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February 19, 2013

Emirates’ Money Wins a Washington Post Touch-Up


“Persian Gulf donor helps a rebuilding U.S. city ‘think big’”, announced a front-page headline in The Washington Post’s February 18 print edition. The article highlighted the United Arab Emirates' help for Joplin, Mo. after the 2011 tornado that killed 161 residents, destroyed six schools and much of the rest of the city.

“Today, the nearly 2,200 high school students in Joplin each have their own UAE-funded MacBook laptop, which they use to absorb lessons, perform homework and take tests. Across the city, the UAE is spending $5 million to build a neonatal intensive-care unit at Mercy Hospital, which also was ripped apart by the tornado,” reported The Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

The reporter, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his coverage of U.S. forces fighting in Iraq in 2003, told readers “the gifts are part of an ambitious campaign by the U.A.E. government to assist needy communities in the United States. Motivated by the same principal reasons that the U.S. government distributes foreign assistance—to help those less fortunate and to
influence perceptions among the recipients—the handouts mark a small but remarkable shift in global economic power.”

Never mind that the principle reason the United States has distributed foreign assistance, from the post-World War II Marshall Plan to contemporary aid to Israel, for example, has been to advance U.S. national interests. The Post assisted, no doubt inadvertently, the U.A.E.’s effort “to influence perceptions” of Americans about the oil-rich country by omitting any mention of its non-democratic nature.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights, the U.A.E.’s population is approximately 8.5 million, of whom only 950,000 or so are recognized as citizens. The seven federated emirates “are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, to leaders of the individual emirates, and to leaders of the federation. … A limited, appointed electorate” chooses the Federal National Council, but it is a “non-legislative, consultative body.”

The State Department says “three core human rights issues continue to be of concern: citizens’ inability to change their government, limitations on citizens’ civil liberties (including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association); and lack of judicial independence.”

Freedom House, a private, Washington, D.C.-based organizations, ranked the U.A.E. as “not free” in 2011 and noted the government “continued to crack down on advocates of political change. … All decisions rest with the dynastic rulers of the seven emirates, who form the Federal Supreme Council, the highest executive and legislative body in the country.”

Chandrasekhar did report that “the decision to accept the UAE money prompted an angry response from a few residents, and it sparked rants from some conservative radio commentators — one of them, Debbie Schlussel, accused the school system of taking ‘Islamic blood money’ — but [school Superintendent C.J.] Huff stood firm. ‘I can live with the hate mail,’ he said. “It’s the right thing for the kids.”

Joplin certainly needs help in rebuilding. It also deserves the full story about petro-dollar help from non-democratic Persian Gulf sheikdoms, allegations of "Islamic blood money" aside.

Posted by ER at February 19, 2013 03:09 PM


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