Tag: UAE

What should we think of the Pope’s UAE visit?

Pope Francis recently visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His trip is historic, not just because it’s the first by the head of the Roman Catholic Church. He will also lead an outdoor mass, the first to be held, according to the new coverage, in the Arabian Peninsula. Additionally, the Pope signed an accord of “human fraternity” with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar University, the top center of religious learning for Sunni Muslims. This all sounds good, but I have mixed feelings.

The UAE has been putting a lot of effort into promoting interfaith dialogue and a “moderate Islam.” One example is this Foreign Policy article by the UAE’s ambassador to the US, presenting a “vision for a moderate Muslim world.” There is undoubtedly a strategic element to this, but I don’t doubt the UAE’s sincerity. I’m sure they really do want peaceful relations with the Christians nations they interact with, and are very concerned about the spread of extremism among their population.

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What the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student means for Middle East studies

I feel like I should say something about the disappearance—and likely assassination—of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This tragedy was enabled by America’s permissive stance towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US support for other horrific Saudi policies (like its bombing of Yemen). I’ve expressed concern on Twitter and in personal conversations, and have been writing about Yemen for years.

But to be honest, I don’t think I have anything new to say at this point. Most Duck readers will already know, and be upset, about this situation. Instead, I want to raise another concerning human rights abuse by one of our Persian Gulf allies: the detention of UK graduate student Matthew Hedges by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A few months ago, reports spread of a UK man detained in the UAE on espionage charges; he was rumored to be an academic doing research in the country. These reports were later confirmed as the UAE announced it had charged Hedges with espionage for trying to obtain classified information and gain access to confidential archives. Hedges is a PhD student at the University of Durham, and was studying the UAE’s post-Arab Spring foreign policy. He has been held in rough conditions and there are concerns about his physical and mental health. Continue reading


Mall Culture in a Global City

Starbucks in the Ibn Battuta Mall

Greetings Ducklings!  Just sending y’all a little post-card from the United Arab Emirates where I am spending a couple of weeks in Dubai and the neighboring emirates trying to learn more about the political economy of this fascinating and dynamic country particularly since the housing bubble burst in 2008.

Between meetings I seem to find myself visiting a lot of malls.  With the summer time heat, the many malls here become the center for public life or at least a site of perambulation in a nominally open, air-conditioned space by ethnically segregated family units plus trailing nannies. One of the things that fascinates me about the mega-malls here in Dubai are the generally flimsy attempts to encourage expatriates and visitors to respect local customs by asking them to cover their knees and elbows. The suggested dress code seems to be ignored rather regularly and occasionally egregiously.  Most Emiratis seem quite tolerant of the sartorial choices of their visitors and foreign residents, but there has been a twitter campaign (#UAEDressCode) by some Emiratis to encourage greater modesty.

I wonder what it says that such suggested norms in a host country are so regularly flouted by foreigners. I think of it as a kind of micro-drama of power whereby the local culture is viewed as semi-sovereign or at least the space of the mall is viewed as a “cosmopolitan space” (or more precisely a terra nullis) outside the sovereign territory of the host state because there are so many foreign retail outlets. Some boorish tourists may simply not even see a need to be “culturally sensitive” anywhere in the country when they are on vacation — an attitude of perhaps neo-colonial privilege that itself needs to be unpacked. Of course, the now rather standardized Emirati national attire is itself an assertion of status in a country where the national population is a tiny and apparently rather pampered elite. Moreover, the default preference for the wishes of the local population reflects a potentially antiquated notion of sovereignty. While there are Emiratis who do not support encouraging a strict dress code and visitors/foreign residents who respect the desire of locals to preserve their cultural norms, we generally seem to have a situation of contending privileges and a potential failure of cultural interchange in this most global city-state…


Saudi and Emirati Intervention in Bahrain

Saudi APCs and Emirati troops are now on the streets of Bahrain attempting to squelch what was formerly a non-violent, secular, youth-led, economically rooted, democracy movement as America does little other than urge restraint from its allies. Such mealy mouthed statements toward a regime which is using live ammunition against unarmed protesters and then denying the victims of its rampage access to medical facilities indicates that the US foreign policy establishment has failed to adapt its posture toward authoritarian client regimes since the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Consequently, the monarchists’ narrative explaining the democratic demands of the protests in sectarian terms and foreign influence appears to be becoming self fulfilling.

The situation reveals the paralyzing contradictions in American foreign policy, economic interests, and political ideology, but perhaps more importantly the failure of the Obama administration to decisively restrain Saudi and Emirati intervention may threaten regional stability. The Iranian republic has already called on the monarchies to leave Bahrain “immediately.” There have been popular protests in Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait against the crackdown in Bahrain.

Despite the regime’s attempt to erase the memory of the protests, Manama is not pacified. If the underlying reasons for the unrest are not addressed quickly and substantively, a wider escalation could eventually involve the US.


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