1971: Independence of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar

There was not the shadow of a demonstration under the scorching Gulf sun, nor the faintest of shots. On December 1, 1971, the British government officially ended its protectorate over the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an independence closely tied to that of Bahrain and Qatar, almost three years after the United Kingdom announced the withdrawal of its troops through arduous and unsuccessful negotiations to unite the three future countries into a single federation. The rulers of the Gulf, who ruled over weak and scattered populations, who took advantage of the first oil subsidies and therefore little inclined to protest, had so far become perfectly accustomed to the yoke of the occupiers, protectors in the face of communist subversion and, above all, of the appetizing neighboring countries of Iran and Saudi Arabia at the top.

The first oil shock is a turning point

The first shipment of black gold was exported to the Emirates, which include Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al-Qaiwain and Ajman, in 1962. While Qatar and Bahrain are gradually exchanging trade in a pearl world famous, but whose prices are collapsing due to the competition of those produced by the Japanese in breeding with those of hydrocarbons. In 1968, the population of the United Arab Emirates peaked at 180,000 people, most of the residents lived in traditional houses, health and public education facilities were still in their infancy, the construction of the only airport was barely complete and the first port infrastructures.

© AFP © Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The first oil shock will radically change the situation, as the United States will no longer be able to increase production and influence the price of a barrel alone, given the depletion of its reserves. On April 18, 1973, in a special address to the US Congress on energy policy, President Richard Nixon set the tone: “Our demand for energy has grown so rapidly that it now exceeds our available supply, and at the present rate of growth it will increase in almost doubled compared to 1970. In the next few years we must expect sporadic energy shortages and a certain increase in energy prices. (…) The available domestic oil production can no longer keep up with the demand. »

Fab pension

Six months later, in connection with the Yom Kippur War between the State of Israel and the Syrian-Egyptian Arab armies, the Organization of the Petroleum Producing Countries (OPEC) declared its independence and imposed an embargo that caused prices to skyrocket. From October 1973 to March 1974, the barrel rose from $2.59 to $11.65, a crisis that paradoxically killed the business of the Texas and California oil lobbies. According to Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Oil Minister between 1962 and 1986, the principle of high surge was even discreetly promoted by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who wanted to start the exploitation of unconventional oil fields on the states’ territory. unien, be it in the reserves in the Gulf of Mexico or in Alaska, and already the famous bituminous shales whose massive exploitation will allow Washington to become again the first world producer of black gold forty years later, ahead of Russia and especially Saudi -Arabia.

For the United Arab Emirates, the income from their oil, which is so cheap to extract and refine, is becoming incredible income. With metronome regularity, Abu Dhabi publishes lavish promotional leaflets in the Western press celebrating the achievements of independence and the exponential wealth of its people. “GDP growth rate in 1980 was 21.6% and annual per capita income was around $15,590 in 1978 according to World Bank data,” the Emirates Embassy welcomes in the Le Monde columns (December 3, 1981 ), on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops: “Teaching is provided free of charge by the state, students receive a scholarship throughout their studies and every graduate definitely has a place in the country’s job market,” adds the diplomatic mission while the country, like Qatar, is already fueling its economy thanks to a massive import of foreign labor to say thank you.

Hunt for golf wrens and stowaways

According to the International Organization for Migration, the immigrant population in 2015 was estimated at 88.4% of the total UAE population (9.89 million inhabitants in 2020), mainly from India (3.5 million), Egypt (935,000) , Bangladesh (906,000), Pakistan (863,000), the Philippines (555,000) or Indonesia (260,000). A dynamic comparable to that of Doha, the capital of Qatar, whose total population (2.5 million in 2018) would include only 10% nationals. A figure difficult to verify since the country refuses to provide statistics on the exact number of its nationals, but which provokes frequent debates among the kings of the Gulf, who worry about acquiring a real citizenship, a dangerous one identity, and above all, which would undermine their absolute power.

From this perspective everything is done to prevent real integration of emigrants and the monarchs sporadically organize real hunts for illegal immigrants, followed by massive expulsion campaigns. For example, on November 1, 2006, the enactment of a law harshly punishing undocumented workers in the United Arab Emirates made it possible to expel 170,000 people, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, in just one month.

There is no right to strike, trade unions are forbidden

As in Qatar, which among other things relied on these semi-slaves to build infrastructure related to the 2022 World Cup, expatriates are not allowed to come with their families, hopes for naturalization remain near nil, and mixed labor unions are discouraged or banned. Employment contracts are not renewable and an unemployed person must leave the country immediately unless his or her passport has been confiscated. Of course there is no right to strike and trade unions are forbidden.

© Reuters © Marwan Maamani/AFP

As for Bahrain, the rapid depletion of its oil reserves — the country produces barely 180,000 barrels a day — drove the Sunni ruling family, albeit to a lesser extent exploiting the roughly 50% foreigners who make up its million people, out of business thirty-island archipelago into an offshore financial center with no corporate, VAT or income taxes. And who has specialized in “Islamic Finance”, a label more than accounting reality, because a bank is considered “Islamic” if only 20% of its assets correspond to the “Sharia principles”, which prohibit usury and interest.

The Shah’s power falters

A veritable backyard of the Saudi capital — Riyadh has even built a twenty-kilometer bridge connecting the peninsula to Bahrain — the archipelago remains under constant agitation from its Shiite majority, largely excluded from economic rent. A phenomenon that will take on a new dimension with the second oil shock, caused in 1978 by the popular demonstrations that quickly shook the Shah’s power, and the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, dominated by the Shia clergy. In the midst of the Cold War, Washington had decided to abandon the imperial state of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose exaggerated ambitions – in terms of nuclear control and industrial development – ​​threatened to hatch at the gates of the Soviet working class synonymous with powerful union centers.

The collapse of Iranian oil production and the renewed surge in the price of barrels strengthen the position of the United Arab Emirates, which is multiplying its foreign investments. Led by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi boasts that it spends 20% of its GDP on foreign aid and celebrates “Arabization, Islam and non-alignment” as “the main tenets of its foreign policy”. To evade over-paternalism from Saudi Arabia and, above all, to protect themselves from the Iranian threat, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates soon welcomed large Western military bases, mostly American.

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But it is indeed Qatar who will make their most sensational appearance on the international stage. In 1995, Emir Hamad Ben Khalifa Al Thani took advantage of his father Khalifa’s stay in Switzerland to overthrow him with the firm intention of waking the peninsula out of its diplomatic paralysis. Thanks to massive investments in the gas sector, he added liquefied hydrocarbons to his gigantic oil revenues and founded the television channel Al Jazeera, the “Arabic CNN”, as a new vehicle of power and influence. They, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are betting on sport as a powerful tool for this new soft power, with the spectacular takeovers of football clubs Paris Saint-Germain in France and Manchester City in the UK as prime examples.

The “Arab revolts” of 2011 symbolize the end of the old order. The Western media are fascinated by the images, some of which were taken by Al Jazeera, documenting the planned overthrow of the former Arab League heavyweights in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. Even Bahrain, swept away by the turmoil, nevertheless manages to crush the protestant leanings of its Shia majority thanks to the reinforcements of Saudi tanks and to maintain the endless rule of its Sunni ruling family, which also withstood the withdrawal of British troops in 1971 to the upheavals of the ‘Story.

Apples of Discord

Divided, also to ward off the threat posed by Shia Iran, the Sunni kings of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are advancing in scattered order, even if the latter two’s boundless capital allows them to face the future with composure.

Other bones of contention remain, such as the treatment reserved for the Egyptian-born Muslim Brotherhood. As the only organization capable of organizing subversion in the Arab world since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, it continues to be under the active protection of Turkey and especially Qatar. A phenomenon that has accelerated the strategic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the organization of an outright sea and land blockade against Doha, whose emir has at the same time been accused of making conciliatory statements towards Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinians have Hamas, the local offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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