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Diplomacy, Conflict, and Crises See Mobility in Flux



Dr. Robert Mogielnicki is a Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, where he manages the institute’s political economy research.

New diplomatic openings, simmering conflicts, and ongoing crises are reshaping the Middle East’s migration and mobility landscape. In September 2020, the UAE and Bahrain established formal ties with Israel as part of a US-brokered agreement. The two Gulf Arab states and Israel subsequently arranged for direct flights and visa-free travel.

A strong technology focus weaves together the economic agreements and memorandums of understanding that emerged in the wake of the UAE–Israel normalization agreement. Sudan normalized relations with Israel in October 2020, and other Arab countries may take similar steps over the coming months.

The Gulf Cooperation Council rift of 2017 has forced Qatar to manage an ongoing diplomatic and economic boycott from Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Qatar continues to rely heavily on Iranian airspace, heightening political risks associated with the country’s air transportation sector. Saudi Arabia and Qatar may resolve key elements of the dispute in 2021; however, improving Qatar–UAE relations presents a larger obstacle. Meanwhile, an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods has exacerbated Saudi–Turkish tensions. The number of Saudi tourists visiting Turkey annually had decreased by 24% in 2019, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul increased tensions. Fewer Saudi tourists are likely to travel to Turkey once coronavirus-related travel restrictions ease.

An incoming Biden administration is expected to apply greater pressure on Saudi Arabia to draw down its military involvement in the Yemeni Civil War. However, Saudi Arabia’s weakened fiscal position complicates its capacity to fund post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction efforts needed in Yemen.

Sudan normalized relations with Israel in October 2020, and other Arab countries may take similar steps over the coming months.

A prolonged economic crisis, the tragic explosion at the port of Beirut, and chronic government mismanagement in Lebanon have precipitated an exodus of Lebanese citizens and foreign residents from the country. Those unable or unwilling to leave confront an imploding economy.


Chopra, Anuj. “Saudis Shun 'Made in Turkey' as Rivalry Deepens.” AFP, October 22, 2020.

Coles, Isabel, and Osseiran, Nazih. “'We've Lost Our Country': Lebanese Flee an Imploding Economy.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, November 2, 2020.

Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism. “Yearly Border Statistics 2019.” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, accessed November 20, 2020.

Schwartz, Felicia. “Israel, U.A.E to Allow Citizens Visa-Free Travel.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, October 20, 2020.

Thompson Reuters. “Israel, Bahrain to Institute E-Visa System for Free Travel on December 1, Bahraini FM Says.” Reuters, Thompson Reuters, accessed November 20, 2020.

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