Sunday, June 28, 2009

UAE parallels with Iran?

The UAE, a neighbouring country of Iran that allows the Iranians a business and finance enclave in Dubai, is relatively unaffected by the political upheaval in the Islamic Republic, and stands to gain economically. Obviously the UAE's rulers are wary of Islamically-sanctioned authority being challenged in the streets, even if it is largely in the name of regime figure who has been electorally dispossessed. The nearest parallel to what is happening in Iran in the GCC states are the disputes over succession. These still ocassionally pop up among the families of some of the northern emirates of the UAE, and via the family fights vitiated through parliamentary shenanigans in Kuwait as well as the more coded family disputes over policy that get a semi-public airing in Saudi Arabia.

Otherwise Gulf politics are about traditional consultation methods and individual sheikh's majlises, processes that are sometimes bolstered by narrow electorates for powerless putative parliaments. Kuwait is a relative exception to this rule. However its legislative politics are more parliamentary theatre than substance, as could be said of the UK until last week. The Al-Sabah have long been a lesson for other GCC leaders in why they should not go down the part-constitutional politial route. Now that Iran has shown that electoral politics is as dangerous as brash modernisation was 30 years earlier for the Shah, this lesson is only compounded. Dubai's version of brash modenisation is unlikely to herald what happened in late 70s Iran of course. The (indigenous) cultural conservatism and the ruling family's partnership with the local ulema who have become more controlled in the last 10 years will see to that. Dubai's clerical class, as in other UAE emirates and in other GCC states, are rigorously held in check in what is a small city state. Radical Islamic opinion -once useful throughout the Gulf in countering the attacks of Arab secularists - has been easily controlled by ministry purges in the last few years, while talk of national identity and more active morality policing has helped offset more recent disquiet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Old New Homeland

Strange times indeed. Am in a period of transition between departing the UAE and arriving in our old new homeland, the UK. Departure has been something I am taking in my stride, mindlessly preparing for the off by filling my time packing and finishing up admin tasks in Sharjah before spending a few days with friends in Dubai and then on to the plane with X, my long-time friend and wife. I expect that the journey home will see some deeper reflection on what it has all meant but maybe not, as tiredness and a hangover are more likely to compound the generally dissolute state of mind that I have found myself in over a number of months. An inability (or unwillingness) to think and a difficulty in remembering has been something that has characterised my state of mind for several years now, beyond the specific and relatively narrow requirements of work.

What is to be done? I am happy to have no specific plans beyond deep immersion in my music collection and time spent with my wife, in addition to reacquainting myself with my mother whose health had largely dictated future calculations over the last year. The difficulty will be in gauging what happens in say a year from now; what do we do beyond raising mortgage money and paying the bills? Do we want to be there for say the next 5 years, dealing with family and working on the mideast (in my case) from the vantage point of London? I had thought that once work pressures eased (as they plainly now have) I would want for nothing more than escape from the damned region and the chance to make the most of the 15 years left for fun before old age kicks in. I am not interested in competing with the big boys in regional meltdown watch, and I have never had the patience to do what real regional experts do (learn the key local languages properly and obsess, obsess, obsess). In fact I have always found the obsession of my western peers who work on the region to be rather tiresome, wondering what is missing from their lives that the fate of the Palestinians, Iraqis or even the Bahraini Shia is something that can make them fulminate with impotent rage against local power brokers, western governments, religious intolerance (delete as appropriate).

I had thought that I could redirect my energies on something that would take me (mentally at least) far away from the accursed middle east and apply my general political nouse to wider problems. We shall see – I can’t earn money by presenting the long historical view of the strange death of the Labour Party, while condescending to step into the parochial ring to fight, fight and fight again to save the party I love is plainly a waste of my inordinate political talents. My teaching of international relations at Sharjah hasn’t really made me an incisive observer of world political trends, while my creative writing abilities (as you can no doubt tell) haven’t really improved much for 20 years. My wife however thinks that a sometime sparkling and satirical wit should be deployed in scripting socially observant plays or comic observations – I will certainly have time to pursue this possibility, but don’t hold your breath. Old dogs and new tricks come to mind. Watch this space as Deira Diary relocates from the middle east to the east end and my takes on the UK, the mid-east, old (and new) music, and, as far as possible, the world become subjects for some sometimes ill-considered reflection

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Back to the Mother (F) country

We are leaving Sharjah on the 14th June, so unless I run into any of you in the office, this may well be goodbye.

I am highly appreciative of the willingness of the university to give me the opportunity of teaching for the first time in what is now an even more varied career. I have no idea what will happen back in the Old Country; that will be in the hands of God, my mother, and the luck of the Irish (note the order, as was said of Saddam’s comments concerning what he thought were life’s three afflictions). I am not, by the way, and to the best of my knowledge, Irish.

It has been an up and down experience for both of us out here in the UAE, one that we will, for sure, remember for some years to come. It is also possible that we will be back, although probably not in a long term employment capacity. I shifted my Mid-East focus to the Persian Gulf over 10 years ago, and it’s probably too late to shake off this particular affliction. So that suggests that a return visit to the UAE is more than possible. Whether I will then be serving in a teaching capacity back in the UK or preparing my bid for the Labour leadership in 2014, I cannot predict. Equally likely, I will be a “researcher”, with all the ambiguity and mukhabarat connotation that that implies. My wife, I trust, will return, full force, to painting, and, with the grace of God, will make a mint and I will get to realize a long held ambition: to drive a van from town to town, continent to continent, from art exhibition to art exhibition.

If our current plan works out, we will be on the road from NYC to the west coast sometime between mid-September and mid-November 2009.

This blog will shortly redeploy to the wild east of London. Dire Diary anyone?