UAE: A petrostate bereft of morality

UAE: A petrostate bereft of morality
5 min read
02 Oct, 2018
Comment: The extravagant mirage of UAE's hyper-luxury stands in stark contrast with the lives of starving Yemenis suffering the effects of a brutal proxy war, writes Sam Hamad.
Emirati owned firms revealed the world's most expensive pair of shoes this week [Getty]
When I first read about the unveiling of the world's most expensive shoes in Dubai, an old Quranic verse sprung to mind. "The wasteful are brothers of the devil," as the good book says, and 'wasteful' is perhaps one of the more tame adjectives one could use to describe the creation of these shoes, which are available to buy at an astonishing $17 million.  

The shoes, created by the Emirati-owned firms Jadai Dubai and Passion Jewellers, are made of golden leather and adorned with over 100 carats of flawless diamonds encased in white gold. The display pair of the world's most expensive shoes sits in one of the world's most luxurious hotels, the only 7-star hotel on earth, in one of the world's largest buildings.

Even the very worst autocratic civilisations of antiquity could not have produced a spectacle as filthy and opulent as this, but, as ever with the repugnant splendour of the UAE, the petrostate's media remained blissfully bereft of self-awareness as they pushed this as yet another triumphant moment for their country.  

But this is not a case of mere rich ignorance. The UAE should not be thought of as a Marie Antoinette of the world. It's far more malign than that.

The production of these shoes in a world ravaged by fatal poverty would be obscene in any circumstances, but the spectacle is made all the more horrific by the grotesque socio-political and geopolitical nature of the country.  

Though Saudi Arabia gets most of the blame for the interrelated catastrophes of war and famine that are currently engulfing Yemen, the UAE plays a role almost equal to, and even in some ways, worse than Saudi Arabia in this conflict. The UAE is a key part of the Saudi coalition's air campaign against the Houthis, one that has involved the indiscriminate murder of civilians (over 1,000 since 2015), as well as the targeting of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.  

The production of these shoes in a world ravaged by fatal poverty would be obscene in any circumstances

The Saudi-UAE war on Yemen, which even before this war, was the most impoverished country in the region and one of the poorest in the world, has seen 17 million Yemenis put at risk of famine. In what the Norwegian Refugee Council called a famine of 'biblical proportions' descending on Yemen, it's estimated that one child dies every 10 minutes in the country due to starvation caused by the Saud-UAE war. Cholera is now ravaging the starving population, with the destruction of sanitation infrastructure by the bombs of Saudi and the UAE.

Not only does UAE wrongly take part in this war, but it actively seeks to prolong Yemeni suffering for its own selfish ends. The Houthis, in their alliance with forces loyal to the overthrown despot Ali Abdullah Saleh, were never any kind of force of liberation, and though Saudi Arabia's war is a reckless and devastating crime, the end goal was always - at least ostensibly - the return of the Hadi government.  

It was with these guarantees that Saudi Arabia was able to gain the reluctant support of Al-Islah, the political wing of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood and one of the leading forces in the revolution that toppled Saleh.

But this won't cut it with the UAE. The UAE, as with its huge financial support for Sisi's brutal counter-revolution in Egypt, wants to avert any Islamic force that advocates democracy gaining power. They have little interest in peace emerging in Yemen any time soon.

Instead, they seek to keep the country in a state of lasting division while sensing an opportunity to cultivate a vassal state in the South, giving them a free route to the lucrative trading post in Aden, and allowing them to fulfil their long-held ambition of becoming the dominant Gulf force in the region.

To this end, UAE now uses their huge resources to support 
separatist proxies in Yemen's South - groups who commit gross human rights violations and are fighting a proxy war against Saudi-backed forces.

The net effect is a protracted war, famine and suffering in Yemen. The world takes direct action against 'blood diamonds', (mined by warlords often utilising slave labour and sold to exploitative dealers in the West), it ought to look upon these shoes in similar terms.

On the home front, behind the extravagant mirage of the world's most expensive shoes, skyscrapers, artificial islands and tax havens, UAE viciously exploits migrant workers, allowing those rich enough to live there an experience that harks back to the lost luxuries of something akin to the British Raj.  

Foreign workers, mostly from the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh and impoverished Arabic-speaking countries, are - through the kafala system - often kept as virtual or even literal slaves, cleaning the mansions and 7-star hotels.

While the shoes might be easily dismissed as an unaffordable gimmick, the sheer obscenity of footwear that costs $17 million gets to the heart, (or lack of) of what's wrong with the UAE

They live lives of misery, and receive no protection from the widespread violence and sexual assault they can experience at the hands of those who 'own' them. If they try to leave, they are arrested and imprisoned for 'absconding'.

While the shoes might be easily dismissed as an unaffordable gimmick, the sheer obscenity of footwear that costs $17 million gets to the heart, (or lack of) of what's wrong with the UAE.

It's an entity that embodies the very worst of the region: States and enterprises built for ultra-rich people over the bones of starving Yemenis, oppressed South Asian slaves and people who don't deserve lives of basic dignity, never mind ones of luxury.  

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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