World in View: United Arab Emirates’ two-tier society

From the March-April 2016 issue of News & Letters

On Feb. 9, President Barack Obama spoke via satellite to over 3,000 government and business representatives from 125 countries. They were meeting for the 4th World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to discuss “Shaping Future Governments.” Yet the UAE, a Gulf state ally of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, is the perfect model of a two-tier society.

MORE IMMIGRANTS THAN CITIZENS

The Burj Khalifa, built by exploited immigrant labor

In a population of 9.2 million people, only 1.4 million are citizens. The rest are immigrants: over a million Indians, over a million Pakistanis, along with hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, and smaller numbers from dozens of other countries. These are the people who produce oil and gas wealth, and built the 163-story Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Immigrants have few rights as workers. They can be deported if they strike. Unions are illegal. There is no right to collective bargaining. UAE citizens are employed in government jobs, or state-owned enterprises like property development and Emirates airline.

Obama and others expressed fine sentiments at the Summit. Beneath the rhetoric lay the reality of UAE and Gulf state support for Egypt’s brutal police state; the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has killed thousands of civilians; and silence on Russia’s state terrorist bombing of Syria, made worse by Saudi/UAE ally Bahrain’s open courting of Vladimir Putin. All was underscored by the Saudi-led “Thunder of the North,” the largest military exercise held in the region, involving 20 countries.

The “future” on offer promises more of the same.

—Gerry Emmett

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