Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Arab News op-ed: We are still prisoners of a culture of conspiracy & inferiority

In an op-ed entitled, Let's Stop Blaming America, Dr. Khalid Alnowaiser writes in the Saudi-based Arab News:
I am not pro-American nor am I anti-Arab, but I am worried that unless we wake up, the Arab world will never break out of this vicious and unproductive cycle of blaming America. We must face the truth: Sadly, we are still the prisoners of a culture of conspiracy and cultural inferiority. We have laid the blame on America for all our mistakes, for every failure, for every harm or damage we cause to ourselves. The US has become our scapegoat upon whom our aggression and failures can be placed. We accuse America of interfering in all our affairs and deciding our fate, although we know very well that this is not the case as no superpower can impose its will upon us and control every aspect of our lives. We must acknowledge that every nation, no matter how powerful, has its limitations.
The Holy Qur’an states Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. He has the power to change them, but He prefers that they change with their own will power which He respects.

What we are seeing now in the Arab streets is a new hope and a step forward to change what is in ourselves. I remain very optimistic because we have now begun to realize that simply blaming the United States for our problems will not help us progress toward great personal freedoms. Our enemy is not America but an inferiority complex from which I am sure the Arab world with its rich culture and history will eventually recover.

The U.S. is flawed and it has made mistakes. It does not always respect the will of people in other countries. And it is powerful. Sometimes it does good, sometimes bad. But it does not control fate.

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Word of the day: bubbles

Sentence of the day:
Calling Things "Bubbles": 20% Yearly Since 2004
According to Google Trends, search traffic for the word bubble (excluding searches for “bubble wrap”) is up almost 150 percent since Google began tracking search data.
That's from Tracking Suspiciously Explosive Market Growth.


Abstracts of note

For years, studies of state formation in early and medieval Europe have argued that the modern, representative state emerged as the result of negotiations between autocratic governments in need of tax revenues and citizens who were only willing to consent to taxation in exchange for greater government accountability. This paper presents evidence that similar dynamics shaped the formation of Somaliland’s democratic government. In particular, it shows that government dependency on local tax revenues -- which resulted from its ineligibility for foreign assistance -- provided those outside the government with the leverage needed to force the development of inclusive, representative and accountable political institutions.

The UAE has a very large income for its size. The rulers own the country's vast oil wealth and spread enough of it around to the UAE citizens that none of them is indigent. The lesson from Somaliland would suggest there's no threat that the rulers will find themselves compelled to adopt major democratic reforms. So why the crackdown on the few activists who have spoken out?

The UAE's vulnerability is external -- it's a plum ripe for the picking by its neighbor, Iran.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Defending the UAE status quo

An op-ed in the Gulf News titled At what cost democracy? seem to me to identify only one cost.
The demand for elections in a country whose citizens are a minority means opening the door for foreigners to ask, in the future, for political participation. It also means opening the door for Iran, which is occupying part of Emirati soil, to support movements that threaten the stability the UAE has enjoyed for four decades.

This sort of argument is the use of fears to justify the lack of democracy and open debate.

He argues there isn't censorship, but doesn't admit that activists and intellectuals who speak out are rounded up.

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Lawyers pledge allegiance to UAE rulers

Not long ago the UAE government shut down the independent jurist association and replaced it with its own body of jurists.

Now comes this news:
"We, the lawyers of Abu Dhabi emirate, call upon all citizens to deny activists' allegations denouncing our government. We ourselves are united in refuting these false claims, and remain fully loyal to His Highness President Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and all other crown princes and rulers," a statement released by the lawyers said.

"We are fully ready to defend our values and society against false claims, and will follow our government's instruction to preserve unity in the country," the statement added.

The conference was organised in response to a petition drawn up in March by activists in the UAE that called for direct elections and more legislative powers in the UAE.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of the conference, Dr Shakir Matouq Al Marzouqi, an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer and consultant said anyone who spoke against the current government and the UAE was falsifying real information about life in the country. Petitioning the government for greater democratic freedoms is hardly sedition.

Read the rest in Gulf News.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sentence of the day

Timur Kuran
Although large Western corporations have been known to suppress political competition and restrict individual rights, in Arab countries it is the paucity of large private companies that poses the greater obstacle to democracy.
But the handicaps of Arab civil society also have historical causes that transcend the policies of modern rulers. Until the establishment of colonial regimes in the late 19th century, Arab societies were ruled under Shariah law, which essentially precludes autonomous and self-governing private organizations. Thus, while Western Europe was making its tortuous transition from arbitrary rule by monarchs to democratic rule of law, the Middle East retained authoritarian political structures. Such a political environment prevented democratic institutions from taking root and ultimately facilitated the rise of modern Arab dictatorships.

Strikingly, Shariah lacks the concept of the corporation, a perpetual and self-governing organization that can be used either for profit-making purposes or to provide social services. Islam’s alternative to the nonprofit corporation was the waqf, a trust established in accordance with Shariah to deliver specified services forever, through trustees bound by essentially fixed instructions. Until modern times, schools, charities and places of worship, all organized as corporations in Western Europe, were set up as waqfs in the Middle East.

A corporation can adjust to changing conditions and participate in politics. A waqf can do neither. Thus, in premodern Europe, politically vocal churches, universities, professional associations and municipalities provided counterweights to monarchs. In the Middle East, apolitical waqfs did not foster social movements or ideologies.

Starting in the mid-19th century, the Middle East imported the concept of the corporation from Europe. In stages, self-governing Arab municipalities, professional associations, cultural groups and charities assumed the social functions of waqfs. Still, Arab civil society remains shallow by world standards.

The full article is at the New York Times.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oil and democracy

Click on image for larger version. Credit: Bloomberg

So does oil inhibit democracy? This is perhaps the central question of our discussion this week about the historical lessons the Arab Spring nations should pay attention to.

Michael L. Ross, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been researching this issue for a decade. In a 2001 paper, and in updated research in 2009,Ross argues that oil wealth deeply impedes democratic transitions from authoritarian states.

He also found that the undemocratic effects of oil vary by region and have fluctuated between 1960 and 2002. The one causal mechanism for the "oil-autocracy link," Ross wrote in 2009, was the "rentier effect," in which oil states use low taxes and high spending to quell democratic pressures.

To reverse these undemocratic effects, oil states need revenue transparency and institutions accountable to the public -- as we discussed May 23.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nine fold increase in number of Emiratis allowed to vote

The Federal National Council is most representative body in the UAE government. It is a talking shop (it makes recommendations to the rulers), but has no legislative, executive or judicial powers. A limited number of nationals, chosen by the rulers of the seven emirates, are given the franchise to vote. This year the number of voters has been increased 9 fold.

The National:
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said yesterday he expected about 70,000 Emiratis to go to the polls in September.That would be a ninefold increase on 2006, when 7,757 Emiratis - 6,595 men and 1,162 women - turned out to vote, and more than five times the legal minimum number of eligible electors, 12,000.

However, he said changes were being planned even before the start of the Arab Spring. "Three or four years ago we came up with this step [the new electoral process] and organised for it two years ago. "But also from events happening now it [political participation] became a priority. At the end of the day you speak the same language and share the same culture [with other Arab countries] so you have to keep an open eye around you."

However, he said universal suffrage - rather than appointing electors - may not be right for the UAE. "The histories of other countries are different," he said. "We have a different perspective of the future, what is good for you is not necessarily good for me."
In days gone by, society was small and all the people were able to communicate directly with the Ruler. That, he said, was no longer practical. “The Ruler cannot take the opinion of every person, but those who represent you can discuss the laws.”

The UAE has a population of around 5 million, perhaps 20% of whom are nationals.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011


If the emirate does not act, Dubai's government debt is estimated to increase to 41% of GDP by the end of 2016. In the absence of fiscal consolidation, however, it is projected to reach 53% by 2016, the IMF warns.
Dubai's debt may become unsustainable in the absence of policy change, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its periodic report on the UAE. The IMF blames debt piled on by government-related entities (GREs) for raising Dubai' fiscal vulnerability. "Dubai's gross government debt, including guarantees, increased from 1.6% of Dubai GDP in 2007 to 10.3% in 2008 and 34% as of end-2010. This was mainly due to the bailout of GREs," the IMF notes.

The Fund argues that the UAE government data does not paint a true picture of public sector debt, adding that GREs in the emirate's real estate sector are especially vulnerable.
The IMF's May 23rd country report for the UAE calls for the government to control the borrowing of GREs that the UAE has instituted through Debt Management Offices (DMOs):
Containing GRE borrowing is key for fiscal sustainability at the emirate level and requires a strong institutional framework. This could be achieved through limits on GRE borrowing, which could be defined by individual governments and communicated through the fiscal coordination committee. The various DMOs would monitor compliance with these limits; while the federal DMO could ensure information-sharing and disseminate data on public sector debt by emirate. To enable this mechanism, the current federal draft law on public debt should clarify the relations between the federal and emirate-level DMOs and expand its coverage to Emirati GREs. The draft law also needs to define better the federal DMO’s scope and objectives; and specify coordination mechanisms between the DMOs, and fiscal and monetary authorities within clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
The Executive Summary of the report is here.

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Iraq, Iran sign power deal

Power as in electricity.


Iraq's electricity ministry said on Sunday it has signed an initial agreement with Iran to import natural gas for power generation.

Under the memorandum of understanding between the two neighbours, Iran will install a pipeline through Iraq and supply it with gas that would be used to feed two power plants in Baghdad, the electricity ministry said.

Iraq will buy 25 million cubic metres of gas each day from Iran under the five-year deal, according to international prices, which would generate 2,500 megawatts.

The gas pipeline will pass through Iraq's Mansuriyah gas field near the Iranian border in volatile Diyala province. The gas would supply a power plant in Sadr City in northern Baghdad, and another plant in the northern outskirts of Baghdad. The pipeline will be completed in 18 months.

I'm puzzled that Iraq is willing to make itself so dependent on Iran. You'll remember how Russia has held up with its customers dependent on Russian pipelines. Perhaps this is an indication of how desperately troubled electricity production is in Iraq. I would have thought (although it's not cutting edge technology) that Iraq would build oil-fired generation plants instead.

Monday, May 23, 2011

GCC democracy reforms "urgent"

On the op-ed page of Gulf News, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah writes,
[P]olitical reform is the most urgent challenge facing the six Arab Gulf states but it is unlikely that the Arab Spring will make these states more democratic for two reasons.

First, the tragic events in Bahrain have had a profound negative impact on political reform movement in the region. Second, it is becoming amply clear that forces of status quo in the Gulf states are stronger than forces of change at this moment in history. Hence, although democratisation is badly needed, it should not be expected any time soon in the Gulf.
...Bahrain had the best opportunity to implement constitutional monarchy. Instead political reform experienced a huge setback not just in Bahrain but in the rest of the Gulf.

This was a shattering experience and a bad example of political reform. The lesson for the other Gulf states is that hasty democratisation opens up a Pandora's box into the unknown. Instantly, regime survival and political stability became priority number one.

The only way to keep stability is to energise forces of the status quo which is nearly on full alert throughout the Gulf. Continuity, not change, has always been the preferred wisdom in the largely conservative Gulf. Many believe that the old way is still the best way. Although not totally immune to winds of change the Gulf states are pulling the huge resources at their disposal to stop forces of change from picking traction.
The fact of the matter is that most of the Gulf states are not at their best when it comes to freedom and democracy. Indeed while they figure high on the Human Development Index the Gulf states rank badly when it comes to freedom and democracy index.

This means eventually the Gulf states have to attend to the issue of political reform.
One wonders if writing an op-ed calling for political reform is the same as petitioning your government for political reform.

Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdullah is professor of Political Science at UAE University.

Read the op-ed in full here.

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A call for a UAE SOTU

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi makes the case for a public State of the Union address. After all, he points out, the United Arab Emirates is a successful union about to celebrate its 40th year.

Next December is an opportune occasion to institutionalise a state of the union address custom. It would coincide with the 40th anniversary of the UAE, a brand new parliament, and the 10-year countdown to Vision 2021. In fact, what Vision 2021 lacked when it was announced were clear milestones and a practical annual timetable to achieve these goals, one at a time....

The UAE President, or whomever he chooses to delegate, can deliver the speech in a giant hall, perhaps in a different emirate every year, in the presence of UAE crown princes, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, ambassadors, senior judges and public intellectuals along with selected stakeholders in the community.

It would be an opportunity to remind Emiratis and residents, along with the government itself, to take responsibility for the current UAE budget deficit of almost Dh3 billion. Educational, environmental, political, social and economic challenges that face the UAE could be outlined along with external and internal threats to the federation. It would also reflect the number of jobs created for Emiratis, especially in the lesser-developed parts of the country, progress towards making the UAE more competitive as well as UAE advances in science, technology and research.

Already with 2011, the President can highlight the second Federal National Council election results, the UAE forces' participation in peacekeeping efforts in Libya and Afghanistan, the streamlining of federal registration offices, progress in women's empowerment such as the appointment of female prosecutors, and the introduction of laws that regulate so-called white fire arms. For 2012, the UAE has already set a goal of having 100 per cent broadband internet penetration across the country, making it the first country in the world to do so.

At a time when it is tricky to speak your mind, Mr. Al Qassemi continues to show his adeptness at making his points diplomatically.

Read it all.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A really good question

And a good one to give on an economics exam.

Why don’t the Wall Street Journal and New York Times combine paywalls? Anyone already subscribing to both newspapers would suddenly find herself paying much less. But it’s hard to imagine that in practice, the overlap is really so large: maybe 20% at most. And over the course of a year or two, there would be a much larger effect from increased demand. After all, subscribing to two leading newspapers for the price of one would be a really great deal, one that consumers would be happy to exploit. This arrangement would be likely to increase online revenue, possibly by a substantial amount.
The author, Matt Rognlie, goes on to tackle the question of how the two papers would share the revenue.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Un économiste? Impossible!

This is what I believe, particularly about the powerful whose popularity depends on their personal charisma:
The alleged assault case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF and the revelation that former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with a member of his household staff illustrate yet again that power leads to disinhibited behavior. It's not just a truism but an oft-demonstrated social psychological finding that people in power think that rules don't apply to them and are more oriented toward satisfying their goals than adhering to social norms.
Read more here.

There are exceptions. George Washington was one. Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was another.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Telling sentences

Abu Dhabi has been unable to print another sovereign bond since its $3 billion, five and 10-year April 2009 debut issue because its state-linked firms have accessed markets, draining away limited liquidity, bankers said.
That's as reported in ArabianBusiness.Com.

By the way, the "most read" at ArabianBusiness.Com currently is Paris Hilton to be guest of honour at Dubai bash. The sexual mores of that emirate remain in good hands.

US to help Saudi's build new military force

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite their deepening political divide, the United States and Saudi Arabia are quietly expanding defense ties on a vast scale, led by a little-known project to develop an elite force to protect the kingdom's oil riches and future nuclear sites.
The force's main mission is to protect vital oil infrastructure, but its scope is wider. A formerly secret State Department cable released by the WikiLeaks website described the mission as protecting "Saudi energy production facilities, desalination plants and future civil nuclear reactors."
The special security force is expected to grow to at least 35,000 members, trained and equipped by U.S. personnel as part of a multiagency effort that includes staff from the Justice Department, Energy Department and Pentagon. It is overseen by the U.S. Central Command.
The newly established specialized force is separate from the regular Saudi military and is also distinct from Saudi Arabian National Guard, an internal security force whose mission is to protect the royal family and the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina. The U.S. has had a training and advising role with the regular Saudi military since 1953 and began advising the National Guard in 1973.


Very good video on UAE, Erik Prince, and human rights

I don't endorse everything that's said, and I think may be my first visit to the Democracy Now website, but this is worth watching if you've got the time.

There's a setup of the story broken by the New York Times, and then interviews with Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist and author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and Samer Muscati, Iraq and United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch. Muscati is very measured; Scahill overstates a few times.

The transcript is here (scroll down a bit).

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spiegel on Arab Spring, stalled

Der Spiegel has a good, lengthy roundup entitled "Autocrats in the Middle East on the Counter Attack". The autocracies range from Libya to Syria to Yemen to the Gulf states.

Reaching the last part of the report, Preventive Measures, you find mention of the UAE:

More and more surveillance cameras are now being installed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, citizens are being asked to report any sign of extremist thought to the police. In both countries, as well as in Oman and Algeria, the government has announced costly housing construction and job creation programs.


The House of Saud and the ruling families in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE, at any rate, are determined to distribute power to the people only in homeopathic doses, if at all.

In Dubai, known for its cosmopolitanism, five human rights activists are in prison for having dared to sign a petition demanding a greater say in political affairs.

This alone is suspect to the sheikhs and emirs. They fear Egyptian conditions and, according to commentator Sultan al-Qasimi of the Emirate of Sharjah, sense a "temporary marriage of convenience" taking shape between Islamists and liberal forces.


Ironic headline: Arab media faces renaissance after years of 'repressive' government

That's a headline in The National, the government-funded newspaper in Abu Dhabi, reporting on the 10th Arab Media Conference in Dubai.
The mainstream media in parts of the Arab world faces change after years of government-sanctioned censorship, according to Egypt's minister of culture.

Emad Abu Ghazi, speaking on the opening day of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, said that the regional media industry had not witnessed the growth seen in other parts of the world. He attributed this partly to "repressive laws" and government control of media channels.

"Some governments had brought repressive laws and codes against the media," said Mr Abu Ghazi. "With the totalitarian regimes, Arab countries have witnessed years where media were under control of censorship"

While the Arab media may have missed out on development seen in the West over the past century, it is now in line for a transformation, he added.

"The last century has witnessed a backward [step for Arab] media, while the whole world was going through media revolution," said Mr Abu Ghazi. "The Arab media cannot resist some changes."

Mr Abu Ghazi said the media is "a very important tool in the struggle of the people."
Yet, unless I missed something, The National has not asked critical questions of why the UAE government rounded up a guys who petitioned their government for democratic reforms, and held them incommunicado without charges. Petitioning your government is not the same as issuing an insult.

habiba hamid
DXB's Arab Media Forum is always the pressure valve where everyone lays everything out on table; only to then return to form

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Erik Prince attracted to UAE by business-friendly climate

The Nation has quotes from Erik Prince, former owner of Blackwater, concerning his relocation the UAE last summer:
When Prince moved to the UAE last summer, he said he chose Abu Dhabi because of its "great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics," adding that it has "a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labor unions. It's pro-business and opportunity."
Usual gobbledygook talk when you don't want to say anything about your business. He didn't mention that outside the free zones, the UAE requires any business have a local ownership with a claim to 51% of profit. No taxes?

Here's a rich bit from the Nation's report on Prince and the army of mercenaries it is creating on the behalf of Abu Dhabi:
An American who runs another security company in the UAE told The Nation that news of Prince's company is "a fricking PR disaster" for the UAE, adding that it will mean "some of the other Sheikhs will want answers about what a private Christian army was intended for."
As earlier reported, one of the contract provisions insisted upon by Abu Dhabi is that none of the mercenaries by Muslims. They're been recruited from Colombia and South Africa, and have US and European trainers.

The Nation's report on Prince's mercenary army is here.

I traced the quotes of Prince explaining his move to the UAE to this article in The Nation dated September 10, 2010.


Sentences that drip with irony

Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg joined a string of European officials on Tuesday in saying that a successor to Strauss-Kahn should come from Europe because of the IMF's deep involvement in the euro zone debt crisis. (Reuters)
When was the last non-European in charge of the IMF? Never. And when has the IMF told developing countries to get their financial houses in order? Often.

What the head of the IMF can teach us about Emiratization

The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is under arrest in New York on charges of attempted rape. DSK, as he is known in his native France, was denied bail today. The judge was convinced by the prosecution's argument that it would be next to impossible to extradite him from France, and therefore he was a flight risk. So, the man who is alleged to have attempted to rape a maid in his $3,000 a night Times Square hotel penthouse, remains in a Harlem Rikers Island jail cell.

Were DSK the same in every way except that he was an American, I suspect he'd be out on bail, and back in a cushy hotel room. It is because it is difficult to extradite someone who has the means to fight it, that he remains in jail without bail. Rights can make you worse off.

I've written the same thing here about the disadvantage Emiratis face in the private sector labor market. As one example, an expat does not have labor market mobility within the UAE. Their visa is tied to the company that employs them. But Emiratis are free to change jobs, which makes firms reluctant to hire and train them. Or if the ex pat does not perform, there is nothing stopping the firm from terminating them. But firms fear that it will be difficult to fire an Emirati, so they are reluctant to hire them in the first place.

Rights can make you worse off.

A few more nights in jail, and I suspect DSK would willing give up his right to fight extradition. The trouble is, there's no way for him to make that a credible promise.

If the UAE is going to make it easier for nationals to find work in the private sector, then it's going to have to either give ex pats more rights or nationals fewer rights.

DSK reminds me of Saudi taxi drivers. You can be harmed by your own rights.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Migrant rights in the Gulf

Link to Migrant Workers in the Gulf: A Historical Perspective (video and transcript)


UAE confirms hiring firm run by former Blackwater chief

NYT says the UAE has confirmed no more than half of the story that the UAE has contracted with the former chief to build a mercenary force in the UAE:
A written statement from a top Emirati general, issued through the U.A.E.’s official news agency, said that the country had relied extensively on outside contractors to bolster its military, and that all work with contractors was “compliant with international law and relevant conventions. The statement, by Gen. Juma Ali Khalaf al-Hamiri, said that the U.A.E. had signed a contract with Reflex Responses, Mr. Prince’s company, but made no mention of the hundreds of Colombian, South African and other foreign troops now training at an Emirati military base. The statement did not mention Mr. Prince by name.

Statement by General Juma Ali Khalaf Al Hamiri, Head of HR and Administration, GHQ, UAE Armed Forces
The United Arab Emirates armed forces have been through an accelerated and extensive process of development and Emiratisation since their creation at the founding of the UAE four decades ago. The result is that the UAE armed forces have been able to make meaningful and significant contributions in theatres of operations such as Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently Libya.

At the heart of the successful approach has been strong alliances within the international community and in part the sourcing of expertise through the private sector. International contractors providing planning, training, development and operational support have been integral to the successful development of what is a robust military capability of over 40,000 Emirati personnel at a high state of readiness.

Importantly these third parties have also played significant roles in supporting the UAE Armed Forces in training Iraqi and Afghani security forces with the aim of contributing to the stability of both countries.

The UAE armed forces currently engage a number of third parties, such as Spectre, which delivers academy training capabilities; Horizon, a pilot training partner and R2 which provides operational, planning and training support.

As you would expect of a proactive member of the international community, all engagements of commercial entities by the UAE Armed Forces are compliant with international Law and relevant conventions.
To state the obvious, it is not controversial that the UAE is employing contractors for training its own military. What could stand an official explanation, but does not receive one, is the formation of a mercenary force.

There is an Abdulah Alhamiri (UAE national) held at Gitmo.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

UAE employs mercenaries

The New York Times breaks a major story: The UAE hired a foreign contractor that is building a force of 800 mercenaries to address not only only external threats, but to put down internal threats as well. The story spans five pages; here it is in a single-page view.


...a secret American-led mercenary army [is] being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. ... The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.


The United Arab Emirates — an autocracy with the sheen of a progressive, modern state — are closely allied with the United States, and American officials indicated that the battalion program had some support in Washington.


People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.

For all the money that's been spent, the project is behind schedule and many of the troops recruited have little or no training -- the UAE was promised troops with experience.

What's the need for such a force?

First, the threats:
1. External. Mostly, Iran
2. Internal - foreign migrants (4/5ths of the population, mostly men), specifically the low-wage workers from Asia (and, less so, precisely because they pose more of a threat, from Arab countries with large underclass).
3. Internal - Emiratis.

Second, what was changing before November that might have increased the demand for mercenaries:
1. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and with that its draw down of forces in the Gulf. This would make the UAE more vulnerable to external threats, presumably Iran, but perhaps a not so stable Iraq, or perhaps from Islamist terrorists.
2. The West appeared to be gaining the upperhand in hardening targets. Terrorists might turn their attention to soft targets in elsewhere in the world.
3. Oil revenues were up. Rather than buy more weaponry, buy mercenaries too?
4. Increased oil prices puts further strain on Iran via the highly subsidized price at which it sells gasoline to its population.
5. War-weariness, and focus on the economy in the U.S. reduced the odds the U.S. would intervene if the UAE faced an external attack. Yet, such an attack would in all likelihood be about oil -- it's doubtful the U.S. would not come to the aid of such economically crucial ally.
6. The labor movement in the UAE was gaining traction, becoming more activist.

In the context of the events since the Arab Spring, the UAE government is acting to snuff out any internal dissent. Why little or no dissent is allowed is a question mark -- it doesn't appear to be a threat, a little venting could even be useful. I wonder whether the UAE locals will be offended by the presence of mercenaries. They weren't much bothered by U.S. air bases in the UAE flying missions to Iraq.


Telegraph - By Richard Spencer in Dubai. Story based on NYT's but some local insight.


Friday, May 13, 2011

And then they came for the student association?

Via twitter :


Abdulkhaleq Abdulla
After the teachers and jurists association, the UAE suspends the students association believed to be affiliated with Muslim Brotherhood.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Student union dissolved?

I'm reading on Twitter that the UAE has dissolved a student union in another step at quashing calls for freedom of speech. Do any of my readers have additional information?

It would jive with the Reuters story I posted on yesterday.

Op-ed: Trouble-making is not a human right

Khalaf Al Habtoor, chairman of Al Habtoor Group, complains in a Gulf News op-ed about the condemnation the UAE has received for its crackdown on dissidents.
Of course, ‘freedom' means different things to different people. For those who think freedom means they have the right to disturb the peace, offend public morality, insult whomever they like or attempt to stir-up political dissent, the UAE isn't the place for them.
Those so-called activists have been infected by the revolutionary zeal in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere in the region where people, unable to afford the rising price of bread, schooling for their children or desperate for career opportunities, have struggled against oppression and corruption.

The UAE authorities had every right to stop them in their tracks; they've behaved like sheep without pausing to think that Emiratis aren't victimised by poverty, oppression or corruption — in fact, it's just the opposite. They are nothing more than troublemakers. They have no constituency and they do not represent the majority in any way, shape or form.

Our rulers cannot permit a handful of malcontents to disturb the status quo for their own ends. And I'm sorry but if HRW, Whitbeck or any other individual or organisation doesn't like it, then tough! We must guard against anyone who threatens our way of life.

This is the country we love and anyone who wants to live here must play by its rules or find someplace else; somewhere that permits them to stand on a public soapbox and complain to their heart's content even while they worry where their next meal comes from.

I'm just grateful that the UAE's founder Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who cared for us like their own children, aren't here to witness the ingratitude displayed by a few spoilt and selfish people today. It's up to all proud Emiratis to maintain their legacy and do everything in their power to keep our beloved land from harm.
It's hard to see how a few dissidents with no constituency could do harm. It's also hard to see how legitimate concerns can be aired if every criticism of government is defined as a criminal act of personal insult.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

UAE youth question political passivity of their parents

Older Emiratis, who remember when their families lived in humble fishing villages, have long been content to remain politically silent as their rulers turned the coastal desert state into a business hub of gleaming skyscrapers.

Yet for the first time, a younger generation is starting to question the cost of their parents' genteel quiescence.

"I'm well off. I don't need a revolution because I'm hungry. I want my freedoms, my dignity," said a 21-year old woman, wrapped in a gauzy black abaya. She gave her name as Alia, but said it was an alias for fear of pursuit by security forces.

"The Alia after the Egyptian uprising is not the same person she was before. Now we know what young people are capable of."

She is not alone. A small but increasingly active number of Emirati students are questioning, often on social media Twitter and Facebook, why they should not seek the same democratic changes demanded by street protests elsewhere in the Arab world.
Student activists say the fear barrier is their biggest obstacle. Supporters of the status quo are also using the Internet to reinforce their views.

One Facebook post has pictures of some activists' faces and names above a noose, with the message: "Hang the traitors."

Police arrested five activists who signed a petition in April urging democratic reform. They were accused of insulting UAE leaders and threatening national security. In past years, some activists have had their passports taken and jobs revoked.

"We are trying, but I'm not optimistic," Fatima said. "People are too scared, even if inside they are motivated."
If I were in their shoes I'd be fearful, too.

I can see why people in Syria are risking life and limb despite their fear, although even there it is quite surprising -- the events sweeping through the Middle East brought about a tipping point in each successive country. In the UAE life for the nationals is good, and totalitarianism though present is largely invisible. Dissidents are isolated one by one.

I've been thinking about my teaching experience in the UAE lately. Two areas:

1. There were direct elections for student government allowed. The students weren't given that much authority, but the system did give them some collective voice and they did negotiate some changes with the administration. Interestingly, those elected often were from well-connected families -- but how different was that from Bush I and II?

2. The students that really brought up the the quality of upper level economics classes were women. They arrived in college better prepared because they too advantage of whatever learning opportunities were provided in high school. Education for women was empowering. For men it was more that their birth determined their future and all they needed to do was graduate. People respond to incentives.

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Tribal interests

Given that the petition calling for greater democratic freedoms and direct elections circulated months ago, and that arrests of dissidents occurred weeks ago, it was rather odd to read that UAE tribes just this week "spontaneously" expressed their support the rulers of the nation. Spontaneous generally comes with a connotation of contemporaneous with the triggering event.

Was "spontaneous" meant to communicate, without saying so explicitly, that the expression of support was prompted without a request and without coercion? And did it mean that in actuality the rulers had solicited the open expression of support from the tribes, including a denunciation of dissidents who were related to the tribe?

But the more I think about, the more I wonder why the interests of the tribes aren't aligned with the interests of the rulers. After all, greater democratic freedoms and direct elections would weaken the tribes as a political unit. No?


High rates of death amongst the elderly

It's been documented that death rates for the elderly rise at certain periods of the year, such as national and religious holidays, near their birthdays, and during their grandchildren's final exams.

Chris Blattman believes that the death rate during their grandchildren's exam plummet if professors would announce that it is their policy to send condolence cards to the family of the deceased.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tribes spontaneously state loyalty to rulers

Gulf News
A number of leading Emirati tribes held a series of meetings in Abu Dhabi in the past two weeks aimed at reiterating their covenant and loyalty to the state and the leaders of the UAE.

The meetings were a spontaneous reaction by the tribes to demonstrate support and respect to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Rulers of the Emirates following irresponsible comments by Ahmad Mansour Al Shehi and two other political activists meant to offend the symbol of the states, according to the heads of the tribes.

Al Za'ab tribe, one of leading UAE tribes held a rally on Thursday and Friday last week at the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental Hotel in the presence of a large number of leading figures in the tribe led by Ahmad Jumaa Al Za'abi, Deputy Minister of Presidential Affairs and one of the elders of the tribe Al Za'ab, and hundreds of the members of the tribe.
He did not confirm or deny the news referring to the tribe's intention to file a court case against the activists Ahmad Al Shehi and his companions.
Al Za'abi concluded, saying that "Al Za'ab tribe members came on Thursday and Friday and registered their names in the tribe members' list leaving the decision in regard with Al Shehi to the tribe's leaders to act as they deem appropriate.
It doesn't say Al Shehi is a member of the tribe, but what else could this mean? Added. The first comment below explains: intermarriage.


Monday, May 09, 2011

UAE puts ceiling on unskilled expats

The Federal Cabinet has placed restrictions on the importation of unskilled labor.

Arabian Business:
The UAE government is to implement new limits on the importation of unskilled workers as part of a policy to balance the country's demographic structure.

The Federal Cabinet on Sunday said the "uncontrolled import of unskilled labourers should be limited and replaced by recruitment from within the UAE".
There are two imbalances. One is that only one fifth of the population are Emirati nationals. The other is that the bulk of the short term migrants are unskilled men.

When a similar reform was announced in Bahrain a few years ago there was a howl of protest from households. Not surprisingly, there is a exception:
However, the cabinet's resolution said the chairman of the Federal Demographic Structure Council "may exempt from this resolution domestic helpers or any other categories he specifies".
Here's the Khaleej Times report on the package of resolutions coming under the Federal Demographic Structure Council.

I didn't see mention of my recommendation: to equalize the labor rights of Emirati and foreign workers. Until that happens, employers won't see the point of paying Emiratis as much a foreigners. The disadvantage of Emiratis is that they have too many rights (or foreigners too few).

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His word against his

A London surgeon has been detained because an Emirati claims the surgeon used his middle finger. The surgeon denies it.

Arabian Business:
Joseph Nunoo-Mensah, a consultant surgeon at King's College Hospital, London, had his faces trial after he was accused of making a rude gesture at another driver, The Independent reported.

The British national said he was returning to Dubai when he was tailgated by a car flashing its lights. The stretch of road had a 60kph speed limit as roadworks were ongoing, he told the paper....

“I was trying to abide by the speed limit and couldn't move out of his way. I pulled over when I could but instead of overtaking us, he pulled up alongside… and drove in parallel with us for up to a minute. He was looking at me in an intimidating way – I was quite terrified,” he said.

“I raised both my hands to say, 'What do you want?' but he pulled and then took off and turned right. He alleges I stuck a finger at him but I raised both hands. I am sure he must have seen them at an angle, and that was offensive to him.”

Making offensive hand gestures is illegal in the UAE and can lead to a jail term.

Dr Nunoo-Mensah had his passport confiscated by police the next day and is now waiting to be notified of his court date.

Who can he used the middle finger? But I can tell you that in the UAE you should not. It carries the meaning, I am going to f*ck you -- meaning I am going to make you my woman. (Related: you're considered to be a homosexual only if you are the one penetrated.) If you don't challenge it, it means you acquiesce. In other cultures ignoring it means, instead, that you're certain of your sexuality.

That the tiff has gotten to this point can be inferred from the surgeon's name, Joseph Nunoo-Mensah (and photo). Racism plays a part.

Here's something interesting: he's the son of Ghanaian Brigadier General of the same name.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Osama bin Laden, game theorist

This post is not about bin Laden's decision to hide in plain sight, although that seems to have been a pretty good strategy. We take his decision to reside next to Pakistan's top military training center as a given. The question is, should he have arms in his compound? One's initial reaction is that it is quite odd that he was not armed.

Once the Americans discover where he is, their choices are limited. A small, quick raid is the most likely to minimize the chances word will leak to Osama (and he escapes) or that the Pakistani military becomes involved (bloodshed and embarrassment for the U.S.).

If he is armed and resists, he will be killed. If he is not armed it will be difficult for the Americans to know he is unarmed so he is killed -- in particular, he does not want to be taken alive so he has every incentive to act like he is armed.

In either case he's dead. Which does he prefer? To be killed unarmed. In death he'd get good PR out of it. Killing an unarmed person raises questions about the justice of the killing.

Or does it, now that you know the reason he was not armed?


Thursday, May 05, 2011

UAE economy shrank in 2009

The EIU MENA team
admits economy contracted in 2009, but claims oil and gas GDP had real-term growth despite output fall.