Regional Stability

Chinese Government Caught Flat-footed by Separatist Attack

Uyghur woman and Chinese military personnel.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Han–Uyghur riots in Urumqi, the Chinese government made a number of changes to its policies in Xinjiang, including transferring out the region’s unpopular party chief. Since the arrival of President Xi Jinping, monitoring of Uyghurs in Xinjiang has intensified too.

But while a number of violent incidents were reported in Xinjiang in 2013, it is almost impossible to tell whether Uyghur-related violence is increasing in China. It is unclear whether the reporting of more incidents than in the past is due to actual increases in violence or simply new government media directives. The reports themselves are often uninformative. However, recent events, including the knife attack at Kunming, suggest that the Chinese government’s policies to counter Uyghur unrest are having unforeseen consequences well outside of Xinjiang. And the government is likely increasingly concerned that its post-2009 measures have been unsuccessful, given reported changes in policy toward Xinjiang.

Dubai’s Woes, Iran’s Headache

Aspirin tablets / Photo: wikimedia commons
Aspirin tablets / Photo: wikimedia commons

Dubai has celebrated the opening of the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Dubai, with a spectacular – not to mention costly – fireworks display. But the 10,000 fireworks did not blind us from the fact that the city and those who have put their hopes and money into Dubai are hurting. We all know who the main losers are:

    • The all-too-credulous investors willing to give cheap loans to Dubai World and Nakheel assuming their loans were guaranteed by the governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi: A significant amount of this debt is believed to be bad debt (read: not backed by viable assets) – Moody’s has put the figure at about USD25 billion.


    • The city of Dubai itself, whose debt load – depending on whose estimates you are referring to – amount to between 100 and 200 percent of Dubai’s USD82 billion GDP: And it is not over yet – real estate prices in Dubai are expected to decline even further in 2010 as investors are abandoning their construction projects.


  • Dubai’s political independence within the UAE’s loose federation: Dubai has been enjoying special sovereign rights, such as control of customs, over parts of the judiciary and of its stock market. The UAE’s oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi’s offer to partially bail out its broke neighbor will most likely come at a political price. It is likely that Dubai will have to relinquish some of its sovereign powers to federal authorities.

Yet another loser, less talked-about but most significant in geopolitical terms, could be Iran.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Dubai was one of three UAE emirates that leaned more toward Iran, and it has continued to maintain the closest ties to the country among all UAE emirates. Iran is one of Dubai’s major trading partners. Both benefit tremendously from this relationship. As one observer states, “The trade between Iran and Dubai is one of the principal sources of Tehran’s confidence that it can survive US-led sanctions. Iranian investment in Dubai amounts to about US $14 billion each year.”

Some banks have been accused by the US government of indirectly doing business with Iran through Dubai-based institutions. Vice versa, Tehran has been accused of circumventing sanctions by doing business through Dubai based front companies.

Abu Dhabi has long resented Dubai’s ties to Iran. The UAE fears Iran’s regional ambitions and nuclear program, and it still has a territorial dispute over three UAE islands currently occupied by Iran. Besides, Dubai’s closeness to Iran is an embarrassment to the UAE in its close relationship with the US.

Dubai’s financial crisis is putting Abu Dhabi into the enviable position of being able to attach strings to its bailout offer. Although the US has kept mum about it in public, no doubt Washington encourages Abu Dhabi to make bailout money dependent on Dubai severing commercial ties with Iran.

And as Dubai is tightening its belt, Iran may find it just a little harder to circumvent international sanctions.


One Thousand and One Nights Gone Wrong

Remember reading those fancy folk tales when you were little, commonly known as the “Arabian Nights,” about oriental princes, ghouls and magical wonder lamps? In The History of Gherib and His Brother Agib, things are getting a tad bit more gothic:

“So they seized the prince and binding his hands behind him, beat him till he lost his senses; after which the king imprisoned him in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth.”

Many Arabian nights later, in 2004, roles were reversed, as a very disturbing videotape recently smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates by Bassam Nabulsi and aired on ABC News suggests.

In this very sequel the prince is called Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Sheikh Issa torturing an Afghan merchant.
Spoiler warning: This time not the prince is beaten till he loses his senses.

He is the son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, late president of the UAE, and the brother of current UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who also rules Abu Dhabi, as well as of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of UAE’s armed forces.

The video shows Sheikh Issa, assisted by an obedient uniformed police officer, sadistically torturing an Afghan merchant by the cynical name of Mohammed Shah Poor half to death. Sheikh Issa “is seen stuffing sand in the Afghan’s mouth. As the grain dealer pleads and whimpers, he is beaten with a nailed board, burned in the genitals with a cigarette lighter, shocked with a cattle prod, and led to believe he would be shot. Salt is poured on his wounds. In the end, the victim can muster up only weak moans as an SUV is repeatedly driven over him.”

“The incidents depicted in the video tapes were not part of a pattern of behavior,” UAE’s Ministry of the Interior, presided by yet another of Sheikh Issa’s brothers, declared, at the same time officially acknowledging the prince’s involvement. “All rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the Police Department”, the statement concluded. O rule of law, where art thou?

After reviewing the tape once more, this time with eyes open obviously, another official statement hit the public: “The HRO [Human Rights Office] of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will conduct a comprehensive review of the matter immediately and make its findings public at the earliest opportunity.” In the meantime, the prince was set under house arrest, being the first senior member of the royal family ever to be publicly detained in Abu Dhabi.

It remains to be seen if the original tale might prove not-that-fictional, and the prince (who has lately been accused with at least 25 more cases of cinematic bestiality) will finally be imprisoned “in a chamber, where one might not know heaven from earth or length from breadth”. Insha’Allah.

Screenshot: ABC News