Disputed Islands Rightfully Belong to UAE say Arabs

Disputed Islands Rightfully Belong to UAE say Arabs
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  • Only 5% of MENA Arabs believe Iranian claims to Abu Musa and Tunb Islands.
  • 63% agree Ahmadinejad’s visit was a flagrant violation of UAE sovereignty & a transgression of efforts to find a peaceful settlement.
  • Majority believe Iran wants islands due to oil & strategic position & to potentially attack GCC countries and US Naval positions.

A recent YouGov/Al Aan poll of 2066 Arab respondents, across the MENA region, conducted between 26 April & 6 May 2012, examines the view of Arabs on the Abu Musa & Tunb island dispute.

The dispute between and the UAE and Iran over the sovereignty of Abu Musa & two neighboring islands (the Greater and Lesser Tunb) continues to linger in the International Court of Justice, after three decades without resolution.

  • Over half (57%) of respondents believe the UAE is correct in claiming sovereignty and only 5% believe Iran is correct (with 34% who do not know/undecided).
  • 61% of Gulf Cooperation Council Arabs (the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman) believe the UAE is correct (only 4% state the islands belong to Iran).
  • Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents believe the dispute is “significant” with regards to stability within the GCC region & 34% claim it is “very significant”.

Even in North Africa & Egypt, where feelings towards Iran due to distance & less historical conflicts tend to be warmer than in the GCC and Levant countries, 50% of respondents believe the islands belong to the UAE & only 6 % believe they are rightfully Iran’s.

Iran took control of the islands in 1971, the day after British forces left the region. Tehran maintains that an agreement between the Shah and the then ruler of the British Trucial Sheikhdom, Sharjah, gives it the right to administer Abu Musa and station troops there. However the UAE insists that Iran has breached the terms of its hastily brokered agreement with Sharjah  by expelling Sharjah residents in 1992 & the continuing buildup of a large military force and the construction of naval facilities (whilst neither Iran nor Sharjah revoked sovereignty, they did agree to oil revenue sharing and the stationing of some Iranian troops).  No agreement between the emirate of Ras-al-Khaimah & Iran over the Tunb islands was reached & as such, Iran occupied them by force, days before the six Trucial Sheikhdoms of  Sharjah, Ajman, Dubai, Abu-Dhabi & Fujairah united and declared independence from Britain, also in 1971 (Ras-al-Khaimah was to formally join in 1972). The apathy of the British and US to this invasion can be in part, attributed to Iran's strategic importance to the US at that time

  • The majority of respondents (55%) believe the UAE is accurate in its claim that Iran reneged on its agreement with Sharjah by expelling UAE nationals in 1992 (Sharjah nationals on Abu Musa at that time ran the UAE sponsored school,  medical clinic, and power-generating station)
  • Only 5% of respondents across MENA agree with Iranian claims that it continues to respect the rights of Sharjah citizens and it has only insisted other Arabs cannot reside on the island without Iranian permission.
  • 61% of GCC respondents believe the UAE is accurate in its claim compared to 58% in Levant & 50% in North Africa & Egypt.

The April visit of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first of any Iranian president, to Abu Musa, reignited tensions in one of the Gulf regions longest standing disputes. As well as drawing condemnation from the UAE and the Arab Group at the United Nations, the visit was described as “unfortunate” by the UK Foreign Office who felt  Ahmadinejad’s actions  “only serve to make matters worse”, whilst complimenting the UAE on its “measured approach” to the dispute.

  • When asked about Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa on April 12 2012, 43% of respondents believe it was a provocative act which was a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the UAE over the islands. A further 33% state it complicates efforts to settle the issue. Only 7% of all respondents believe he was within his rights to visit the island.
  • Almost half (47%) of respondents in the GCC region believe  it was a provocative act which was a flagrant violation of the UAE’s sovereignty and 30% believe it complicates matters to settle the issue.
  • A large majority (71%) of respondents believe that other GCC countries should be more vocal in their support of the UAE in the issue. This is particularly true of those in Levant, where three quarters of respondents agree.

The UAE claimed that the visit “is a flagrant violation of the United Arab Emirates’ sovereignty over its territory and a transgression of efforts to find a peaceful settlement to end Iranian occupation of the three UAE islands".

  • The majority (63%) agree with the UAE’s statement that President Ahmadinejad’s visit was a flagrant violation of the United Arab Emirates’ sovereignty over its territory and a transgression of efforts to find a peaceful settlement to end Iranian occupation of the three UAE islands. 45% “strongly” agree with the statement compared to only 4% who strongly disagree.

As a result of the visit, the UAE recalled its ambassador to Iran and the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, called on Iran to enter into negotiations & reiterated the UAE’s claim of sovereignty to the islands is “based on realistic and tangible historic evidence”, continuing “the UAE stands ready to risk its historic and legal facts and win or lose at the International Court of Justice”.

  • Over half (53%) of all respondents agree the UAE recalling its ambassador was the correct thing to do, whilst a fifth (19%) disagree with the move.
  • 44% of respondents believe the dispute over the islands will not be resolved anytime soon (compared 25% who do think it will be resolved soon)
  • Respondents in the Levant region are most pessimistic, over half (54%) do not believe the dispute will be resolved soon (compared to 19% that do).
  • A third (32%) of respondents believe the UAE should try to resolve the issue through direct negotiations and a further fifth (22%) believe they should try to resolve the issue through the International Court of Justice. Only 2% believe that UAE should take military action (alone).

The hardline stance of Iran and refusal to let the International Court of Justice arbitrate on the matter can be attributed to a number of factors. Abu Musa is located half way between the UAE and Iran in the Strait of Homuz, at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf and sits on reputedly large oil reserves. As well as oil, this strategic position could allow a country to influence or even block the Gulf's valuable shipping lane, through which passes approximately 35% of the world’s seaborne traded oil. Its strategic position could allow Iran to restrict supplies to consumers in Asia, Europe, US and Japan.

  • When asked about what respondents believe should be Iran’s next move, almost half (48%) of respondents say that Iran should try to resolve the issue through direct negotiations and just over a fifth (22%) say they should try to resolve the issue through the International Court of Justice. 
  • 39% of respondents do not believe Iran will turn Abu Musa into a ‘model tourist resort’ (as recently claimed by the Iranian Cabinet). 19% of respondents believe this will happen (42% are undecided).
  • The majority of respondents (85%) believe Iran wants Abu Musa because of the militarily strategic position of the island.
  • A large majority of respondents (85%) believe oil is also a main reason why Iran wants the islands.
  • The majority (89%) of respondents believe that the ability to block shipping supplies is another reason why Iran wants Abu Musa
  • Over half (56%) of respondents believe Shiite and Sunni relations play a part in the dispute (17% disagree). Amongst Levant respondents, this feeling is particularly strong (64% state Shiite and Sunni relations play a part)

Some analysts speculate the refusal of Iran to negotiate the sovereignty of Abu Musa is due to the fact that the island’s position gives Iran closer proximity to potentially launch military action against US naval bases in Bahrain and even attack other GCC countries.

  • Three quarters (74%) of respondents believe that the real reason that Iran wants the islands is to have base to attack GCC countries such as UAE, KSA and Bahrain.
  • This is particularly true of those in GCC (45% “strongly agree”) compared with respondents in North Africa & Egypt (of whom 35% strongly agree).
  • Three quarters of respondents believe Iran wants the islands in order to have a base to attack/deter the US Navy. This view is stronger amongst respondents in North Africa & Egypt, of whom half (47%) “strongly agree”, compared to 39% in the GCC region.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given respondents fear of the motives of the Persian state over half (57%) of believe that it is important for the dispute over the islands to be resolved.

This survey was conducted using YouGov’s proprietary online panel & results are representative of the urban Arab adult population in the Middle East and North Africa region. Results are based on the following distribution of a sample of 2066 Arab respondents:

GCC: 1096, Levant: 469, North Africa & Egypt: 501

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