The rise of small states in the Arabian Gulf: the case of UAE and Qatar: a historical sociology perspective

Ahmed Abozaid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past fifty years the impoverished and tribal Arab Gulf states have become some of the most developed and influential political players in the Middle East. These states, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, underwent a program of modernisation starting in the early 2000s which has led to both Abu Dhabi and Doha becoming cultural, economic, and diplomatic hubs of the Arab World and gateways to the Greater Middle East. To understand this transformation, resulting in increased foreign policy and economic power and soft cultural influence, this paper seeks to investigate the historical changes experienced by both the UAE and Qatar following their independence in the 1970s.

I argue that, based on historical sociological analysis, the rise of both UAE and Qatar was an inevitable by-product of several changes. To understand the driving forces behind this phenomenon, this paper suggests a trifold analytical framework which attempts to understand the social, political, and economic dynamics behind this shift. Firstly, on a domestic level, the rise of small states in the Arabian Gulf came about because of ongoing socio-political and socio-economic development, ambitious leadership, and a hybrid concept of state identity. Secondly, regional structural change was brought about through equalisation of rich Gulf States and their neighbours, shifting international power dynamics and the radical (yet devastating) changes in the MENA region over the past 20 years. Lastly, the system level has contributed to this phenomenon by recognising the nature of international politics, including the transition and/or diffusion of power, and accommodating small states’ vibrant diplomacy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)7-41
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Rising Powers and Global Governance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2021


  • Historical Sociology
  • International relations theory
  • Middle East Studies
  • Small States
  • Arabian Gulf
  • UAE
  • Qatar


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