A ‘middle kingdom’ dawns on India’s west – understanding the current dynamics of the Arab world | 25th May 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the current dynamics of the Arab world, with a special focus on the rise of Saudi Arabia.


  • GS2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora;
  • Essay;
  • Prelims


  • Recently, the 32nd Arab League Summit was held in Jeddah.
  • Saudi Arabia is on the path to becoming the de facto leader of the Arab world. In this context, let's understand the current dynamics of the Arab world.

Arab League (League of Arab States):

  • It is a regional organization in the Arab world, which is located in Northern Africa, Western Africa, Eastern Africa, and Western Asia.
  • The Arab League was formed in Cairo on 22 March 1945.
  • Initially formed with six members: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Yemen joined as a member on 5 May 1945. Currently, the League has 22 members, but Syria's participation has been suspended since November 2011.
    • After a 12-year suspension, Arab government delegates voted to reinstate Syria in the Arab League (2023).
  • The League’s main goal is to “draw closer the relations between member states and co-ordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries”
  • Each member state has one vote in the Council of the Arab League, and decisions are binding only for those states that have voted for them.
  • The aims of the league in 1945 were to strengthen and coordinate the political, cultural, economic and social programs of its members and to mediate disputes among them or between them and third parties.
  • India and the Arab League: Being conferred observer status in 2007, India was the first member to enter the League although it does not have an Arab community, nor does it have an indigenous Arabic-speaking population.


  • Importance of Arab World for India:
    • India has well-known high stakes in the Arab world, particularly in the neighbouring West Asian region.
    • We, therefore, need to acknowledge the importance of this incipient geo-political shift, watch the developments very carefully, realign our strategy accordingly and vigorously pursue our national interests.
  • 32nd Arab League Summit and “Jeddah Declaration”:
    • After 12 years, all 22 Arab states got together again, with 17 of them represented at the head of state or government level. The summit readmitted Syria and heard the Ukrainian President, a special invitee.
    • The Jeddah Declaration was moderate in political optics and showed realism for the contemporary socio-economic challenges facing the Arabs.
    • Although it highlighted the staple pro-Palestinian agenda, it conspicuously refrained from mentioning Israel by name.
    • Similarly, all Iran-related issues were omitted. Instead, it called for “stopping foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries and categorically rejecting all support for the formation of armed groups and militias”.
      There was no mention of any non-Arab issue, including Ukraine and the oil market.
  • Rise of the Saudi Arabia:
    • These subtle nuances would hint at the emergence of Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the main arbiter of the Arab world’s agenda for the foreseeable future.
    • Relations with Iran were normalised, aiming to end nearly 45 years of hostility and geo-religious rivalry. This reduced the friction among their respective proxies in conflict such as Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
    • On the other hand, ties with the United States have been stabilised.
    • By reconciling with Iran through Chinese mediation, but without a U.S. nod-and-wink, Riyadh has asserted its diplomatic autonomy.
    • Direct ties with Iran have also reduced the importance of Qatar, Iraq, Oman and Pakistan as intermediaries.
    • Further, by re-engaging Hamas ruling Gaza, the Kingdom has sought to replace Qatar and Iran as the main benefactor.
  • Challenges before Saudi Arabia:
    • First, the Kingdom’s foreign policy has been through several lurches since the Jamal Khashoggi episode in 2018 and greater maturity and consistency would be needed to make it more effective.
    • Second, the various initiatives towards regional reconciliation have not yet become irreversible and could still unravel.
    • Third, the Kingdom’s ties with the UAE and Qatar are friction-prone and could exacerbate.
    • Last but not least, while Saudi Arabia is internally stable, the likely anointment of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the next Saudi king could be a disruptive and distractive development.

Way Forward:

  • Although we enjoy cordial and substantive ties with Saudi Arabia, these are still below the potential and need periodic upgradation.

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