Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Ports Thang Again

This is a comment I made on a discussion at MetroBlogging Dubai. An American commenter named Errinf was getting a bit hot and bothered about that democracy thing.

"Mainly for the benefit of Errinf, but also anyone else who is confused about how Dubai is governed (not that I'm an expert, you understand, I'm just a Brit who has lived in Dubai for twelve years).

"Nobody in any of the Emirates is called an 'emir'. Each Emirate has a Ruler. The seven Emirates are part of a federation called the United Arab Emirates. (So maybe the 'Emirates' should be 'Rulerates'. But they're not. Don't ask).

"You have caught us in a period of profound change. One of the founders of the UAE, and its first President, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, passed away in November 2004. He was replaced by one of his sons, Sheikh Khalifa.

"The Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum, passed away in January 2006, and has been replaced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

"Sheikh Mohammed is the one to watch; he has been enormously influential in the development of Dubai, and that beneficial influence will now extend to all of the Emirates.

"So, we have the Rulers, and they elect a President. They also nominate candidates to sit on the National Consultative Council. It was announced a few months ago that in future half of the NCC seats will be filled by directly-elected candidates.

"Destitute Rebel says that Emiratis are 100% behind the monarchy (actually, monarchy is the wrong word too - nobody goes around calling themselves King). DR's claim might be an exaggeration, but it is not far from the truth. Most Emiratis truly love their leaders. Heck, I love them and I don't even get any of the social benefits that the Emiratis do! I know this is going to be hard to swallow for anyone who has not experienced it directly, but this little country is flourishing under its benevolent dictatorship: the Rulers do everything they can to improve the quality of life for Nationals and expats. And because they do not have to deal with bureaucratic consultation procedures, decisions can be implemented very very quickly. Sometimes these decisions are flawed because they have not been debugged by consultation, but they get tweaked as they go along.

"Yes, there are issues with human rights, freedom of speech, Internet censorship etc. But these issues are being addressed, and while the situation is far from perfect, it is a lot better than it was even five years ago, and it has always been infinitely better than in many other Middle Eastern countries. With Sheikh Mohammed's recently-announced new Cabinet I think we are going to see some surprising and welcome changes.

"But don't try and force western-style democracy into the picture. As far as I can tell, there is not that much interest in Government and politics amongst Emiratis. And the great fear would be that free elections could give power to Islamists, and if that happened it would be the end of the UAE as we know it."