Archive for November, 2011

Criticize the United Arab Emirates? Easy!

Posted on: November 27th, 2011 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

An unedited version of this response is at the bottom of this post.

Criticize the United Arab Emirates? Easy. Live there and the lack of logic, accountability and responsibility, cause both frustration and an unlimited source of humorous anecdotes.

The restrictions on Emirate women are to me unacceptable (four successful sisters and 3 successful daughters in Canada).  Why do the majority Emirati women appear to acquiesce?

CID (secret police) presence is overwhelming, yet non-invasive if on the right side of their laws. Police are professional and courteous. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching English language and communication programs with Police, Immigration and Customs officers. We shared meals, jokes, and laughter.

“Western” ex-pat professionals, experts, and consultants tend to accept that greed is a better motivator than “Western” truth, justice, ethics and morality.

“Non-Western” ex-pats are primarily laborers. To send upwards of 80% of their meager wages home to their families, they endure 10 to a room in a variety of conditions. Labor camps are “improving” because of international condemnation.

Non-Emirati Muslims (from Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria) cannot become UAE citizens. For some, going home is not possible. For others, the educational system and economic opportunities are better in the UAE than in their home countries.

When fired by a government organization (although lauded for my work and belief in the potential of Emirati Nationals), no reasons were given. The CEO was told to fire me. I had no recourse.

Where am I going with this? Simple explanations, simple understanding, simple conclusions, and simple criticisms are abhorrent to me.

The UAE’s 40th anniversary is next week. Consider Canada at 40 (1907); Could women vote? Were there controls on rapacious capitalists? Was there protection for the Chinese laborers that built our rail system?

Canada in 1967 versus the UAE in 1971. Only a 400-year-old Canadian would be able to witness the changes in Canada equivalent to the changes experienced by UAE in 40 years. From 1971 to 2011 the UAE has progressed from a desert and small business economy to what could be argued is the most technologically advanced country in the world.

Naïve criticism of cultural and religious influences on Emirati citizens is counter-productive to our “western aims and desires” for the citizens of the UAE.

We demand a more “western” orientation to women, power, business, democracy, justice, ethics and morality. We demand immediate changes. We demand they see the rightness of our demands. We demand and expect Emirati Nationals to easily accept these demands.

Asked about my five years in the UAE, I challenge my audiences to consider the different ethnic, racial, and religious influences on the Canadian mosaic.

Then I introduce four concepts that help explain the UAE (Arab) reality.

1) Tribes

2) Nomads

3) A “rentier” mentality.

4) The Muslim religion.

My Response to a reply to my “response” above.

Thank you for your comments.

I use the idea of a nation’s age to encourage perspective. There are people and cultures all over the world that practice behaviors based on traditions that we in the “West” consider barbaric.

Serbia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Russia, Germany, East Timor, India, China, Mexico . . . all have existed as countries well before the UAE was created. And their attacks on individuals, democracy, freedom, equality, peace are certainly not exclusively the result of the Muslim religion.

The common denominator in the worst examples of barbaric behaviors is authoritarianism, dictatorship, AND isolation from news about the world “outside”. Lack of education, social stratification, and the marginalization of women, also contribute to a country’s character.

Criticism of the Arab world, and the UAE in this comment, is based on the assumption that the UAE of 2011 is the same as “our” 2011. While the buildings, cars, airports, airlines, houses, highways, interchanges, malls, entertainment, and sports facilities are all equal to or better than many “western” oriented countries, the underlying, deep, traditional, cultural memory still drives the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of the majority of the Emirati National population. Culture, as anyone who has worked to change corporate culture, is notoriously difficult to influence let alone change.

It is absolutely imperative to know the cultural history of a society you are attempting to understand and potentially influence. Look at the UAE in 1971 or 1951 or 1931. Consider the native populations in those years. Consider their exposure to education, other religions, other nationalities, world media, different roles for men and women, childrearing . . . up to 1971. Throw in the negative impact of the “colonial” attitude on native populations and you will appreciate even more the reality of the UAE in 1971 to 2011.

Pictures of Dubai in the mid 1990’s show very little change from 1971. The major changes have been in the last 18 or so years. The Higher Colleges of Technology, the largest institution of higher learning in the UAE, was founded in 1988. Expansion to the smaller Emirates was not completed until 5 years ago.

The admonition “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”, does NOT apply. Ignorance pre-supposes awareness of “laws” and their application. Ignorance of what you should and can know is far different from what you are unable to know, and unable to understand. “We cannot perceive that which we cannot conceive.”

 Below is an unedited version of my first response.

It is easy to criticize the United Arab Emirates. When you live there, the little things that make no sense, the lack of logic, and the absence of the concept of responsibility, cause both frustration and an unlimited source of humorous anecdotes.

The role and apparent restrictions on Emirate women (though much, much less repressive than Saudi Arabia), were unacceptable from my perspective (four very successful sisters in Canada).  Why do the majority Emirati women appear to acquiesce?

The presence of the CID (secret police) is overwhelming and yet non-invasive if you are on the right side of their laws. For small accidents and some other administrative issues, as well as interacting with many as an English language / soft skills trainer, I could not meet a nicer group of people. We shared meals, jokes, and laugher. However they do of course have unquestionable authority.

On the other hand, “Western” ex-pat professionals have it made if they accept that greed is a better motivator than “Western” truth, justice, ethics and morality.

The “non-Westerner” ex-pats are primarily laborers who put up with “anything” in order to send upwards of 80% of their meager wages back home to their families. They live 10 to a room, or more, in a variety of conditions. Labor camps (hidden behind both the laws and the power of Emirati owners sponsoring the construction) are “improving” because of international condemnation. I met and worked with many, visited some of their accommodations and listened to their stories. I count more than a few as friends. Regardless of their lifestyle in the UAE, it is often immeasurably better that at “home.”

Are the labors slaves? NO. As per the Irish immigrants to the US in the mid 1800’s, slaves would be treated better because of their economic value (assets of their owners). The laborers, despite apparent reforms (stated but rarely implemented), are often treated as mere fodder for the economic prosperity. They can be, and are jailed for any verbalization or action against their working/living conditions. And they can be sent to jail and deported with no fanfare.

Non Emirati Muslims (from Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria) are not allowed to be citizens and are treated with destain. For some, going home is not possible. For others, the educational system and economic opportunities are better in the UAE than in their home countries. My “family” in the UAE are Muslim ex-pats from Jordan (to which they will eventually retire) and are wonderful, warm, and supportive friends.

I was fired from two government organizations (although lauded for my work and belief in the potential of Emirati Nationals). There was no recourse. None. Nor even reasons given for dismissal in one case. My CEO was told to fire me. End of story.

In another instance (completely unrelated to the above) I experienced the UAE legal system (I was sued, but won). It is a totally different process from Canada! I met, informally, a number of judges. The ones I met were not Emirati. Some from Saudi Arabia, some from Syria. They are intelligent and open to conversation and questions, but they are far more “powerful” than Canadian judges. You can appeal a decision, but rarely with success. The same judge, the same evidence; the same decision!

Where am I going with this? Simple explanations, simple understanding, simple conclusions, and simple criticisms are abhorrent to me. The UAE is 40 years old next week. Were we to look at Canada at 40 (1907); could women vote? Controls on capitalism? Protection for the laborers from China who build our rail system?

What is more important is to look at Canada in 1967 versus the UAE in 1971. The change in the UAE in those 40 years would be in many ways greater than that of our primarily European background from hundreds of years before 1867. Such change in 40 years is beyond comprehension by the average Canadian. A Canadian would have to be 400 years old to witness the changes experienced by UAE in 40 years. From the desert to the most technologically advanced country in the world in 40 years.

Pejorative accusations against the cultural and religious influences on Emirati citizens is both naive and counter-productive to the aims and desires of those of us in the West. We demand a more “western” orientation to women, power, democracy, justice, ethics and morality. We demand immediate changes. We see the rightness of our demands. We expect the Emirati Nationals to quite easily accept our judgements, our demands, and the logic of both.

When asked about my five years in the UAE, I immediately challenge my audiences to consider Canada’s cultural realities. The different ethnic, racial, and religious influences on the Canadian mosaic. Then I introduce four concepts that explain the current United Arab Emirates (Arab) actions.

1. A tribal history that dates back thousands of years and that continues to exist and significantly affect thinking and actions in all Arab based societies. (An interesting parallel to the Canada’s Aboriginal community.)

2. A nomadic way of living, again dating back thousands of years in the Arabian Peninsula. (And again the parallel to Canada’s aboriginal community.)

3. The “rentier” mentality brought on by the immediate and overwhelming influence of oil. The mega-prosperity experienced in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain gave power to men (and only men) whose previous experience and history had been confined to a few thousand people, a small patch of desert, less than a little education, and leader status based on violence, blood shed, and death.

(While one could certainly argue that the Canadian Aboriginal Community is hardly rich, the same sense of entitlement pervades both the Arab and Aboriginal way of looking at their place in the world. For Canadian Aboriginals, the largess of the Canadian government could easily be seen to mimic oil revenue in the United Arab Emirates.)

4. The influence of the Muslim religion. Although most of the western media looks to the Muslim reality as the most significant influence on Arab actions, I would argue that it is the least important of the four. Easy to see, easy to attack, and yet of far less import. The tribal way of life explains suicide bombers far more accurately than the Muslim religion.

It will be interesting to observe the eventual outcome of the Arab Spring. I am not hopeful. The depth and pervasiveness of Arab culture is not to be overcome in a year, a decade, a generation, a century, or even a millennium. Yet we have to work with, live with, and grow with the Arab world. My simple advice is to begin with understanding. Only then can we accept the reality of Arab cultural assumptions. Only then can we find those areas of commonality upon which friendship and trust are based.




Time to grow up. Response to Syria ignores observer deadline – November 25, 2011, Khaleej Times

Posted on: November 25th, 2011 by Tom Pattillo No Comments
Syria ignores observer deadline
(AFP)

25 November 2011, 4:30 PM

DAMASCUS — An Arab League deadline for Damascus to accept observers or face sanctions passed Friday with no response from Syria, as activists reported more deaths and anti-regime protests inside the country.
THE FOLLOWING COMMENT WAS NOT PUBLISHEDThe Arab League’s actions will be watched closely by the international community.

Peace and stability in the region is necessary if only to keep Israel off balance (and to give the US more power to “influence” Israel).

Even one cruise missile within view of the Burg Khalifa will devastate all the economic progress in the Middle East.

It is not the International community’s responsibility to continually intervene in the Middle East.

The Middle East must take responsibility to maintain the peace.

An Israeli attack on Iran would be, in 2011, more the fault of the Arab League than any other party.

The Arab League is the body that can communicate with all parties.

The prosperous Arab League members have the military power to enforce their decisions.

It is time they use whatever means possible to defuse the situation.

They must control Iran, they must control Syria, they must step in to create effective government in Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and Syria.

The Arab League is playing with the big boys now.

It is time to step forward and take the actions required by the responsibility they seem to want.

If not, they will remain colonial states, bringing in “daddy” to solve their problems and look after their interests.

Time to grow up.




The Arab Challenge

Posted on: November 20th, 2011 by Tom Pattillo No Comments

Robin Williams on his Night At The Met CD, commented on Qaddafi talking about a line in the sand, and then moving the line again and again. I did not appreciate this strategy until I read The Arab as an Insurgent (http://www.slideshare.net/liwa6/arabinsurgent11).

Briefly the strategy is to attack then retreat. There is no dishonor in retreat. The article is very good and explains a lot more.

My issue today is the Arab League’s response to Syria. What to do?

Following the example of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen and others, Syria will promise anything, say anything, commit to anything . . . while having no intention of actually doing what they have ostensibly committed to do. Is this a surprise? No.

Arab friends mentioned Arab Cultural influences that are relevant here: 1) an agreement is only binding while the two (or more) parties are together. Once the parties are separated, the agreement is non-binding if the situation changes, and 2) a signed contract is merely the beginning of the negotiations.

For nomadic tribes, this works. Agreements were rarely needed (nomads don’t need to make many agreements). And if an agreement is not adhered to, tribes fight! Not a 2011 actuality but certainly a cultural artifact that still exerts great power.

Syria? Agreements . . . whatever you want to hear. That is part of the frustration the “world” has had with Iran (and previously Iraq). Promises are made, but never followed through. Rather than acknowledge lapses or outright refusal to comply, Iran, for example, merely goes back to the table, and promises some more. The promises are not met, and the process continues.

“Western” morality and ethics assumes honesty and truthfulness. But, what the “West” refers to as morality and ethics has nothing to do with the Arab cultural heritage. Changing a losing hand, retreating, then attacking, and retreating, using subterfuge, dis-information, and apparent compliance, this has nothing to do with the “honesty”. Nomadic tribes are honest (Western definition) within their tribes and families. The “others” outside their tribe are “used” as needed to protect the tribe.

Syria protects its own, yes. But Assad is protecting his specific, minority religious “sect”. Assad’s “others” are the majority of Syria’s population. Assad’s crackdown has little to do with maintaining Syria’s stability. It has everything to do with keeping his “tribe” (religious sect) in power.

Now, here is the conundrum. What does the Arab League do?

Most of the members come from a Nomadic Tribal cultural heritage. Confronted with situation similar to Syria’s (regardless of the seriousness) most of the league members would respond exactly as Syria is responding.

For example, last Thursday, November 17th was to be the deadline for Syria to comply to the Arab League’s demands. The date came and went. Syria brought new conditions, asked for more time, said they needed to talk more . . . . and on and on. Same technique as Iran, Iraq and the others. And the Arab League’s response? A meeting next Thursday, November 24th. (Which incidentally gives Assad the opportunity to kill another couple of dozen of his citizens.)

What do the majority of the world countries expect to happen on November 24th? Another meeting scheduled, more deliberations, meetings, and “agreements” on new conditions, AND a new deadline.

What will the Arab League do? They want, as happened in Libya, to have the “West” take over, fight the battles, and remove the “dictator.” Regardless of the outcome, the Arab cultural influence will only allow either muted criticism or support during the western dominated campaign and then ambivalence to whatever outcome. To Nomadic Tribes, only their tribe and family mean anything. The “others”? Just stay away from them.

Now, here is the quandary. How might the Arab League actually force Syria to meet its demands? Will the Arab League send in their armed forces? Will Saudi jets take over Syrian airspace? Will Turkey invade? Will Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman provide troops and military equipment? Or will they a) send money, or b) walk away from Syria and let the world do what they wish.

From a military perspective, what kind of war would the Arab League wish to pursue? Attack and retreat? Traditional Arab methods? Or the “American” way of war; bombers, invading armies, supply lines?

And how would Syria fight back? Or have Assad and his family already transferred as much money as they can and packed their bags and private planes to leave as needed?

A year or 10 years from now we “might” know what happened. Although another cultural influence is the Arab perception of time. A five year war to the “western” mind is a long war. The Arab world perceives a thousand years as just a potential time frame needed to win.

Retreat is not dishonor. T. E. Lawrence spoke of the Bedouin strategy of winning wars without battles. Remember the admonition that it is better to lose a battle than lose the war.  The Arab culture is careful not to risk losing so much that the war is over. It will be fascinating to see what happens.