Monday, June 18, 2007

Reform in the UAE

Jeremy Tamanini has a good piece discussing issues related to political and economic reform in the United Arab Emirates. Things have gone so well in the UAE since its formation in the early 1970's that there has been little pressure for more democracy, and in any event the situation is complicated by the fact that Emiratis are such a tiny minority in their own country. The situation actually reminds me of the Umayyad caliphate, when Arabs were the privileged and pensioned ruling class of the newly conquered Muslim realm run largely through personal ties and tribal alliances. In this situation, Tamanini suggests the United States focus on very limited reforms that do not involve democracy as such:
"But the United States can enhance the evolution of this customized Dubai model by advocating worker's rights, press freedom, and government transparency. Progress in these areas will further Dubai's economic growth in the short term and possibly ignite a more participatory political system in the longer term. Recent events—including a rare protest by laborers near the rising Burj Dubai, a forum on UAE press freedom organized by Emirati students, and the increasing size and influence of the local blogosphere—suggest there is an opening to begin addressing these sensitive areas."

Along the same lines I was struck by the fact that a crackdown following the expiration of an amnesty on illegal workers will involve enforcement at the corporate level. I suspect this shows that the UAE government sees this as another plank in the Emiratization agenda, creating mechanisms by which they can eventually restrict the number of guest workers and force companies to hire locals.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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