The United Arab Emirates has sent a probe to Mars. This is the first time any Arab country has sent a spacecraft to another planet. The probe is named The Hope (الأمل), and I think the name is appropriate. After all, their first attempt at reaching Mars was not successful; Burj Khalifa turned out to be not tall enough to reach the Red Planet. I’m told it’s still worth visiting for the nice view.
This is a huge prestige boost for the coalition of kingdoms, but more importantly, will the probe find oil on Mars?
On a more serious note, within living memory, UAE was little more than a collection of fishing villages. According to The Gazelle:
Before the discovery of oil, Emiratis had to rely upon trade to sustain themselves. Hence, while the UAE today may seem radically different from its past, many aspects have remained the same.
For much of the UAE’s pre-oil history, the environment was the most important factor. The harshness of the desert, which covers 80 percent of the country, dictated traditional lifestyles. One response was living a nomadic lifestyle, and was carried out by those living in the interior of the country. Despite this, oases allowed for some settled agriculture such as in Liwa. The more mountainous northern Emirates encouraged somewhat different ways of surviving as occasional rain flooded wadis and groundwater was more accessible. The mountains also had a strategic aspect as their rugged nature protected their inhabitants from invasion.
The third major environmental area was the coast. Although the desert extends all the way to the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the coast was important as it allowed the UAE to trade and connect with other nations in the region. Water was still a priority and so sources were closely guarded. Qasr al Hosn, the fort in Abu Dhabi, was built around the only freshwater source in Abu Dhabi and was designed to control access to this source. Further north, water was found due to runoff from the Al Hajar mountain range, which caused the underlying water table to be closer to the surface, making wells possible. Thus, the cities that we know now began to be built along the Arabian Gulf.
It appears that life in the Emirates was essentially unchanged from ancient times until the 1950s, when oil was discovered. Then, all of a sudden, the ruling class and elites became exceedingly wealthy. Luckily for them, this wealth wasn’t as ephemeral as in other, less fortunate, countries.
How do traditional tribes react when riches are suddenly thrust into their laps? In some cases, it’s not much different from how individuals react when they suddenly win the jackpot; the wealth is squandered, and the poor soul ends up worse than he was before.
There can be little doubt that the Emiratis did squander much of their wealth, and that there has been corruption. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that slavery was abolished in the UAE – so it should be no surprise that this mentality lives on. Much has been written about the poor conditions migrant workers face in the UAE, but it seems to me that if it were as horrific as portrayed, then the migrants would cease coming. I don’t know; perhaps when I visit, I’ll gain more insights.
I don’t think we should expect the UAE to have the same human rights standards as Western countries, nor do I think this is desirable. Everything is a continuum, and anything can become a slippery slope. I don’t think there can be a situation where everybody has equal rights and privileges, and if we must choose between a state run by women, or a state run by men, I’d choose the latter.
The Emiratis have made huge strides in the right direction. They now have peace with Israel, they’ve been diversifying their economy, and they’ve transformed a collection of sleepy fishing villages into a major international business hub.
They’ve done all this without casting aside their time-honored traditions:
Emiratis of old:
The Mars probe team of today:
In case, you’re wondering, the actual launch took place in Japan, and I think we can safely assume that Western expertise was involved. Still, I congratulate them, and I hope they find oil.
A couple of questions that need clarification: Can camels survive on Mars? Can the dishdasha be modified into a space suit?