Cities of Gold

Asian Geographic - - Heritage -

“King of kings” has been a pop­u­lar – if hy­per­bolic – ti­tle for rulers since the time of the Assyr­ian Em­pire. But in the case of the emir (king) of Abu Dhabi, it’s ac­tu­ally true. Khal­ifa bin Zayed bin Sul­tan Al Nahyan is the head of state of the UAE, which is a fed­er­a­tion of seven emi­rates, each with its own hered­i­tary emir.

The UAE is a par­tic­u­larly cu­ri­ous case. The state was only cre­ated in 1971, and yet whereas other newly in­de­pen­dent states opted for mod­ern, demo­cratic forms of gov­ern­ment, do­ing away with the ves­tiges of hered­i­tary rule, the sheikhs chose an au­toc­racy. This re­in­forced tra­di­tional tribal hi­er­ar­chies and al­le­giances, but cre­ated a can of worms for the fu­ture.

The chal­lenges of an ab­so­lutely monar­chy for the UAE are two-fold. Firstly, there’s the is­sue of ri­valry be­tween the emi­rates and be­tween princes. Sheikh Zayed, founder of the na­tion, had 30 chil­dren. Love is not lost be­tween them, and they wres­tle for power be­hind palace walls. Al­le­ga­tions of at­tempted coups are fre­quent, al­though the coun­try’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus works hard to keep them quiet.

Sec­ondly, this ab­so­lute monar­chy has no means for deal­ing with protest or op­po­si­tion. Cor­rup­tion is en­demic, and hu­man rights abuses – es­pe­cially of vul­ner­a­ble mi­grant work­ers – fre­quent. The UAE ranks poorly for civil lib­er­ties and po­lit­i­cal rights. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has ac­cused the UAE of an “un­prece­dented clam­p­down” on dis­sent. Those who ques­tion the emirs are im­pris­oned, ex­iled, si­lenced.

But no ruler can keep his peo­ple down for­ever. If his­tory has any­thing to teach us, it is that one day they will rise up and take back power. For an ab­so­lute monar­chy, ul­ti­mately, it’s a case of re­form, or die. ag

“The ruler, any ruler, is only there to serve his peo­ple and se­cure for them pros­per­ity and progress” – Sheikh Zayed bin Sul­tan Al Nahyan (1918–2004)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.