Report From Paula in Abu Dhabi

In answer to a question to Paula who is teaching for some weeks this semester in Abu Dhabi about local opinion on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East, she sent this response and authorized me to post it for her here:

As I write, I’m sitting on the couch of my apartment watching Aljazeera (English), which I’ve been doing several hours a day since Tuesday. Also grading papers.

I have not had much opportunity to talk to the locals about this, except one Political Scientist from Dubai who is an Emirati (what they call UAE citizens).  He referred to it as a source of pride for people in all Arab nations (he was at NYUAD [New York University at  Abu Dhabi] to present a paper on the Gulf alliance—kind of an EU).

There are no demonstrations here.  Someday I would think there will be some revolt or at least reform—this is after all a monarchy, not a democracy at all.  On the other hand, for the natives only (not the 80% of the country that is immigrants, who have no chance to become citizens) this is a cradle to grave social welfare system as generous as Sweden or more so, which usually you don’t get w/o a democracy.  I’m told the royal family is well respected.  I think the two sources of change here will be women—who now outnumber men at the local university, but don’t have very good job opportunities yet, and may chafe against male authority over them at some point.  And immigrants may someday have a movement but it is difficult because they can be deported and they are here to make money—most come from much poorer countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Yemen.

I’ve talked a lot to my colleagues here about it.  All are watching Aljazeera; it is on TV here in English and Arabic. They also watch BBC.  A couple not from US commented how bad CNN, the other English station available is.  The most interesting colleague is a sociologist who originates from Pakistan, although teaches now in Australia but is here as a visitor.  He is a Muslim and has studied the Islamic world, including doing surveys in a number of Arab countries.  He thinks some general from the army will probably end up in power because actually in Egypt, unlike Pakistan, people trust the military a lot (NOT the police who have been the Mubarak henchmen).  Indeed, the army have played a fairly positive role it seems.

Watching Aljazeera it is really quite inspiring what people have done, and how they collectively are keeping the peace and helping each other, sharing food, providing security.  It is also quite inspiring how Aljazeera is getting the news out even after the Egyptian govt shut down their Bureau in  Cairo.  They have repoters here and there and are taking pictures by satellite and using sources from other media.  They sometimes interview people quite aggressively.

Don’t know how helpful a report it is, but that is my report.  I, the agnostic, am praying for the people out there in the square.

Oh, re other countries, you know the monarch of Jordan didn’t step down but appointed a new prime minister and sacked the old. There were some protests there and I think he is worried.  I’m forgetting if I saw that on Aljazeera or read it in the Times (which I still read).  I have a couple of Jordanian students; should ask them about their views of that.  I was a bit frustrated that this seemed an important story on Jordan and they were so focused on Egypt that they (Aljazeera) were just running by it very quickly.   Nicholas Kristof, the Times columnist, is in the square in Cairo and sending in reports which are quite poignant.  Actually while Aljazeera is more complete (they are running virtually 24 hour coverage which is 80% on this), I don’t find them to be saying contradictory things (Aljazeera and the NYT).

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