1 thought on “The UAE under MBZ”

  1. There are some good points of detail here, but I would like to comment on one or two big issues where I think that the Baker Institute is wrong.

    First Mr Ulrichsen’s piece falls for the line, beloved of many foreign observers, that Abu Dhabi and Dubai are big rivals, engaged in some kind of competition. Dubai was undoubtedly guilty of getting too greedy in the period before the financial crash of 2009-10, and of not keeping Abu Dhabi informed of its financial situation. (I would not incidentally underestimate the volume of debt that Abu Dhabi ran up in the same period, though given its huge reserves, this did not lead to any defaults.) It is clear nonetheless that 30% or more all economic activity in Dubai is Abu Dhabi money, and particularly since 2009-10, Dubai has been more careful to stress that it is part of the Federation and to tone down its glitzy style of advertising. The two Emirates are much closer than most commentators give them credit for. I might mention here that Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s father and grandfather were Rulers of Dubai and his maternal grandfather was Ruler of Abu Dhabi. In Arab eyes, this makes the Ruling Shaikhs of the two Emirates cousins. There are other examples of intermarriage between the two Emirates, but none, so far as I am aware, between the Nahyans or Maktoums (who are both Beni Yas people) with the Qassimis of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.

    Secondly, the two Mohammeds, MBZ and MBR, work closely together, and have done so since the early 1990s, as I personally had the benefit of observing in Abu Dhabi in the mid-1990s. They share Federal duties, like foreign travel and receiving international visitors, in true family manner. The latter has always had the support of the former in his efforts, as Prime Minister, to improve the efficiency of the Federal Government. Both Mohammeds are committed to improving the standard of living of all Emiratis, so that Ajmanis and Ras Al Khaimans, for example, have the same opportunities as Emiratis from the two main Emirates. Both agree on Federal appointments, and Dubai makes no secret of its good fortune to be backed by Abu Dhabi. It may be that the Federation looks more cohesive since the crash of 2009, but it is a mistake to look back and conclude that Abu Dhabi and Dubai were not close before.

    I have two more comments. I do not recall the issue of DP World’s bid to take over six US ports evolving as Mr Ulrichsen suggests. As I recall from my conversations with leading figures in Dubai, they spoke ruefully of the ports’ crisis, saying that Dubai should have anticipated it. No one, certainly not George Bush, who agreed the deal, saw this coming, nor the feeding frenzy it provoked among US politicians, including Hilary Clinton, who attacked Dubai as a place which might harbour terrorists, despite the fact that there has been here for many years a huge presence in Jebel Ali Port of the US Fifth Fleet.

    Secondly, I think it better to trace Iranian influence in Dubai back a hundred years or so, when increased taxation on the Persian side of the Gulf encouraged Sunnis of mixed Iranian and Arab backgrounds to settle in Dubai. This was encouraged by the Al Maktoum, and by the mid-20th century, the main language of the Dubai souq was Farsi. There has always been a large Iranian community in Dubai. It is no exaggeration to say that the prosperity of Dubai in the middle of the last century was the result of trade between Dubai and Iran and the willingness of Dubai merchants to give credit to their Iranian counterparts. The secondary sanctions, which were imposed on Iran by the UN between 2006 and 2012, have done considerable damage to Dubai’s foreign trade, and it will take some time to recover the position of ten years ago.

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