Dubai- After a somewhat tense month in Iraq and Syria, I popped down the the UAE for a few days before making my next move. So here I am for the moment in a spotlessly clean, efficient, authoritarian, stable monarchy. It is safe here but best experienced with a Western passport. One would very unlikely have the same experience with a Filipino or Bangladeshi passport. As I caught the flight from Iraq the other day, well to-do upper middle class Iraqis had to have their paper Emirati visas printed up and carefully sleeved in plastic to be presented to immigration here. Whereas I walk up to the officer seemingly without a care in the world. This week marks the 16th anniversary of the US & UK invasion of the Iraqi republic and Iraq today is still a place that is nowhere close to reaching its human potential. Through the prism of persistent regional chaos it’s easy to understand the appeal of the stability here.
As GCC nationals calmly stride through the airport including a special “niqab lane” for parochial woman draped in black to be able to show their faces safely apart from the gaze of strange males, Iraqis as citizens of an ostensible Gulf oil power must still be carefully vetted. Sure, of course that owes to the Hussein regime’s invasion of GCC member Kuwait in 1990 in an act of catastrophic hubris after eight years of war with Iran, but that Iraqis are still perceived this way in 2019 indicates what a colossal failure the 2003 ‘intervention’ was and remains. It also demonstrates the deep corruption within the Iraqi state that has undercut the aspiration of its citizens to move on from war. Just ask Basrawi protestors infuriated of the dearth of basic services including potable water in an area that should be luxurious owing to its immense hydrocarbons.
From the view here in the UAE, Gulf monarchism is undoubtedly preferable to the world of militancy and militias to the north. Sure there is no freedom of speech or assembly but the electricity never cuts out, the wifi is constant, and the trains run on time. The UAE, and Dubai in particular, have put vast effort-dependent largely on South Asian male labourers -to create a post-oil infrastructure and subsequent economy to build a vibrant tourism sector attracting visitors from fellow ’emerging markets.’
Thus the choice in the wider Middle East seems to be between freedom of press or freedom from political and religious violence. And it is a stark one. Civil liberties can potentially be equated with civil violence whereas an ironclad monarchical system that brooks no dissent but ensures a rock solid security environment (not counting Bahrain 2011 and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province) as those who have experienced the former can attest to.