Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Stress Free UAE?

The United Arab Emirates was largely unaffected by the Arab Spring.  As noted in a 2011 issue of Time Magazine, the country’s extensive wealth has prevented it from the protests, which occurred throughout other areas of the MENA region.  Although the majority of the citizens appear to be loyal to the monarchy, not everyone is currently satisfied with the ruling government.  According to the BBC, in August of 2012, ninety-four citizens (including women, human rights lawyers, and students) were arrested with charged with attempting to overthrow the government.  According to the UAE, these individuals have strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Al-Islah, which intends to replace the ruling families of the Emiratis with strict Islam rule.  Earlier last week (on March 4), the trial of the ninety-four suspected “enemies of the state” began in Abu Dhabi.  According to Salem Kobaish (the UAE Attorney General) the defendants, as well as certain foreign organizations, were determined to overthrow the ruling monarchy.

This trial is important because it proves that although a large percentage of the population is supportive of the current regime, there are many issues within the government. As noted in this case, the monarchy has no tolerance for opposition and appears to be rather paranoid of a popular revolt.  For example, in July of 2012 Ahmed Abdul Khaleq (an online activist) was deported to Thailand after protesting for democratic reforms. The U.S. and the UAE have strong diplomatic and economic relations.  Similar to other countries located on the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE supplies a large percentage of oil to the U.S. and has the seventh largest petroleum reserves in the world.   The UAE has been a crucial ally to the  U.S. throughout the War on Terror.  

As U.S. citizens, we have been shielded from the reality that the UAE has been committing certain human rights violations against its own citizens.  State authorized torture and imprisonment have frequently occurred within the UAE since the 2011 Arab Spring, but unlike other countries in the MENA region, the UAE has been able to closely monitor the population in order to prevent any future uprisings (approximately 86% of the population resides in urban areas).

Although it appears that the UAE’s wealth has kept the majority of the citizens complacent, it is important to remember that not ALL the citizens are satisfied with the current regime. Various NGOs, such as Transparency International, suggests that a higher degree of political openness will help reduce the moderate level of corruption.  As educated students, we should observe these current trials and see how the UAE proceeds with them.  It is important to note that even though the UAE was able to narrowly avoid the Arab Spring, certain reforms are still necessary within the government.   



  1. With the sixth largest oil reserve in an area the size of Maine. As long as crown prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan continues to invest billions of dollars into infrastructure, I don't see the Arab Spring taking over this land. Keep the money flowing to keep the people happy

  2. But when the oil wells dry up, then what? (Yemen?)

  3. I largely agree with Billy, as long as money keeps flowing and benefiting the public sphere it should help keep the citizens calm. However, I am curious how the wealth is distributed and how much corruption actually exists? Even though as a whole they are relatively well off economically, any increases in inequality mixed with human rights abuses could pose some dangers for the future.

    1. Matt-

      Since you asked, UAE's corruption perception rank for 2012 is 27th in the world, meaning that for the most recent year, the country is less corrupt than say Spain or South Korea.

      As for inequality, we don't have good data really, but we can say that UAE is above average for human development indicators, suggesting a high quality of life.

      They also have a large obesity rate...

    2. Michael,

      Would you agree that no matter what the outcome of this trial is, the majority of the citizens will remain satisfied with their (borderline dictator) government as long as the money continues to flow into the country?

  4. The UAE economy, though dependent on oil, is quickly diversifying their economy which I believe will only help the current regime maintain power as a diversification of economy leads to more jobs and, like Billy said, "keeps the money flowing".

    Also, I don't see another Yemen occurring in the UAE even if a popular revolt does occur, I think that as more and more UAE citizens become middle-class, the idea of a violent political uprising becomes less likely as more citizens will be less inclined to give their lives while they maintain a relatively high standard of living. If we do see popular revolt in the upcoming months/years, I think it is much more likely that we see large non-violent demonstrations.

  5. Although not every citizen is satisfied with the the current regime as Pier mentioned, I don't believe that enough citizens are dissatisfied with the regime to revolt. The majority of UAE citizens are relatively well-off and seem to be fat and happy. I agree with Matt that if we do see any kind of revolts in the next few years they will be non-violent demonstrations.

  6. I think the UAE has done an amazing job internationally with PR work. The publicized extravagance of the cities, technology, and infrastructure have been very successful at painting the UAE as a prosperous and fair nation in the middle of a region rocked by turmoil. If they can maintain this image in the Western world, I believe the people of UAE, whether unhappy with the regime or not, will not garner much support for any change from the Western superpowers.