Twitter and email info

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who Are The Gulf States, Exactly?

Links: A. United Arab Emirates Wikipedia
           B. Oman Wikipedia
           C. Kuwait Wikipedia
           D. Qatar Wikipedia
           E. Bahrain Wikipedia

When I was a young boy, I was fascinated with maps.  I spent hours trying to determine the methodology for the color-coding of different countries, and also did my best to learn the correct pronunciations of the countless rivers, mountains, towns, and cities.  When I grew a little older, I became interested in history, so the Atlas section of my family's Encyclopedias got put down, and the Encyclopedias themselves got put to use.  Not surprisingly, I gravitated towards some places more than others (it might be déjà vu, reincarnation, or it might be coincidence, but most people who look at maps and globes will feel an odd familiarity with certain place names).  I was drawn to a political entity known as "The Trucial States".  I counted seven oddly-shaped little places, all hugging the south shore of the Persian Gulf.  In my mind's eye, I pictured camels, men in white, flowing robes with rope-ring head pieces to keep their head-covering on, tents, and sand......lots and lots of sand.  This description wasn't far from the truth back in the 1930s and 1940s.  As far a colonial influences go, the Persian Gulf was a British lake.  Following the death of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, the British happily moved into the void.

In most of Great Britain's colonies, calls for independence put pressure on the British government to relinquish control to the indigenous peoples.  In some countries, such as Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, the process was observed internationally, and there was great optimism that the transition from one form of government to another, would go smoothly.  Interestingly enough, the Trucial States were in no hurry to separate from great Britain.  The importance of oil in the region was on everyone's mind, and the various Shaykhs of the Trucial States enjoyed having the protection of the British navy and Air Force.  It was actually the British who insisted on the Declaration of Independence in 1971.  The seven Trucial States, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Um al-Quwain, and Ras al-Khaimah, each had its own Shaykh.  Representatives from the seven Shaykhdoms met and decided to form a federation, which called itself the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Abu Dhabi and Dubai are larger in size and population than the other five Emirates, and there was some concern that the smaller Shaykhdoms might feel slighted because of the greater influence that Dubai and Abu Dhabi naturally possessed.  But it never really has been a problem.  The Emirates are incredibly wealthy, and the largesse has been distributed in a smart and effectual manner.  The UAE has a surprisingly large and well-equipped Armed Forces (thank you, United States), and shares one common currency.  Certain political positions are granted on a rotating basis, while others are voted upon. The leaders of the UAE have traditionally been from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but they have done such a stellar
Burj Khalifa Tower, Dubai
job negotiating the Emirates away from conflict and towards greater wealth, that no one dares complain.  The UAE has become a popular tourist destination, especially for the British (just don't get caught kissing in public, especially if you are gay).  The Emirates prides itself on having some of the tallest buildings in the world, including the astounding Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai.  The UAE can also be proud of its research and discoveries in desalinization.  A great deal of Emirati wealth has found its way to the California real estate market, especially high-end shopping center projects.  The current Prime Minister of the UAE, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Mahktoum, is a true lover of horse racing, and owns stables and breeding centers in Australia and the United States.

I love Oman.  Of all the gulf States, and I include Saudi Arabia and Yemen in this instance, Oman, has managed to follow its own, independent course.  Oman, which has a relatively small population, has extremely good relations with the west.  Sultan Qaboos, who deposed his father in 1970 during what has been Oman's only internal conflict of the modern era, has not shown a fear of modern development, and welcomes tourists from Europe and the United States.  The women of Oman do not suffer under the same prohibitions as exist in Saudi Arabia.  The Omani Army is well-trained and equipped (mostly by the Brits), but for practical purposes is too small to be useful for anything other than self-defense and internal conflict.  I have a personal affinity for Oman because it is an absolutely lovely place.  Muscat, the capital city, is filled with buildings that could have
Fort Al-Jalali, Muscat, Oman
been plucked right out of the seventeenth century.  The original Portuguese fort built in 1580 to guard the entrance to Muscat (Fort Al-Jalali) continues its timeless duty of protecting the Omanis from Pirates and other ne'er do wells.  The Omani people are a pleasure to look at, and take great care in their appearance without obvious signs of vanity.  Qaboos has been a loyal friend to the United States and western Europe since he first sat on the throne.  I'm sure at one time or another, extremists have attempted to set-up shop in Oman.  But I guessing that they didn't make much progress, as the people seem very loyal to their sovereign and content with their lives.

Kuwait reminds me of the opposite of Oman in many ways.  Although the Al-Sabah family keeps a tight grip on power, the political environment in Kuwait has become much noisier as of late.  The Sabahs have to contend with a very vocal women's right lobby and a population that at times appears sympathetic to Islamic extremist groups.  Was it that long ago that Saddam Hussein's Army poured into Kuwait, emptied the stores and dumped babies out of incubators?  A Kuwaiti friend of mine explained why a segment of the population of Kuwait has become sympathetic to the jihadis. From 1990 to the present, the United States military has had a large presence in Kuwait.  Many Kuwaitis are not happy with the inevitable influence that this group of young Americans has had on their country.  This includes the relaxation of attitudes regarding liquor consumption, the fraternization between Kuwaiti women and U.S. servicemen, and the unavoidable evolution of the Kuwaiti economy to accommodate all those U.S. dollars.  Another unintended result of the U.S. presence is the perceived growth of the Christian community and the movement away from the teachings of Islam.  A not insignificant percentage of native-born Kuwaitis are convinced that Kuwait needs to embrace a traditional brand of Islam that will remove the Game Boys, the mini-skirts and the six packs of Budweiser.  It is rumored that a well-placed member of the Sabahs is very sympathetic towards conservative Islam and is working hard to influence his family.  Help may be on the way.  Its my understanding that the draw-down of U.S. military forces overseas includes most of our Army facilities in Kuwait.

Forgive me for including Qatar and Bahrain in the same paragraph.  It's a bad habit that is shared by many.  Qatar is a small but very wealthy country that borders Saudi Arabia on the west and the Perisan Gulf on the east.  The Qataris have the highest per capita income in the world (according to Wikipedia), and Qatar itself has over 100 billion dollars in investments worldwide.  Each year those investments grow from 30 to 40 billion dollars.  The Qatari government, ostensibly loyal to Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, has been accused of supporting extremist causes, including Hamas.  The Qataris deny supporting any extremist groups in Gaza, Lebanon or the West Bank, but Qatar readily admits to supporting the Palestinian people.  With regards to Syria, Qatar has been supporting various factions opposed to Syrian President Bashir al-Assad.  In fact, Qatar is one of the nations included in President Obama's anti-ISIS air campaign coalition.  I'm still trying to determine who exactly were the Qataris supporting before the air campaign?  At first glance, it would appear that the Qataris were supporting ISIS, a claim which they deny.  If Qatar was not supporting Assad, then who on the rebel side was receiving funding from Qatar?  Sadly, the five Guantanamo-based terrorists that Barrack Obama traded for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were deposited in Qatar, with the understanding that the Qataris would keep them under thumb. Fat chance....its my understanding that at least two have already rejoined the struggle against "The Great Satan".  We don't have much to say about Bahrain.  In 2011, the ruling al-Khalifa house was given quite a scare with the almost spontaneous demonstrations in the capital city Manama.    Eventually the police and riot control units were mobilized to disperse the crowds and they seemed to disappear as quickly as they assembled, although some human rights organizations claim that whenever people congregate in the same fashion, the police move in quickly.  Half of Bahrain's 1.2 million population are working foreigners.  Bahrain has a strong economy, built on oil just like its fellow Gulf States.  Bahrain has arguably the closest relationship with the United States, as the U.S. Navy has a base in Bahrain and the U.S. military trains and equips the Bahraini military.  Recently tensions arose between Qatar and Bahrain which resulted in the recalling of ambassadors; but that issue appears to have since resolved itself, and diplomatic personnel have returned to their jobs.

No comments:

Post a Comment