The UAE continues to throw eyes at westerners. Following the decriminalization of expatriate cohabitation, visa easing and alcohol restrictions, the first civil union of a non-Muslim couple was celebrated in Abu Dhabi on Monday 27 December. A “Role model in the region”according to the UAE news agency WAM, made possible by the law on the status of non-Muslims passed in November.
Get rid of a sometimes archaic image
“The United Arab Emirates has taken many modernizing steps to break free from the sometimes archaic image often associated with the Gulf States.explains David Rigoulet-Roze, specialist in the Middle East, researcher at the French Institute for Strategic Analysis (Ifas) and linked to Iris. From this point of view, the country wants to be a spearhead. »
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She is also notable for her longstanding tolerance of other faiths. If Islam remains the state religion, Christians, for example, celebrate Christmas there. “Demonstrating religious tolerance is also a way for Abu Dhabi to fight against Islamism in general and political Islam in particular, which remains the Emirates’ obsession.”adds the researcher.
Attract a highly skilled workforce and foreign investment
The United Arab Emirates are multiplying the guarantees of social openness with the aim of attracting a long-term high-skilled workforce and foreign investment. “To begin the transition to a post-hydrocarbon, knowledge and new technology economy, the country needs international talent. It’s vital to him.”notes Anne Gadel, consultant specializing in the Middle East and member of the Jean Jaurès Foundation.
In this attractiveness race, the United Arab Emirates are in direct competition with Saudi Arabia. “Obviously the Emirates have a head start because they started this modernization movement long before that. But the rivalry between the two neighbors stems from the same economic urgency. However, the number of international investors able to unleash the significant sums of money required is relatively limited.”continues Anne Gadel.
This measure is also based on a principle of demographic reality. 90 percent of the ten million inhabitants of the small Gulf state are foreigners, many of whom do not belong to the Muslim culture. “It’s like two worlds living together. What can happen to expats and how Emiratis live”describes Anne Gadel.
consolidation of authoritarian power
The Emirates opening speech isn’t just about foreigners, though. In early December, the government of Sheikh Khalifa Ben Zayed Al Nahyan announced it would move the weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening. Film censorship was also lifted. “On certain points, which are mastered from A to Z, it is in the interests of the Emirati authorities to let go of baggage, believes Anne Gadel. The social pact is based on a lack of political representativeness, which is compensated for by economic prosperity. When the economic model changes, the balance of the pact changes. For this reason, punctual air blasts are allowed, especially at the cultural level. It’s an opening at a lower cost, in exchange for not keeping the system politically open at all. »
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Politically, the monarchy is consolidating its authoritarian power. The population remains subject to a secure pencil line, social networks are scrutinized and any resistance is silenced. Dissident and human rights defender Ahmed Mansour, held in solitary confinement since 2017, has become the emblematic victim of police state repression.