Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The United Arab Emirates: "Americans Are Our Friends"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The United Arab Emirates: "Americans Are Our Friends"

Article excerpt

Even before leaving Qatar, we had encountered some young men from the United Arab Emirates who politely asked our nationality. Informed that we were Americans, they broke into smiles and exclaimed, "That's good. Americans are our friends."

Beguiled at this almost forgotten echo of the century that preceded the creation of Israel, we didn't ask whether this was a reaction to Desert Storm, which saved the UAE from eventual Iraqi attack almost as surely as it saved Kuwait, or whether it resulted from President Bush's victory over "the one thousand lobbyists on Capitol Hill." In fact, both battles are intimately related.

If the US had joined with its Arab friends to roll back the illegal Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, and then continued to support the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the US soon would have had no Arab friends left. Nor would some of those Arab rulers who joined the United Nations coalition have ruled much longer.

President Bush's action was essential to vindicate the Arab rulers of Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the UAE as well as rulers of the many non-Arab Muslim states of Africa and Asia who joined the US-led coalition to liberate Arab Kuwait from Arab Iraq.

The young UAE government representative who meets us at the airport looks almost blank when we mention the smoke from Kuwaiti oil fields. His country, it seems, is now out of range. They've seen the smoke, but mostly shortly after the Iraqi withdrawal in which the oil wells were torched.

When we awake the next morning the sun is shining in a cloudless sky. The beaches that ring the island capital soon are full, as Abu Dhabi residents take advantage of the first days of fall when the air begins to cool enough to tempt people to leave their air-conditioned homes, and the water in numerous pools and the sea still is warm enough for pleasant swimming.

The United Arab Emirates, whose president is Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who also is ruler of Abu Dhabi, hosted both US Air Force and Naval personnel during the Gulf war. Being well out of range of Iraqi Scuds, however, and with the population centers in its seven associated emirates widely dispersed, it seemed less traumatized by the event than its Gulf neighbors. Its armed forces participated, on land, sea and in the air, but this September its officials seem more interested in talking about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, with transactions worldwide of more than $1 billion daily, BCCI's management was largely Pakistani. Its charismatic Pakistani director had first come to Abu Dhabi in affiliation with the Bank of America, an association that ended many years ago. The appeal of BCCI, founded in 1972, to Muslim depositors was that of "Islamic banking," designed to comply with the Qur'anic injunction against usury--collecting interest on capital.

It was only in May 1990, however, that Sheikh Zayed was persuaded to invest sufficient state and personal funds in the bank to give Abu Dhabi a 77 percent ownership of BCCI. Bank officials told him that, although they had become the fastest-growing bank in the world, and certainly the largest Third World financial institution, they were in deep but temporary financial trouble. His intervention, they assured him, would protect jobs and economic development throughout the Third World, and the savings of Muslim depositors.

After assuming financial responsibility, Abu Dhabi authorities sought Bank of England approval for restructuring BCCI with three separate banks based in Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and London. The plan envisioned dismissing top BCCI managers and closing down many international operations.

No one, therefore, was more stunned than Abu Dhabi authorities at the July 5 Bank of England closure of BCCI in England, thereby putting at risk BCCI operations in 72 countries. One by one, officials in other countries have closed these down, freezing the accounts of small depositors. …

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