No part of the world has been more transformed in the last fifty years than the old British "Trucial Coast" colonies along the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, today's countries of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It had been the poorest, most traditional, and most tribal part of the Middle East, the area most disconnected from the world economically and culturally. Not only does it now have high incomes from oil, but it has also become that region of the Middle East most receptive to globalism. These Gulf city-states have become world-class trading centers with impressive ports used to sort and transship goods destined for markets across eastern Africa and south and central Asia. They are also developing into centers for foreign tourism and retailing, especially for Europeans vacationing in the sun.
Fox, Mourtada-Sabbah, and Mutawa—respectively, professors of anthropology, political science, and sociology at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE—have assembled an interesting set of essays on how the ex-Trucial Coast states have managed to globalize while impressively preserving local traditions. Their lengthy introductory essay is quite upbeat about the impact of globalism although their contributors are by no means globalist enthusiasts. Indeed, five of the fifteen chapters argue that globalism undermines or contradicts Gulf values and restores dependence on the West to the detriment of Gulf societies. Two other chapters dissent from that view: one arguing that the Gulf badly needs the democracy globalism promotes, and the other demonstrating how the riches from globalism have been used to revive the Gulf's historical architectural heritage. Another three chapters provide rich detail about the interaction of Gulf citizens with the large expatriate community. An interesting vignette: In 2000, the UAE's population divided residentially into 23 percent citizens, 18 percent their domestic servants, 14 percent workers housed in labor camps, and 45 percent foreigners paying rent. Over 97 percent of the citizens lived in homes (not apartments) they owned, the great majority in neighborhoods in which few foreigners lived. By contrast, shopping is one place where locals and foreigners interact regularly on an equal basis.