The deal involving management of six U.S. ports by Dubai Ports World
(which may now be on hold
at DP World's behest) has made for a hell of a political football -- it's not every day that Bill Frist and Hillary Clinton find themselves sharing a policy cuddle. Largely missing from the story, however, is discussion of the kind of political system in the country whose company will take over the ports. The White House wants us to see the United Arab Emirates as a reliable ally with relatively progressive values for the Middle East context, and frets that holding up the deal will send a xenophobic message to the Arab world. But DP World is not a company located in the UAE; it's a firm owned by the UAE government.
The UAE, in a nutshell
, is a confederation of seven states, or emirates, each with a ruler who occupies the position by dynastic succession. The key constitutional authority is the Federal Supreme Council, made up of the seven emirate rulers. They pick a president, who in turn names the prime minister and all judges of the Union Supreme Court. The "legislature" is the Federal National Council, all 40 members of which are appointed by the emirate rulers. There are no political parties, and there is no sufferage.
You'd think a White House obsessed with spreading democracy throughout the Arab world would draw the line at turning over management of key public assets to an entity owned by such an anti-democratic regime.