Thursday, March 7, 2013

The United Arab Emirates, Wealth, and their Citizens

UAE Government Fears Overthrow, Arrests 94

Photo: ITP.Net

The United Arab Emirates government recently arrested 94 people with charges of plotting to overthrow the government and seize power. Many of the men and women arrested have been accused of being members of Al-Islah, an Islamist group with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Along with their families, those arrested have witnessed a complete butchery of proper judicial procedure as many have been detained and held without access to lawyers and the without any key evidence being brought against them. These arrests have prompted many, such as Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Human Rights Watch Middle East (HRW), to criticize government authorities stating, "It appears that UAE authorities will drag scores of citizens through a shamelessly unfair judicial process that makes a mockery of justice." This shamelessness of the UAE government could be for several reasons but it appears, at least to the international community, that there is panic and fear within the UAE government of an outbreak of protests. The aftermath of the Arab Spring has left numerous countries' governments on edge, most notably that of the Saudi Arabian monarchy. The UAE is an incredibly wealthy nation due in part to rich oil reserves and ranks 13th in the world in GDP Per Capita ($49,000). This boom in wealth in the UAE coupled with the lack of representation and democracy is clearly putting pressure on the government. The UAE's risk of political protest and/or rebellion is a perplexing question due to the fact that we see a highly developing country experiencing an influx of wealth and a diversification of their economy's dependence on oil revenue (down to 25% of GDP) and yet UAE citizens remain servants to a government that is able to violate even basic judicial law. This violation of the judicial system is no doubt a reaction by the UAE government to the protests by citizens calling for greater political representation. One can predict that the UAE government will try to diffuse these growing tensions by injecting more wealth into the country via stimulus packages and even through increased tourism by hosting the U17 FIFA World Cup. Much like in Saudi Arabia, the question remains, can the UAE government and the various emirates continue to control the country in an authoritarian manner while UAE citizens are quickly becoming some of the richest and wealthiest people on the planet? In future months and in the upcoming years it will be interesting to see whether continued infringements of the judicial system will go unnoticed, or if it in fact provides the spark needed to generate political protest as UAE citizens seek to take control of their own economy.

 "CIA - The World Factbook." CIA. Central Intelligence Agencey, 05 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2013. "UAE Coup Plot Trial Begins in Abu Dhabi." - Middle East. Al Jazeera, 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 Mar.


  1. I am currently working on an honors thesis which focuses on security issues in the Persian Gulf and how they relate to the U.S. I found this article, published by a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, which analyzes how the Gulf monarchies have turned to defense contractors to bolster their national militaries and security forces. Countries in this region with considerable oil wealth, like the UAE, have hired firms such as Black Water to help them establish their own special forces. Needless to say, this has implications for democratic movements in the region.

    Here's the link:,d.cGE

  2. I think this is a very interesting topic. It seems that the world is moving closer and closer to democratic values on a global scale. In the U.A.E., with the 3rd highest GDP in the world, it is amazing that the relatively well-off populous does not do more to forge a democratic state. With an annual per-capita GDP of nearly $50,000 it would seem that the people would have a lot of power. I am curious how the GDP is so high. Does the government just pay off its citizens? In last week’s reading of Libya under Gaddafi I found it very interesting that in this oil-rich country the people were poor. The government employed a huge number of people, but paid very low wages. I think that it makes some sense that if you keep your people poor it will be easier to rule over them. Maybe the U.A.E. is making a mistake allowing their citizens to become wealthy, instead of concentrating most of the wealth among a few and more effectively repressing the people. I think the article about a private military is great. A wealthy leader can hire foreigners to come in and kill the protestors and radicals without defecting as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia. I think these are great lessons for learning how to be a successful dictator.

    1. I disagree that it is easier to rule over a poor population as an authoritarian dictator rather than a rich population. Why, in general, would an average citizen in the UAE have to protest and rebel? There is a lot of money coming in, yes maybe it is not too democratic, but food is on the table. But, in a place where people are poorer, such as Libya, people were struggling economically in various ways, and the lack of democratic representation exasperates the situation. The idea of keeping citizens well off economically--so as to prevent protest--is common in the aftermath of the Arab Spring protests. In Kuwait there have been large government payouts to citizens; and Saudi Arabia has promised increased social spending.

      We will see what this blatant flouting of judicial process brings for the UAE, but with its average citizen doing well, why do they need to protest?

  3. They are protesting now because they see that they don't have a democracy. They are not free to what they want. Now that they have money they want to live like the West, be free to do and say what they want. If you are kept poor you have less ability to protest and less knowledge of what you are missing out on. This is changing with the Internet and TV; this is why authoritarian rulers (North Korea, China) limit the access of free press and the use of the internet. To be a successful dictator I think its key to oppress, otherwise you’re likely to become a democracy.