If you have not yet read the blog post we wrote a month ago about Prof. Cyril Karabus ["26-Sep-12: Dubai, Dubai, Dubai"], please consider taking a moment to do that now. Even if you don’t have that moment, below is a summary of some of the issues we raised there, plus some fresh background. It’s followed by some thoughts by us on what the scandalous conduct of the authorities in the United Arab Emirates in this sordid affair might all mean.
The UAE is one of those nation states that was invented in the lifetime of many of us, in 1971. At the time, it had a total population of less than a million people, and control of one-tenth of the world’s oil. Those conditions meant it has been making very serious money ever since, while marching to the beat of its own distinctive drum.
The UAE is made up of several separate emirates. The two largest are Dubai and Abu Dhabi who have not always gotten along so nicely together; their armed forces faced off against each other for a while in the late seventies [source]. They were impoverished fly-specks before gigantic oil and gas reserves were discovered in the sixties. They are no longer poor.
It would be nice to say their phenomenal wealth has been used consistently for good. It would be even nicer if the mythology they like to spin about their leaders were true, but it is not. For instance, the UAE’s first president and acknowledged driving force, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is described in glowing terms on one of its newspaper’s websites:
His firmly-held belief in Islam… was fundamental to his views and actions… He was a firm believer in the need for dialogue between different faiths and cultures, rejecting the intolerant views of those who would seek to promote divisions… His faith was fundamental to his views and actions [including] the duty entrusted to us by God Almighty, who commands us to treat all living creatures with dignity and respect.
Nice sentiments. Keep those last words in mind as we push ahead.
Zayed’s founding (in 1999) and funding of the notorious Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-Up, a so-called think-tank that is now defunct, demonstrated motivations of a different sort. The Center [says Wikipedia]
became embroiled in controversy when it became known that it also disseminated and provided a platform for anti-American, anti-Semitic, and extreme anti-Israel views.
Its speakers were said [according to Wikipedia] to have described Jews as “enemies of all nations” and “cheaters whose greed knows no bounds.” The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic forgery created in the 19th century to vilify Jews, was held up as a factual account of a Jewish plan to “control the world.”
Israel was accused by Zayed Center officials of developing an ethnic bomb that will kill only Arabs, an accusation echoed just last week in a wave of claims to identical effect that were published throughout the Iranian government-controlled media. See our blog post “9-Oct-12: The serious message behind the vile idiocy.”
The Zayed people asserted for good measure that the Mossad was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy and for the Watergate scandal as well. There’s more [here, for instance], but you get the picture.
And (here we get to our point) some Zayed speakers accused Israel of trying to sterilize Palestinian children by lacing the water “used by some Palestinian schools” with chemicals.
Matters came to something of a head in 2004 when Harvard Divinity School decided to return a $2.5 million gift from Sheik Zayed [source] “after 18 months of controversy over the donor’s alleged connection to anti-Semitic and anti-US propaganda… Sheikh Zayed gave the money to Harvard in 2000 to endow a professorship of Islamic studies.” But note that the London School of Economics was not quite so unctuous, and kept and spent a similar cash gift from the same source: we wrote about it in our blog two years ago: see “26-Nov-10: Gifts and good relations.”
Now fast forward to today’s UAE and Dubai, where the statelet’s huge airline, Emirates, has just done a deal with Qantas to essentially take over the Australian airline’s steering wheel. With the Australian government blessing the deal a few days ago [report], it looks like full steam ahead. And according to a UAE business news website story from six days ago headlined “No alternative to Emirates deal: Qantas,” the Flying Kangaroo is already thoroughly and irretrievably locked in.