Tuesday, September 1, 2015

United Arab Emirates

Dhabi is the local Arabic name for the gazelle
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain are the seven states which comprise the Dawlat al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah - the United Arab Emirates - that were founded in December 1971, though it is likely that you have only ever heard of the first two, and suspect me of making up the other five. The place has that fantasy feel to it, an immensely wealthy mirage in the midst of nomadic desert, so your skepticism is unsurprising. What is going on, for example, that 9 million people live there, but barely one and a half million of them are actually citizens, the remainder entirely ex-patriate? The answer of course is oil and gas, or their off-shoots and service sectors.

Abu Dhabi provides the capital, which is why you have heard of it. Dubai is the second city, the most densely populated and the most oil-rich, and like Abu Dhabi has the power of veto over the UAE's ruling body. Of the other five, Ajman is the smallest, and predominantly agricultural; Fujairah has a coastline on the Gulf of Oman but not on the Persian Gulf; Sharjah has a version of the London Eye at al-Qasba (you can see that I am struggling desperately to find anything worth mentioning about any of these places), and prohibits alcohol unless you can obtain an alcohol license for home use only; Umm al Qaiwain has a museum with some interesting Ubaid pottery dug up locally; and there really is nothing to say about Ras al Khaimah except that it was the last to join the UAE, and of course oil and gas, and then more oil and gas, and then still more oil and gas, which is what the UAE is ultimately all about, and will continue to be, no doubt, until the oil and gas runs out, or electric cars render the oil and gas obsolete, or global warming floods the place.

Each of the emirates is ruled by an absolutist, hereditary monarchy of its own, and each of the emirs sits on the Federal Supreme Council of the UAE, which applies sharia law and allows no parliament, though it does maintain the majlis, a kind of open assembly to which anyone can bring an idea or a grievance, and then be ignored because of course the emirs know best. The Arab Spring never sprung in the UAE; Amnesty International's lengthy list of appeals for pardon or release for human rights activists suggests it may well have tried to spring, but was snapped back by the autocratic rulers.

Marks for: 600 (billion, that is, in dollars - the GDP of the UAE in 2014)

Marks against: 3.7 (trillion that is, in dollars - the GDP of Germany in the same year; just to give you an idea of how the Arab oil wealth compares in relative terms with the richest European country)

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