U.A.E. and American Policy
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
To learn more about the United Arab Emirates and the company that's poised to take over several port operations in the U.S., we turn to Joseph Kechichian. He's a consultant who specializes in the Persian Gulf region, and he's written a book called A CENTURY IN 30 YEARS. Mr. Kechichian joins us now, and I want to ask you about the title of your book. A CENTURY IN 30 YEARS, what does that mean?
JOSEPH KECHICHIAN: It means that the people of the Emirates have essentially done in 30 years the work that has taken most other nations in the world roughly 100 years. It has essentially gone from a tribal society to a very modernizing environment, without actually losing the fundamental values of that culture and that society.
NORRIS: So this is a country that's wedged between Amman and Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Could you give us a quick political and economic snapshot of the country?
KECHICHIAN: It is composed of seven individual emirates that have come together in 1971 in a federation. So, therefore, this is truly a federal country. And each individual emirate has certain autonomy, but, nevertheless, the leaderships have decided at the time to unite their forces because separately they were too small, too weak. And even though there are seven members, two particular emirates dominate the political system, namely Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The population of the emirates themselves is less than three million, three and a half million. Most of those folks obviously are not emiratis. About 80 to 85 percent of the population is expatriate or foreign workers who are there on temporary basis, maybe four years, five years. The population of the emirates themselves probably are less than a million people.
NORRIS: I'd like to ask you about the company in question in this ports deal, Dubai Ports World. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
KECHICHIAN: Well, Dubai is actually involved in this tremendous buying spree of everything everywhere in the world. Now, Dubai Ports is essentially part of that larger scheme of diversifying the portfolio. In this particular instance, Dubai Ports is going to become the new owner of the company that has been purchased, everybody's talking about, P and O. But hardly anything's going to change in terms of the management of the company, simply because Dubai doesn't have the manpower to manage all of these companies that it is acquiring around the world.
NORRIS: If you've been here in the U.S., and if you've been following the discussion and the debate about the ports contract, you hear and you see the U.A.E. portrayed in very different ways. On one hand, it's portrayed as a country that is a crucial partner to the U.S. in the war on terror. On the other hand, it's also portrayed as an important operational and financial base for the 9/11 hijackers. Are both equally true?
KECHICHIAN: They are equally true. But we should not exaggerate. The U.A.E. is not a haven for terrorists, either financial transactions or otherwise. Now, there is no denying the fact that in the 9/11 case we know for a fact, it has been documented, that some of these folks, the terrorists involved, had financial dealings with U.A.E. banks, several of them, but that has now --
NORRIS: And two were citizens of the U.A.E., as well.
KECHICHIAN: Yes, they were. And it seems to me that that part now has been pretty much taken care of, because the leadership of Abu Dhabi in particular is very much pro-Western in its outlook. It does not want to do anything to jeopardize its relationships with the United States. What they want are investments that will maximize their returns. Because you have to understand something in terms of the philosophy that these folks espouse, namely that oil is a finite, limited resource, and we have to prepare for not only the next generation, but generations down the line. So these investment projects that they're involved in are essentially to secure their financial future for several generations.
NORRIS: Joseph Kechichian is the author of A CENTURY IN 30 YEARS, a book that examines the political and economic transformation of the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Kechichian, thanks so much for talking to us.
KECHICHIAN: My pleasure.