Proponents of the Dubai Ports transaction make two main arguments that in their view prove conclusively that the deal is in the best interests of the United States: First, that guaranteeing our ports security means that they will remain in the hands of U.S. authorities and, second, that the UAE is a friendly country cooperating with the U.S. military in a variety of ways and thus contributing to the war on terror. What if, for the sake of argument, we agree that both of these assumptions are true, yet there are nonetheless compelling reasons to oppose the deal on national-security grounds.
There are at least two such reasons. The first one has to do with the nature of the UAE state and the philosophy of government it represents. Very simply, it is an authoritarian, anti-democratic polity that pursues policies that are the exact opposite of the model of democracy that we promote in Iraq and consider the basis of our strategy to transform the Middle East. It allows no political parties, dissent, or freedom of speech, unless it is anti-American or anti-Semitic; censors the Internet; and uses troglodyte sharia
tenets to throw people in jail for crimes such as being homosexual. At the very least, our support for such a “stalwart friend” makes our pro-democracy stance look just a bit hypocritical; at worst it contributes to the growing hostility toward America. Virtually all recent opinion polls in the UAE have shown upward of 75 percent responding with a starkly negative opinion of America, even when compared to Osama bin Laden.
Much more serious than the nature of its government, though, is the evidence that the Emirates have for decades been one of the key financiers of radical Islamism and even outright terrorism. Indeed, if they have been a reliable friend and ally to anybody, it is to the House of Saud in its efforts to export the hateful Wahhabi creed worldwide. And it is this massive campaign over the years that has created the huge infrastructure of thousands of radical mosques, madrassas, Islamic centers, and “charities” that is the true breeding ground of hate, fanaticism, and terrorism.
Official information about these activities is, needless to say scarce, but even the little that does see the light of day indicates massive involvement. The monthly journal of the Muslim World League indicates that the UAE and the potentates ruling them have donated large sums of money to virtually all of the Saudi-controlled instruments of spreading radical Islam, such as the Muslim World League, the Islamic Development Bank, the World Council of Mosques, and the Islamic Solidarity Fund (ISF), etc., for nearly three decades now. The ISF alone, for instance, was given $500 million in 1980, according to the March 1981 issue of The MWL Journal.
Nor have UAE leaders been squeamish about financing radicalism in the United States itself. In 1980, again according to The MWL Journal, the president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, and the ruler of the Sharjah Emirate, Sheikh al-Qassimi, gave $4.5 million to Nation of Islam leader W. D. Muhammad, as part of a successful effort by the Saudis to convert the movement to Wahhabism. The result has been a radicalization that last year resulted in one of its leaders calling for jihad against the Los Angeles Police Department.
More recently, a $2.5 million donation by the late Sheikh Zayed to Harvard University for the establishment of an Islamic chair, had to be withdrawn after it became known that another Sheikh Zayed Center in UAE engaged in scientific activities such as proving that the U.S. masterminded the 9/11 attacks and that “Jews use gentile blood for holiday pastries.” None of this prevented the government of the Emirates from donating to Columbia University toward a chair for a militant Palestinian professor.
Finally, our good friends in the UAE are far from unwilling to engage in direct funding of terrorism. In 2000, as the so-called Second Intifada began, Saudi Arabia established the Al Aqsa and Intifada Fund designed to provide direct support to suicide bombers and their families. According to Arab sources, the UAE became the second-largest contributor to the $1 billion fund after Riyadh with a contribution of $150 million. If Washington’s policies in the Palestinian conflict are in shambles today with Hamas in power, more than a little credit is due to our friends in Saudi Arabia and UAE.
However the DP World controversy is resolved ultimately, it would have been worthwhile if it leads to a long-overdue debate on who really is friend and who is foe in the war on terror. It’s something that we still do not seem to be quite sure about four and a half years after 9/11.
–Alex Alexiev is vice president for research at the Center for Security Policy.