all received FYI-style warnings). One German company had to send representatives from their corporate HQ in Germany because their local office was in Jordan, and their Jordanian representatives could not get a visa no matter what they tried. in the end the German arrived three days into a five-day conference and missed multiple meetings.
So in that case, one powerful lady made another mad, and no one could travel for two years. This cost an unknown number of people great headaches and Qatar an unknown number of business opportunities.