Wednesday, September 6, 2006

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How to thoroughly annoy a potentially friendly Middle Eastern country

In the past eight months, the United States has done a bang-up job of befriending the United Arab Emirates, a decentralized Gulf country that wants to be the trading hub for the Middle East.

First, there was the whole Dubai Ports World fiasco.

That, of course, helped the U.S.-UAE free trade agreement stall out.

And now the Economist Cities Guide reports that the port of Dubai has further reason to be ticked off at the United States:

Many Dubai residents are threatening to boycott American universities in protest against seemingly discriminatory security practices. The catalyst came on August 21st when immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport detained Saif Khalifa al-Sha’ali, a 26-year-old student from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his wife and three children. The family was questioned for 26 hours until the UAE embassy intervened.

Mr al-Sha'ali, who was completing a doctorate in computer science at Claremont University, also happens to be the nephew of Mohammad Hussain al-Sha’ali, the UAE's minister of state for foreign affairs. Scores of UAE nationals—and many expatriate residents—have written to local newspapers pledging to boycott American universities, which traditionally have been popular with Emiratis. The case has also inflamed general anti-American sentiment in the UAE—normally one of the more sympathetic Arab states—as it comes on the heels of the recent fighting in Lebanon, in which America was perceived to have backed Israel.

posted by Dan on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM


What kind of abject moron would give a third degree interrogation to a relative of a government minister of a non-hostile country? The INS or DHS people responsible should be fired.

posted by: Anon E. Mouse on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

Not very comforting that America's intel capabilities on something as basic as this (having a diplomat's nephew on file - essentially public info) got screwed up.

How can we expect the government to pull off harder tasks, like finding Osama? We still haven't managed to smoke him out.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

With respect to interrogating the relative of a government minister, this isn't that bad. A few years ago, just before the US stepped back into Iraq, the Indian Defense Minister flew to the US - was held up at the airport, detained for some time and even cavity searched.

He flew back to India the next day and declared that India would be sending no troops to the join the coalition in Iraq.

posted by: BC Stereotype on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

I think we need to keep a historic perspective on this.

First, prior to Sept 11, UAE was one of only 2-3 countries in the world to recognize the Taliban and provided considerable support to the regime.

Second, a significant number of the 9/11 hijackers came from the UAE (can't remember the exact number off-hand).

I do think we have reasons to be cautious. We should certainly apologize for the incident at the airport, but I wouldn't feel too bad about it. That's what immigration services do and they are bound to make a mistake.

Besides, it is not like UAE is above profiling at its airports. My wife got held up in Dubai for a couple of hours coming in from Moscow because she was assumed to be a Russian prostitute - this despite the fact that she is a US citizen traveling with me and our two children (in fairness, the immigration people stopped all women of ex-Soviet origin on the plane).

In terms of alienating the Arab street, I think we need to start sorting the wheat from the chaff. Visa and immigration snafus are pretty minor stuff when compared with the recent war in Lebanon, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo - not to mention US inattention to the Palestinian issue. These are the things that really damaging the perception of the US in the region.

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

BC, That is great!!! I know of another way to potentially annoy a friendly developing democratic country in the region. Encourage the non-stop bombardment of that nation for weeks on end.

posted by: centrist on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

Good; free trade is stupid.

posted by: Dan on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

SteveinVT: sure, we all get taken for pimps once in a while -- I've plain ol' stopped travelling with my white hat topped with large feather. And the bling.

But I don't know if you'd be as forgiving if some Bubba felt the need to shine a flashlight up YOUR bum.

posted by: St. James the Lesser on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

St James the Lesser:

Yeah, maybe you are right. I should cut back on the big D&G glasses, thick gold chains and rings when I travel. I guess in Vermont we are just too bling-bling for the rest of the world to handle...(:

posted by: SteveinVT on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

India's refusal to join coalition forces in Iraq was a conscious decision,after a long and thorough deliberation,taken by the Government of India and it has nothing to do with the body search of George Fernandes,former defense minister.And US did apologise to him

posted by: ajit on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

The fact that the Emiratis like us less because we backed Israel (a democracy) over Hezbollah (a terrorist group) does not exactly fill me with optimism about this whole "friendly Arab nation" thing.

And what, exactly, has the UAE done to convince us that THEY are friendly? The nation is a coalition of dictatorships, two-thirds of whose population consists of foreign Asian workers with no rights. The other third consists mostly of Arab Muslims with a record of sympathy for Islamic extremism. They supported the Taliban and have never repudiated or apologized for that. They provided no real help in Afghanistan or Iraq. Why are they deserving of our friendship? Why do they deserve to be treated like allies or friends? They are at best neutral in the War on Terrorism.

If this is just going to be another one of those "they'll pretend to like us so long as we give them special treatment and handle them with kid gloves" things, a la the Saudis, then I don't *want* to be "friendly" with the UAE. Let them stay in the "possible enemy" column where they belong.

posted by: Dan on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

SteveinVT: IIRC either 14 or 17 out of the 19 hijackers were Saudi. Despite this, Saudi travellers have yet to be subject to any more stringent security measures than those from other Muslim countries. Using the September 11th argument to justify third degree interrogation of UAE nationals does not wash.

Dan: Don't you think there's something even slightly wrong with the fact that the United States provided the weapons and diplomatic cover used by Israel to attack the only arab democracy, undermine its covernment, and 'ethniclly clense' tens of thousands of its citizens? If you don't see why this would even slighly irritate pretty much everyone except Israeli and American nationals, then you utterly and completely lack any understanding of the human condition whatsoever.

posted by: Anon E. Mouse on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

Anon: What "ethnic cleansing" do you speak of, precisely? Provide references.

When part of Lebanon's government (Hezbollah) engages in military action against a nation, that nation is, in normal terms of international relations, absolutely justified in "undermining" it by military means. That's what we call "war". An act of war, you see, is what starts a war.

(And why is it irritating to "pretty much everyone" when Israel responds to an act of war by part of the Lebanese government, but evidently nobody in this notional "everybody else" is up in arms about Hezbollah in the first place?

Could it be because "everybody else" doesn't give a fig for "democracy" per se, but does want to appease radicalised Muslims? And this is just a shoddy excuse to attack Israel's robust democracy, that... includes Arabs?)

My other question is... why should being a foreign official's relative get one a pass at a security check? Does egalitarianism automatically get subsumed by political connection? And if searching an official's relative will turn the UAE against us, are they actually a reliable ally?

posted by: Sigivald on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

Sigivald: No reality-based commentator would argue that Hezbollah is in any way under the control of the Lebanese government. Realist principles of just war are not appropriate to situations where one of the combatants is essentially autonomous from the territorial state from which it operates. It cannot be justified to destroy Lebanon's civil, economic and state infrastructure on the basis of actions undertaken by Hezbollah outside of Lebanese control. To argue otherwise is merely to act as an apologist for Israeli bloodlust.

It is rather well documented that Israel ordered the entire population of southern Lebanon to move north and then proceeded to attack not only those who stayed behind but also those who left too slowly for the IAF's liking. This is ethnic clensing by F-15 and is just as abhorrent as ethnic clensing conducted by AK-74 or machete.

As for your 'other question,' it is merely a straw man argument that does not deserve to be dignified with an answer.

posted by: Anon E. Mouse on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

Anon E. Mouse, go ahead and tell me that if Israel had not ordered the evacuation of civilians, that you would not be screaming bloody murder about Lebanese civilian casualties in the war zone.

Legally, Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. They have two ministers in the Cabinet. That's the way the Lebanese system is. There is a price to pay for being a terrorist sanctuary.

posted by: John Bragg on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

What are you doing here ?
Its UAE we are talking about here.
One of the 3 countries to have recognized THE TALIBAN as the government in afghanistan.
Do you need a history lesson ?
It was Pakistan,SaudiArabia,....and you guessed it
folks the wonderful folks from UAE.
Interestingly enough Pakistan recently claimed that it was a country to the WEST which does NOT want to see port of gwader become an important trading hub.... NO points for those who determine which country that was.
Also as some one who regularly scans computer science and electrical engineering journals as a professional I have yet not come accross any significant UAE CS professional, sorry but in Middle eastern countries Iranian and Egyptians do more work in the field both quantitatively and qualitatively....
I too would have been surprised.
PS my passport unfortunately has dubai stamped on it 11 times.
They are wheelers and dealers my friend.
Dont go there for a vacation.
and dont go there unless you had a business plan
worked out,
and dont expect the next scientific breakthrough from there,..., Sorry folks it still if you are placing your money US is still numero UNO for that.

posted by: Vulcan on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

I think I'm seeing two points of view here.

On the one side we have people who say we should make nice-nice with diplomats and their families, particularly when it's from countries that might do us some kind of good. After all, if those particular people *do* get caught involved with terrorism it's an international incident between the two countries; so they probably won't. (But then, if they did and we didn't catch them that would be bad.)

On the other hand we have people who say that these are countries that won't ever do anything for us anyway so screw them. Get out the anal probes and start the video.

I wonder if there's room for a serious discussion somehow?

posted by: J Thomas on 09.06.06 at 10:57 PM [permalink]

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