Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in the Russian Federation organised an event in the city of Makhachkala to promote the national culture and create a link with Dagestan, a strategic North Caucasian republic located on the Caspian Sea.
On September 27th, 2022, a delegation of the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in the Russian Federation headed by Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Russia, Mohammad Ahmad Al-Jaber, arrived in Dagestan at the Makhachkala airport. The delegation met with the Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Republic of Dagestan, Muslim Telyakavov, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Dagestan Zarema Butaeva and the Minister of Tourism and Folk Arts of the Republic of Dagestan Emin Merdanov.
On September 28th-29th, 2022, the Emirate Embassy organised the Days of Culture of the United Arab Emirates in the Avar Theater in Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan. The program includes master classes in henna painting, doll making, at-talli (an element of women’s clothing), al-farrukhi (an element of men’s clothing ), exhibitions of antiques, paintings, the performance of the Sharjah national dance folk art group, a theatrical performance of the ancient rituals of the Emirati wedding. Guests of the event will also be able to try on the national clothes of the UAE residents and taste traditional national dishes (Mahachkalinskie Izvestija).
Why does it matter?
The Republic of Dagestan has a strategic role in the North Caucasus and the Caspian Sea region, especially the city of Makhachkala, which the Kremlin selected as a regional logistic hub linked with the Middle East and Central Asia.
From the Russian perspective, promoting tourism and foreign investments in Dagestan is one of the leading regional goals to contrast local socioeconomic problems such as unemployment, organised crime, radicalisation, and terrorism. Indeed, although since 2010, terrorist and violent attacks have consistently decreased, Dagestan is not immune to jihadist propaganda and terrorist organisations.
From the UAE point of view, since Islam is the main religion in Dagestan and the country during the Medieval times was an epicentre of Arabic language and production, promoting Emirati culture might create a strong bond with the local Dagestani population and allow Abu Dhabi to implement its presence in the North Caucasian republic.
As happened in the neighbouring Chechnya, the UAE might use cultural and religious diplomacy to reach a strategic market and support Islamic banking and finance among local authorities and citizens. Indeed, in August 2022, the Central Bank of Russia spoke about its intentions to launch a pilot project on Islamic banking in Chechnya and Dagestan in 2023.
Considering the harsh times that the Russian Federation has faced since the European Union imposed financial sanctions against Moscow due to the Ukraine conflict, the Kremlin might actively implement the Islamic banking system to find an alternative solution to the Western banking system and attract additional financial investment from Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian countries.
In this context, the UAE might significantly support the Russian approach to Islamic banking and finance and become an active actor in a market composed of around 20 million Muslim customers. The Emirate cultural diplomacy in Dagestan might evolve into a broader strategy to promote Abu Dhabi’s financial presence in Dagestan and, therefore, in the North Caucasus. Indeed, the North Caucasus Federal District (NCFD) is one of the Russian regions with the most remarkable Muslim presence and an interesting market with attractive potentiality where the Kremlin has invested copious financial funds to improve socio-economic development and tried to open Islamic financial institutions.