Tuesday, August 23, 2016

From Jadaliyya: the Dubai Paradox

"The city-state's strict commitment to its historically pacific tactic are however very well being revised. Although never stated explicitly, it became clear throughout our meetings that the UAE was, indeed, at war. In fact, the exacerbated contextual sediment of the last ten years–comprising, notably, the amplification of time-honored tensions between Sunni and Shiite factions in proximate Iran and the wave of Sunni Arab revolutions in 2011–has urged the UAE's national army to adopt a firmer, more outwardly military strategy. As reminded by two actors we met, Dubai’s security tactic can no longer remain strictly confined to the endogenous protection of a safe haven. The renewed and more robust geopolitical trajectory of the UAE has transpired most revealingly when Dubai, under the auspices of the Federal Army, sent boots on unstable ground within the 2015 Saudi-led coalition's intervention in Yemen. Prior to our arrival but still fresh in people’s minds, a national day of mourning had been declared by Dubai’s prince as an homage to the Emirati soldiers that had been killed during a particularly violent day of the conflict. Patriotic advertisements for army recruitment flooding national television complemented officials’ remarks that the UAE had for a long time been actively engaged in an air campaign in Syria, while noting that one of France’s prime economic interests in the Emirates was in the sector of arms trading. 
As one embarks on the Thales metro or deciphers a recruitment advertisement for the army, one easily perceives that the rather pro-active stance of the UAE regarding regional affairs has affected Dubai's urban space. A less patent, yet particularly telling example thereof was revealed at our meeting at the Dubai South headquarters. The planning of the futuristic south-western sector– branded as Dubai 2.0–is imbued with strategic considerations, most discernible in the UN-encouraged establishment of a district that will be entirely dedicated to the provision of out-flying humanitarian assistance to the surrounding war, tension and terrorism ridden turmoil. These latest developments inspire a daring question: can we imagine a future where the UAE would be acting as a potent and intervening stabilizer of the region? If so, to what degree would such a path alter the branding, planning and governance of Dubai? The seemingly paradoxical imbrication between a securitized urban space, advertised as a safe haven for capital, and an increasingly active geopolitical presence in the broader region, raises questions concerning the long-term sustainability of this strategy, and the potential risk such aggressivity could breed."