Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed left Oman on Wednesday morning after a two-day state visit aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties with its Gulf neighbour. It was MBZ's second official visit since he became president in May following the death of his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan. It was his first visit to an Arab country, a detail that underlines the strategic importance Abu Dhabi attaches to its bilateral relations with Muscat.
Invited by the Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, the former Minister of Heritage and Culture until the death in 2020 of his cousin, the former monarch Qaboos bin Said Al Said, MBZ was received at the capital's Al Al Alam Palace in the company of a large diplomatic delegation. Key figures from the executive branch, such as Vice President Hazza bin Zayed and senior foreign policy adviser Anwar Gargash, were part of the mission, a factor that reflects the importance of the meeting.
After an initial contact, which focused more on protocol than contractual matters, the negotiating teams set to work on a common roadmap for deepening bilateral cooperation. On the one hand, the Emirati and Omani governments signed a series of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in 16 areas, ranging from transport and logistics to finance and culture. On the other hand, the Abu Dhabi Investment Fund (ADQ) formalised an agreement with the Oman Investment Authority (OIA) for the creation of a venture capital fund of some 600 million dirhams, or 170 million euros, for investments in Omani technology companies.
The investment funds also explored the possibility of allocating 30 billion dirhams (8.5 billion euros) to other Omani economic sectors such as renewable energy, food and agriculture, communications, logistics and healthcare. However, no specific details or timelines for the new investments have been given so far, Reuters reports.
However, the main project closed by both administrations during MBZ's visit to Oman was the creation of a joint railway company worth 3 billion euros to connect the port of Sohar, the site of the 1999 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Muscat to demarcate the borders after 30 years of territorial disputes, to the Emirati railway network. The infrastructure would reduce journey times and thus boost trade routes.
"The agreement is also in line with efforts to explore cooperation and joint investment opportunities in strategic and vital areas such as the industrial and advanced technology sector, which contributes significantly to promoting sustainable economic growth in line with the strategic objectives of the UAE and Oman," said UAE Minister of Industry and Technology Sultan Al Jaber after the signing.
Emirates thus reinforces its position as the largest Arab investor in Oman. It is also the third largest investor in the country worldwide, contributing more than 8% of Oman's foreign direct investment. This volume is, moreover, decisive for Muscat, whose economy is by far the least buoyant in the Gulf, with the notable exception of Yemen. However, in the first half of the year it recorded a surplus as a result of the rise in oil prices.
Oman, which has been gradually modernising and is clearly Western-leaning, is known as the Switzerland of the Middle East because of its vocation as a mediator in regional disputes and its low-profile external stance, strangely discreet in a region historically shaken by turbulence. His neutral and pacifist vocation led him neither to choose sides in the Arab Spring nor to join the war in Yemen. Nor did it participate in the boycott of Qatar, something that irritated Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Nevertheless, relations with the UAE have been smooth since the turn of the century, once the long-standing border disputes were resolved. The key to stability has been their trade relations, which continue to grow closer under the presidency of Mohammed bin Zayed.