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Friday, September 12, 2014

Oman, UAE, and Saudi Arabia...Gulf Royalty Deluxe

(As was the case yesterday, there will be no link(s) for today's post. Google is replete with information on all three nations.)

Oman is my absolute favorite Gulf monarchy.  I used to have a hot love affair going with the UAE until I started working as an intelligence officer and took a peek behind the curtain.  The current ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, replaced his father in a familial coup in 1970.  Until that time, the history of Oman read like something straight out of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights).  During the mid-20th century Oman was a feudal territory under the protection of Great Britain.  The territory we now know as Oman was ruled by both the Imam of the Imamate of Oman (Ghalib al-Hinai) and the Sultan of Muscat (Said bin Taimur), the father of today's ruler Sultan Qaboos.  When oil concessions became a hot issue, the Sultan tried to squeeze out the Imam.  The war lasted for some time, as the Imam and his supporters managed to disappear into the inaccessible Jebel Ackdar.  With the help of a few companies of African soldiers and two used British armored cars, the Sultan was able to chase Imam al-Hinai into exile in Saudi Arabia.  After deposing his father, Sultan Qaboos took firm measures to make Oman's wealth work for the Omani people.  The nation was modernized, the economy was expanded, and resources were dedicated to Health and Education.  I chose to provide a bit more historic background than usual because I don't really have anything dastardly to say about Qaboos or Oman.  The Sultan has kept his country basically devoid of the type of Islamic fundamentalism that has invaded the aristocracy in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  Oman is a beautiful, safe country to visit, and a model for any Gulf nation serious about rejecting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.  If you want to meet all those peaceful Muslims President Obama keeps gurgling about, book a flight to Muscat.

The United Arab Emirates are a true Federation of seven separate Arab monarchies (Emirates).  They are, in no particular order, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain, Ajman, Sharjah, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.  Ostensibly all seven emirates are supposed to be equal.  At is birth (1971), it was decided that the UAE would be governed by the Federal Supreme Council, which consisted of the ruling emir of each respective emirate.  One of the emirs is selected as President.  In reality, the UAE and its politics are dominated by Abu Dhabi.  The first President of the UAE was Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi, and the current President is his son Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.  The Emirates are incredibly wealthy and are fond of skyscrapers and modern shopping centers.  The Emirates have become a prime tourist destination, particularly for the Brits.  A great deal of money is spent on research, especially as it relates to desalinization and creating agriculturally productive land from desert.  The Emiratis have accomplished a great deal in a very short time.  Now for the half-empty part of the glass.  The UAE has a very effective intelligence service, which is aggressively active both internally and externally.  This service has very close relations with a number of western intelligence agencies, and likes to give the impression that it is anti-Islamic extremist.  In reality, the UAE is just short of being a police state.  Foreigners are watched closely, and natives are watched even more closely.  Practices unbecoming a good Muslim are not allowed.  No kissing in public, and Gays, please stay in Key West.  Prostitution is illegal but widely available, usually serviced by women from the more destitute Russian Republics ("he promised me a job as a secretary" get the picture).  The United States is heavily invested in its relationship with the UAE, who spend a great deal of money every year on U.S. manufactured F16s, tanks, and other various military equipment.  On occasion the intelligence community will hear a rumor that maybe one or more of the royal families is secretly providing support to terrorist organizations.  But no one wants to believe this kind of bad news.  If any civil service and intelligence agency could keep that kind of secret, it would be the Emiratis.  Although he is only Prime Minister of the UAE as opposed to President, keep your eye on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai; he is a very interesting multi-billionaire.  He loves the horses and keeps stables in Australia.  He is quite the charmer and very well educated (I would have guessed Eton and Oxford but I would have been wrong).  Something about this guy rubs me the wrong way.  I love all the good things that the Emiratis contribute to the world, but I'm just not ready to say I trust their leadership, at least not when it comes to possible confidential relationships with fundamentalist groups.

House of Saud: More than likely I will be writing a post that is totally dedicated to the Saudis before the year is over.  The House of Saud was the victor in the early 20th century battle for the Arabian peninsula (The vanquished Hashemites had to settle for Trans-Jordan and Iraq).  The Saudi monarchy has always been fiercely and unapologetically conservative and has cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship with both the United States and the United Kingdom.  Everyone out of grade school is aware that the Saudis sit on a butt load of oil, and have a very small population on whom to spend its oil revenues.  History has given the Saud family reason to be concerned about security.  During the reign of Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq, Saudi Arabia had to consider the real possibility of an Iraqi invasion.  When it comes to military supplies, the Saudis are a mirror of their Emirati cousins, with Abrams tanks and F16s filling out the Saudi military equipment ledger.  The Saud family has been masters of cultivating a close relationship with the United States (a true example of civil liberties) while enforcing draconian laws that keep women from driving cars.  The Wahhabi movement is often used to scare up enemies of Saudi Arabia, but few people ever take the time to learn what the term "Wahhabi" means.  It is a conservative, Sunni doctrine which is no more invasive than a dozen other Muslim movements.  The real problem with Saudi Arabia as I see it, is the size of the royal family.  King Abdullah (and Faisal before him) do not want war a religious war with the west.  But as the family grows larger and wealth proliferates, it has become impossible to keep track of everybody and every penny.  And we aren't only taking about the Sauds.  Other families closely related to the House of Saud (bin-Ladens) also exercise great wealth.  Can Abdullah control extremist sympathies within his own family?  Can he affect the flow of money out of the Kingdom?  This isn't to say that Abdullah himself does not harbor dislikes in the Arab world.  If a particular terrorist group were working against a perceived enemy of the Kingdom, no doubt Abdullah would send them a few bucks.  All in all, I do not see Saudi Arabia as being a particular supporter of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.  The Saudis are very fond of giving generously to various Islamic Aid and Educational Organizations.  But who knows what might be happening under the guise of succor, which may be too deeply embedded to be seen from the top of the Saudi throne?

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