On Sunday Bush delivered a shop-worn and poorly received speech in Abu Dhabi. There was slightly less Iran-bashing than on the previous day in Kuwait, although as always with this president's rhetorical outings, irony abounded.
In a democracy, leaders depend on their people -- and most people do not want war and bloodshed and violence.
Apart from these oratorical 'own-goals', Bush focused on outlining his fatuous vision for freedom and equality in the Middle East while showering praise on the U.A.E. in a most nauseating way. For example, of a country built upon oil wealth he opined...
...you have succeeded in building a prosperous society out of the desert. You have opened your doors to the world economy.
Even more bizarrely, Bush described the Emirates – an oligarchy where government officials are appointed rather than elected - as a model society for others to emulate.
You have encouraged women to contribute to the development of your nation -- and they have occupied some of your highest ministerial posts. You have held historic elections for the Federal National Council. You have shown the world a model of a Muslim state that is tolerant toward people of other faiths. I'm proud to stand in a nation where the people have an opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families...
In my country, we speak of these developments as the advance of freedom. Others may call it the advance of justice. Yet whatever term we use, the ideal is the same. In a free and just society, every person is treated with dignity. In a free and just society, leaders are accountable to those they govern. And in a free and just society, individuals can rise as far as their talents and hard work will take them.
Well, Bush's flattering portrait does apply at least to a small minority of the Emirates' population. However some 80% of residents, immigrants who make up nearly the entire workforce in the U.A.E., have few rights, no chance to become citizens, and virtually no opportunity for improving their lot.
Quite the opposite, immigrant construction workers (who built the opulent hotel Bush spoke in) are routinely cheated out of wages, restricted in their movement, and forced to toil in dangerous conditions. Death and injury are common. Domestic workers are treated worse, if anything. The abuse is so pronounced that it sparked rioting in 2006. Meanwhile those who try to defend human rights in the country are harassed by the government.
On top of that, many immigrants to the U.A.E. are essentially slaves, as the U.S. State Dept. reported last June:
The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) remains a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purpose of involuntary servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Women...migrate willingly to the U.A.E. to work as domestic servants, but many face conditions of involuntary servitude such as excessive work hours without pay; verbal, mental, physical, and sexual abuse; and restrictions on movement. Similarly, men...come to the U.A.E. to work in the construction industry, but are often subjected to involuntary servitude and debt bondage as they work to pay off recruitment costs sometimes exceeding two years' wages. Women...are reportedly trafficked to the U.A.E. for commercial sexual exploitation. Some foreign women were reportedly recruited to work as secretaries, but were trafficked into forced prostitution or domestic servitude. The U.A.E. may also serve as a transit country for women trafficked into forced labor in Oman and Sudan, and men deceived into working involuntarily in Iraq.
Camel racing is a national pastime in the UAE. But slight, young boys are needed to jockey the camels at popular race tracks. Approximately 19,000 young boys have been trafficked into the UAE as slaves, arriving from Southeast Asia when they are between two and five years old. Camel owners are abusive, regularly beating the boys, feeding them awful food, and preventing them from returning home...
The UAE government - which in 1993 required that jockeys be at least 15 years old and weigh 98 pounds - has done little to stop the trafficking and enslavement of the young boys...Allegations remain that the Emirate government has acknowledged that many racers are too young and weigh too little but avoid stopping the traffic of slaves because they themselves are camel and slave owners.
Under international scrutiny, in 2002 and again in 2005 the U.A.E. passed similar legislation setting the minimum age for camel jockeys. None of these laws were enforced. In 2006 the Emirates finally got around to addressing the core issue by banning human trafficking as such. Aside for monitoring against child jockeys, however, the government did little to enforce the trafficking law either. Here is the State Department's 2007 report:
Although in December 2006 the U.A.E. government passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prohibiting all forms of trafficking, with prescribed penalties ranging from one year to life imprisonment, no other progress was reported in prosecuting and punishing trafficking crimes. The government did not prosecute any cases under this law or any other available law, including statutes against withholding passports, false imprisonment, and kidnapping. Although the Ministry of Labor imposed fines on labor recruiters for fraudulent practices, the government did not pursue criminal prosecutions of those facilitating trafficking.
This is George Bush's model society, then, one that can't quite decide whether enslaving infants for sport remains desirable; one that won't even prosecute slave dealers when at long last it makes a show of outlawing slavery.
There wasn't a word in George Bush's speech about any of this. As with most of the President's public remarks, the greater truth is what he leaves out. While blandly cheerleading for freedom and democracy as he tours the Middle East, Bush studiously ignored that many of his closest allies in the region have appalling records on both scores - a fact few news reports mentioned either.
It's supremely ironic, then, that the Gulf News greeted Bush's visit to Abu Dhabi with an Open Letter denouncing his record of both domestic and foreign policy:
It has been reported that you are here to "lecture" us on democracy and human rights. But with a record like yours, you will not be very convincing. The people you are addressing have greater respect for human rights and dignity.
The U.A.E. is a country that lacks basic press freedoms. It's hard to decide which is more presumptuous, the Gulf News for touting the Emirates' "respect for human rights and dignity", or George Bush for offering advice on how to improve life in the Middle East.