The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs June 24, 2015 Congressional Research Service RS21852 Summary The UAE has been
The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy Kenneth Katzman Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs June 24, 2015 Congressional Research Service RS21852 Summary The UAE has been a significant U.S. partner in Gulf security for more than two decades, and the alliance has deepened further in the course of U.S.-led efforts to pressure Iran to agree to strict limits on its nuclear program and to try to defeat the Islamic State organization. Under a 1994 U.S.-UAE defense cooperation agreement (DCA), about 5,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed at UAE military facilities, particularly the large Al Dhafra air base. The UAE was the first Gulf state to order the most sophisticated missile defense system sold by the United States (the THAAD), demonstrating support for U.S. efforts to assemble a coordinated regional missile defense network against Iran. The UAE has a long-standing territorial dispute with Iran and has implemented economic sanctions against it, even though doing so has adversely affected some of the UAE s large and politically influential trading community. Suggesting continued wariness of Iranian ambitions in the Gulf, the UAE has sought U.S. assurances that the United States will maintain its commitment to Gulf security. Regionally, the UAE has become increasingly assertive against extremist Islamic organizations, to the point of undertaking even some unilateral military action in post-qadhafi Libya. The UAE has joined U.S.-led airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria; financially assisted the militaryled government of Egypt that ousted the elected Islamist president in 2013; supported moderate Islamist rebel groups in Syria; and worked against other Muslim Brotherhood-related organizations in the region such as Hamas. In 2011, the UAE joined the Saudi-led GCC intervention to help Bahrain suppress a major uprising by its Shiite majority, and the UAE joined U.S.-led airstrikes that helped oust Muammar Qadhafi of Libya. Since 2003, the UAE has maintained over 200 troops in Afghanistan and participated in close air support missions there. On domestic politics and human rights issues, the UAE s relatively open borders and economy have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East. However, the social tolerance has not translated into significant political change; the country remains under the control of a small circle of leaders who allow citizen participation primarily through traditional methods of consensus-building. In 2006, the government began providing some formal popular participation through a public selection process for half the membership of its quasi-legislative body, the Federal National Council (FNC), but it has resisted further opening of the political process. The government is able to use the UAE s substantial wealth to maintain popular support, and it has been able to easily suppress the relatively small opposition consisting of both Islamist and secular dissenters. Very few policy changes are anticipated should UAE President Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayid Al Nuhayyan leave the scene unexpectedly. He suffered a stroke on January 24, 2014, leaving his younger brother Shaykh Mohammad bin Zayid, who already had substantial governing responsibilities, in charge. President Khalifa has not appeared publicly since, including at such high profile events as the December 2014 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman) summit, and the extent of his current governing role appears to be minimal. The UAE is considered among the wealthiest countries in the world because of the ratio between its government revenues and small population requiring services. It has received no U.S. foreign aid since FY2011, and the aid that has been provided has been minimal. Congressional Research Service Contents Governance, Human Rights, and Reform... 1 Political Reform and Responses to Opposition... 3 Government Handling of Opposition... 5 U.S. Democracy Promotion Efforts and UAE Restrictions... 6 Other Human Rights-Related Issues... 7 Media and Research Institute Freedoms... 7 Justice/Rule of Law... 8 Women s Rights... 9 Religious Freedom... 9 Labor Rights/Migrant Worker Rights Human Trafficking Foreign Policy and Defense Key Alliance: the GCC Main Adversary: Iran Growing Assertiveness on Regional Issues Egypt and Libya Syria Iraq Yemen Relations with Israel/Israeli-Palestinian Dispute Other UAE Foreign Aid Security Cooperation with the United States Defense Cooperation Agreement and U.S. Forces in UAE U.S. and Other Arms Sales Coordinated Missile Defense Defense Relations with Other Nations and Alliances Cooperation against Terrorism and Proliferation Terrorism Issues Port and Border Controls Export Controls Nuclear Agreement and Other Technology Issues Economic Issues Oil and Gas Sector and Clean Energy Initiatives U.S.-UAE Trade and Trade Promotion Discussions Open Skies Issue Figures Figure 1. Map of United Arab Emirates... 3 Tables Table 1. Some Basic Facts About the UAE... 2 Congressional Research Service Table 2. Recent U.S. Aid to UAE Contacts Author Contact Information Congressional Research Service Governance, Human Rights, and Reform 1 The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates (principalities): Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich federation capital; Dubai, a large commercial hub; and the five smaller and less wealthy emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Fujayrah, Umm al-qaywayn, and Ras al-khaymah. Sharjah and Ras al-khaymah have a common ruling family leaders of the Al Qawasim tribe. After Britain announced in 1968 that it would no longer ensure security in the Gulf, six Trucial States formed the UAE federation in December 1971; Ras al-khaymah joined in The federation s last major leadership transition occurred after the death of its key founder and first President, Shaykh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nuhayyan, long-time ruler of Abu Dhabi, on November 2, Shaykh Zayid s eldest son, Shaykh Khalifa bin Zayid al-nuhayyan, born in 1948, was elevated from Crown Prince to ruler of Abu Dhabi upon Zayid s death. In keeping with tradition, although not formal law, Khalifa was subsequently selected as UAE president by the leaders of all seven emirates who comprise the Federal Supreme Council. The ruler of Dubai traditionally serves concurrently as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE; that position has been held by Shaykh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktum, architect of Dubai s modernization drive, since the death of his elder brother Shaykh Maktum bin Rashid Al Maktum in January Shaykh Mohammad bin Rashid also continued as federation Defense Minister. At its review of senior leadership posts on November 3, 2009, the Federal Supreme Council decided that Shaykh Khalifa and Shaykh Mohammad bin Rashid would serve another five-year term. The review was mostly a formality because UAE leadership posts almost always change only in the event of death of an incumbent. The Federal Supreme Council meets four times per year to establish general policy guidelines, although the leaders of the seven emirates consult frequently with each other. The leadership of the UAE was put into some doubt by Shaykh Khalifa s stroke on January 24, 2014, for which he underwent surgery. He has not appeared publicly since, including at such such high-profile events as the GCC summit in Doha in December 2014 or the visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al-Abbadi later that month. If, as appears likely and possibly relatively soon, Shaykh Khalifa is declared unable to continue as ruler, his younger brother and the third son of Shaykh Zayid, Crown Prince Shaykh Mohammad bin Zayid al-nuhayyan (born in 1961) is almost certain to assume of all Shaykh Khalifa s posts. Shaykh Mohammad had already been assuming significant day-to-day governing responsibilities over the past few years. He and Shaykh Mohammad of Dubai have long been considered the key strategists of UAE foreign and defense policy. Several senior UAE officials are other brothers that are close to Shaykh Mohammad, including Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayid, deputy Prime Minister Mansur bin Zayid, Interior Minister Sayf bin Zayid, and UAE national security adviser Hazza bin Zayid. The Crown Prince of Dubai is Shaykh Mohammad bin Rashid s son, Hamdan bin Mohammad Al Maktum, who heads the Dubai Executive Committee, the equivalent of a cabinet for Dubai emirate. Under a Dubai-level reorganization announced in January 2010, five committees were set up to advise the Executive Committee on major issues. 1 Much of this section is from the State Department s country report on human rights practices for 2013 (released February 27, 2014), International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 (July 28, 2014), #wrapper; and the Trafficking in Persons Report for 2014 (July 24, 2014), organization/ pdf. See also the Human Rights Watch World Report 2014/country-chapters/united-arab-emirates. Congressional Research Service 1 Population Table 1. Some Basic Facts About the UAE 5.47 million, of whom about 1 million (about 18%) are citizens. Religions The citizenry is almost all Muslim, of which 85% are Sunni and 15% are Shiite. Of the total population, 76% is Muslim; 9% is Christian; and 15% is other but primarily Buddhist or Hindu. Ethnic Groups 11% Emirati (citizenry); 29% other Arab and Iranian; 50% South Asian; 10% Western and other Asian expatriate Size of Armed Forces About 50,000 Inflation Rate (2014) About 1.0% GDP Growth Rate for % estimated by IMF GDP (2014) $417 billion. Per capita is over $30,000. Oil Exports About 2.7 million barrels per day Foreign Assets/Sovereign Wealth Reserves About $575 billion. U.S. Exports to the UAE (2013) $24.5 billion, making UAE the largest U.S. export market in the Arab world and a 50% increase since Goods sold to UAE are mostly machinery, commercial aircraft, industrial materials, and other high value items. Imports from UAE by the United States (2013) $2.3 billion. None of that amount was crude oil. U.S. citizens resident in UAE About 60,000 Major Projects Dubai inaugurated Burj Khalifa, world s tallest building, on January 4, Burj al-arab hotel in Dubai bills itself as world s only 7-star hotel. Abu Dhabi has built local branches of Guggenheim and Louvre museums. Sources: CIA, The World Factbook; U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics. The leaders of the other individual emirates are Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qassimi (Sharjah); Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi (Ras al-khaymah, see below); Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi (Ajman); Hamad bin Muhammad Al Sharqi (Fujayrah); and Saud bin Rashid Al-Mu alla (Umm al- Qaywayn). Shaykh Saud of Umm al-qaywayn, who is about 65 years old, was named leader of that emirate in January 2009 upon the death of his father, Shaykh Rashid Al-Mu alla. These five emirates, often called the northern emirates, tend to be more politically and religiously conservative and homogenous than are Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are urban amalgams populated by many Arab, South Asian, and European expatriates. In Ras al-khaymah, there was a brief leadership struggle upon the October 27, 2010, death of the ailing longtime ruler, Shaykh Saqr bin Mohammad Al Qassim. He was succeeded by Shaykh Saud bin Saqr, who had been crown prince/heir apparent since 2003, when the ruler removed Saud s elder brother, Shaykh Khalid bin Saqr, from that position. During , using public relations campaigns in the United States and elsewhere, Shaykh Khalid claimed to remain as heir apparent even though the UAE federal government had repeatedly stated that his removal from that position was legitimate and that he held no official position in the UAE. Shaykh Khalid s home in Ras al-khaymah was surrounded by security forces the night Shaykh Saqr died, enforcing the succession of Shaykh Saud. Congressional Research Service 2 Figure 1. Map of United Arab Emirates Source: CRS Graphics. Political Reform and Responses to Opposition The UAE is not considered by any U.S. or outside organization to be a democracy, but its perceived social tolerance and distribution of ample wealth have apparently rendered the bulk of the population satisfied with the political system. With the exception of some youth and intellectual-led activism that increased during the Arab uprisings of 2011, there has been little public clamor for more rapid political reform in the UAE. The government has moved against the activism with arrests, prosecutions, and monitoring of the Internet and social media none of which apparently has included significant government use of force. UAE leaders long argued that Western-style democracy is not needed in UAE because Emiratis are able to express their concerns directly to the leadership through traditional consultative mechanisms. Most prominent among these channels are the open majlis (councils) held by many UAE leaders. UAE officials maintain that Western-style political parties and elections for a legislature or other representative body would aggravate schisms among tribes and clans and cause Islamist factions to become radical. Minister of State for FNC Affairs Anwar Gargash wrote in a UAE paper (The National) on August 26, 2012, that The UAE s end goal is not a liberal Congressional Research Service 3 multiparty system. This model does not correspond with our cultural or historical development. 2 His comments came following an August 1, 2012, announcement by several Islamists of the formation of a political party called Al Umma an alleged violation of UAE laws that do not grant citizen rights to form political parties. The UAE leadership had provided some popular representation through an all-appointed 40-seat Federal National Council (FNC) that can review and recommend, but not enact or veto, federal legislation. The FNC can question, but not impeach, ministers and has conducted such grillings in recent years. Its sessions are open to the public. The seat distribution of the FNC is weighted in favor of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which each hold eight seats, while Sharjah and Ras al-khaymah have six each, and the others each have four. Each emirate also has its own all-appointed consultative council. The government has not implemented calls such as a March 2011 petition signed by 160 UAE intellectuals to transform the FNC into an all-elected body with full legislative powers. 3 Elections First Held in Leadership resistance to elections to the FNC prevailed until 2006, at which time the UAE leadership apparently decided it had fallen too far behind its Gulf neighbors on political reform. In December 2006, it conducted a limited electoral process for half of the FNC seats, with the other 20 FNC seats still appointive. The 2006 electorate was to be limited to about 100 persons for each FNC seat, appointed or elected, or about 4,000 total electors. The Election Commission approved a slightly larger 6,595-person electorate, or about 160 persons per seat. Of the total electors, 1,162 were women (less than 20%). Out of the 452 candidates for the 20 FNC elected seats, there were 65 female candidates. Only one woman was elected (from Abu Dhabi), but another seven were given appointed seats. September 24, 2011, FNC Election. In the September 24, 2011, FNC election which occurred in the context of the Arab spring uprisings that inspired demands for more popular input in the Arab states the government expanded the size of the electorate to 129,000 electors, or voters (30 times as many as the 2006 election process). A total of 468 candidates filed to run for the 20 seats up for election on September 24, 2011, including 85 women little more than the number of candidates who filed to run in the 2006 process. However, the 2011 electorate was nearly half female, in contrast to the fewer than 20% electors in the 2006 process. Candidate spending was not allowed to exceed $545,000. There was little active campaigning and turnout was about 25%, which UAE officials called disappointing. Of the 20 winners, only one was female (Sheika Isa Ghanem) from Umm Al Quwain, one of the more conservative emirates. It was believed that female candidates would have the best chance of winning in the far more liberal Dubai emirate. Other winners were elected along tribal lines; in Abu Dhabi, three of the four winners were from the Al Amiri tribe. Of the 20 appointed seats, six were women, bringing the total number of women in the FNC to seven. The government selected as FNC Speaker an appointed male member, well-known writer Mohammad al-murr, and Amal al-qubaisi, one of the appointed women, as deputy speaker. She became the first woman to hold so high a position in any GCC representative body. 2 Anwar Gargash. Amid Challenges, UAE Policies Engage Gradual Reforms. The National, August 26, Al Jazeera News Network, March 9, Congressional Research Service 4 Government Handling of Opposition Inspired by the 2011 Arab uprisings and dissatisfied with the slow pace of reform, some UAE intellectuals, businessmen, students, and other groups have agitated using primarily social media for greater political space. Some UAE youth, using Facebook and Twitter, called for a protest on March 25, 2011, but it did not produce a significant demonstration. The government blocked some of the advertisements but the demonstration apparently also lacked broad support. The government has attempted to address the activism and other popular demands. In March 2011, it invested about $1.5 billion in utilities infrastructure of the poorer, northern emirates; it raised military pensions by 70%; and it introduced subsidies for some foodstuffs. In March 2013, the government announced a new look cabinet to bring in youthful figures and ideas. Suhail al- Mazroui, widely considered a dynamic figure, was appointed Energy Minister, and Abu Dhabi royal family member, Shaykh Abdullah bin Mubarak al-nuhayyan, was appointed Minister of Culture, Youth and Social Development with a mandate to reach out to UAE youth. The most prominent female minister, Minister of Foreign Trade Shaykha Lubna Al Qassimi, was given a higher profile role as head of a new Ministry of Development and International Cooperation, responsible for UAE foreign aid and relations with international bodies. The government also has employed some repressive measures, even though public demonstrations did not materialize and the opposition appeared to be of no threat to the government. Five well-known online activists the so-called UAE-5 were arrested and tried during 2011, but human rights organizations said their trials violated basic rights of the accused. The five were given jail terms in November 2011, but President Khalifa commuted their sentences and they were released. During April and May 2011, the government dissolved the elected board of directors of the Jurist Association and the Teachers Association, two leading civil society groups, after members of their boards signed petitions for political reforms. The boards were reconstituted with government appointees. The Jurists Association s Human Rights Committee and the Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA) are the only two recognized local human rights organizations in the country. A prominent tool the government has used is a cybercrimes decree issued by President Khalifa on November 13, 2012 (Federal Legal Decree No. 5/2012), which established a legal base to prosecute and jail people who use information technology to promote dissent. According to Human Rights Watch, Article 28 of the decree provides for imprisonment and large fines for anyone who uses information technology to incite actions that endanger state security or infringe on the public order. Article 30 provides for life imprisonment for anyone using such technology to advocate the overthrow or change of the system of governance. On December 23, 2013, a UAE court sentenced a U.S. national, Shezanne Cassim, to one year in jail for violating the decree by making a video parodying you
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