UNITED ARAB EMIRATES The Political Culture of Leadership in the United Arab Emirates, by Andrea B. Rugh. New York: Palgrave, 2007. xiii + 236 pages. Map. Notes to p. 249. Bibl. to p. 253. Index to p. 269. $69.95.
Reviewed by Christopher Davidson
Andrea Rugh has produced an in-depth study of the ruling families - their personal resources and their internal dynastic mechanisms - of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world's few remaining monarchies, and in many ways one of the most autocratic and opaque. The book provides important insights about the UAE, a stable polity that appears to have blended successfully tribal and other traditional politics with more modern governmental structures.
Although a rather slim volume, the book's constituent chapters are packed with detail, and, importantly, they consider each of the seven emirates that make up the federation. Certainly, it is refreshing to see that considerable weight is given to events and personalities in the smaller northern emirates, which are often overlooked in broader studies of the region. Although these emirates do not possess oil reserves and are heavily dependent on federal aid from the wealthier emirate of Abu Dhabi, they nevertheless all provide a large number of federal pubic sector employees and their respective rulers all hold a position in the UAE's Supreme Council of Rulers.
Perhaps the book's greatest strength is its emphasis on the significance of marriages within and between these dynasties, and their described role in the forging of alliances. While no attributed interview sources are given, it is clear that the author has managed to gather much information on exactly who is related to whom, and in what circumstances. Thankfully the density of these sections has been made somewhat easier for the reader given the inclusion of an ingenious referencing system that allows one to see how the various members of these families fit into the bigger picture.
Surprisingly, given that the UAE is often regarded as more of a confederation than a federation, and given that the book is ostensibly a study of political culture, there appears to be little emphasis placed on some of the key differences that exist between the various emirates. Importantly, emirates such as Abu Dhabi, the national population of which has only become settled relatively recently and therefore still retains much of its Bedouin culture, is a much more private community than that of Dubai and the other former seafaring sheikhdoms. In many ways, this culture of privacy continues to be apparent in contemporary politics, with Abu Dhabi remaining the least transparent of the emirate-level polities. …