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.

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