Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here, in a nutshell

Living in a country largely unknown to Westerners has its good points and bad points. One of the good points is that the location lends itself to conversation fodder. There's always some tidbit of knowledge or travel story that can fill the gaps between updates on various family members' conditions.

One of the bad points is having to repeat the same basic information about the country every time you speak to someone new. No, this is not a theocracy; yes, they let Western infidels like me have a bank account and everything; no, I'm not dodging suicide bombers on my way to work; yes, living here is actually fairly pleasant, if a little on the dull side.

As a service for those curious about the UAE, here are links to some of the biggest stories around the country in the past few months. Some of this is big-picture stuff, some more spot-newsy. For starters:

In the UAE, the United States has a quiet, potent ally nicknamed 'Little Sparta' – Washington Post
“The UAE has gone all-in,” said Anthony Zinni, a former commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East. As U.S. ties with long-standing allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia have frayed, and Egypt and Jordan contend with domestic challenges, the UAE now occupies a unique position in the region. “It’s the strongest relationship that the United States has in the Arab world today,” Zinni said.
It is also the least well known. Although there are about 3,500 U.S. military personnel stationed at Dhafra, and it is the only overseas base with F-22s, the facility has never been identified by the U.S. Air Force in publicly available materials because the UAE government had been concerned that touting the extent of its cooperation with the United States could antagonize some of its citizens.
But UAE officials relaxed those rules during a recent visit by a Washington Post reporter because of growing concern at senior levels of the Emirati government that keeping mum has led to an underappreciation of the country’s contributions beyond what is known in a handful of offices in the Pentagon and at the State Department, particularly as this nation seeks to convince the Obama administration to sell it more advanced fighter jets and adopt a tougher line on Iran.
“We’re different from our neighbors,” said Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador in Washington, who noted that his country has participated in every major U.S.-led coalition since the 1991 Persian Gulf War — save for the 2003 invasion of Iraq — joining Americans in Somalia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan in addition to the ongoing air campaign against the Islamic State. “We’re your best friends in this part of the world,” he said.
More below the fold.

UAE's leading role against Isis reveals its wider ambitions – The Guardian
Still, the UAE’s leading role in the war on Isis is of a piece with its wider ambitions in a Middle East transformed by the Arab spring. Egypt has been weakened by turmoil since the overthrow first of Hosni Mubarak and then of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. Turkey is disliked by conservatives for backing Islamists, while Syria and Iraq are ravaged by bloodshed and sectarianism. Saudi Arabia, the autocratic Sunni giant of the Gulf, is slow, cautious and led by ageing royals.
The Emiratis, by contrast, are dynamic, confident and unapologetic – adding plans to send an unmanned space probe to Mars to accomplishments that include the world’s tallest building and largest indoor ski resort. “Now they are sticking their heads above the parapet,” said a western diplomat. “They are highlighting their successful model and they want to counter the Muslim Brotherhood line that the Islamists are the solution.”
Emiratis have deftly woven themselves into the fabric of US defence strategy. UAE forces serve in Afghanistan – the only Arab state to do so. But they operate independently too. In August UAE aircraft based in Egypt bombed Islamist targets in Libya – though the operation was never officially avowed, a practice borrowed from the Israelis (with whom they are said to maintain discreet contact). Its F-16E/F Desert Falcons are even more advanced than those in service with the US – in part because the UAE invested millions in R&D. It wins praise from American officials who note the recent introduction of conscription and have nicknamed it the “Sparta” of the Gulf – a catchy if reductionist label.
Gulf States and Qatar Gloss Over Differences, but Split Still Hampers Them – New York Times
Discord among the gulf states has undermined efforts to coordinate support for rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and contributed to the emergence of the Islamic State. It has muted the attempts of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the alliance founded by the six gulf states, to counter what they see as expanding Iranian influence. And in Libya, rival gulf states have backed competing armed factions and hastened a slide toward full civil war.
“The region is verging on collapse,” said Michael Stephens, a Doha-based researcher for the Royal United Services Institute, a British research organization. “The last thing you need is a G.C.C. that is fractured and can’t speak with one voice.”
At the heart of the feud is a dispute over political Islam pitting Qatar against its neighbors, principally Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Having struck an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in a play for regional influence, Qatar financially supported the group’s former government in Egypt, opposed the military takeover as an illegal “coup” and provided a haven to Islamists in exile after the subsequent crackdown. Qatar’s Al Jazeera network has repeatedly excoriated the new government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., which consider the Brotherhood a threat to their own stability, both backed the Egyptian military takeover. And both have pressed Qatar to expel the exiled Islamists and curb Al Jazeera.
Abu Dhabi stabbing suspect inspired by 'terrorist ideology' found on the internet – The Guardian
A United Arab Emirates woman who killed an American teacher was inspired by “terrorist ideology” acquired through the internet but investigators have found no links to militant groups, a state news agency reported on Sunday.
Attacks on westerners are rare in the UAE, a wealthy western-allied oil exporter and tourism hub, but concern has been rising following a spate of attacks in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and after a warning in October about a jihadist web forum calling for attacks on American teachers in the region.
Police on Thursday said they had arrested the UAE national last week after the kindergarten teacher, identified as Romanian-born Ibolya Ryan, a mother of 11-year-old twins, was stabbed and killed in a toilet at an Abu Dhabi shopping mall.
The unidentified woman also placed a makeshift bomb outside the front door of an apartment of an Egyptian-American doctor living in the UAE less than two hours after Monday’s killing, police said, adding that the bomb was safely dismantled.
Beaten, trapped, abused and underpaid – migrant domestic workers in the UAE – The Guardian
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has failed to protect female migrant domestic workers from beatings, hunger, overwork, underpayment and forced labour, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday, urging authorities in the Gulf State to end the traditional kafala visa sponsorship system, which perpetuates much of the exploitation.
In a new report, HRW said the kafala system, which decrees that a domestic worker cannot move to a new job before their contract ends without the employer’s consent, trapped many women in abusive conditions. There are at least 146,000 migrant domestic workers in the UAE, most of them from Asia and Africa.
“The UAE’s sponsorship system chains domestic workers to their employers and then leaves them isolated and at risk of abuse behind the closed doors of private homes,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at HRW. “With no labour law protection for domestic workers, employers can, and many do, overwork, underpay and abuse these women.”
The report’s authors interviewed 99 women working in the oil-rich nation, which is among the wealthiest states in the world. Some of the women were forced to work up to 21 hours a day, some were not allowed to leave the house, and some were denied sufficient food. Others were beaten. Almost all had their passports taken away.
There was also the kerfuffle over New York University's Abu Dhabi campus, where reports of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers are widespread. Not that you'd know that reading the local media, though. That was deemed unsuitable for sensitive, Emirati eyes, don'cha know.

Anyway, that's a rundown of some of the bigger goings-on here. I won't be up to much as the new semester starts in a few weeks and travel plans before spring are sketchy. If anything interesting happens, I'll be sure to let you know.

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