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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The UAE’s relatively open borders and economy have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East while producing financial excesses, social ills such as human trafficking, and relatively lax controls on sensitive technologies acquired from the West. Moreover, the social and economic freedoms have not translated into significant political opening; the UAE government remains under the control of a small circle of leaders, even as it allows informal citizen participation and traditional consensus-building. Members of the elite (the ruling families of the seven emirates and clans allied with them) also routinely obtain favored treatment in court cases and lucrative business opportunities. However, economic wealth— coupled with some government moves against political activists—have enabled the UAE to avoid widescale popular unrest that have erupted elsewhere in the Middle East since early 2011.

Political reform has been limited, both before and since the Arab uprisings began in the region. Lacking popular pressure for elections, the UAE long refrained from following other Gulf states’ institution of electoral processes. It altered that position in December 2006 when it instituted a selection process for half the membership of its consultative body, the Federal National Council (FNC). Possibly to try to ward off the unrest sweeping the region, the government significantly expanded the electorate for the September 24, 2011, FNC election process. However, turnout was only about 25%, suggesting that the clamor for democracy in UAE remains limited or that the citizenry perceived the election as unlikely to produce change. And, the government has not announced a major expansion of the FNC’s powers, which many intellectuals and activists seek.

On foreign policy issues, the UAE—along with fellow Gulf state Qatar—has become increasingly and uncharacteristically assertive in recent years. This assertiveness is probably a product of the UAE’s ample financial resources and drive for more influence in Gulf state deliberations. It has joined the United States and U.S. allies in backing and then implementing most international sanctions against Iran, causing friction with its powerful northern neighbor. It has deployed troops to Afghanistan since 2004. In 2011, it sent police to help the beleaguered government of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state Bahrain, supported operations against Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, joined a successful GCC diplomatic effort to broker a political solution to the unrest in Yemen, backed the Arab League suspension of Syria, and appointed an Ambassador to NATO. It gives large amounts of international humanitarian and development aid, for example for relief efforts in Somalia. The UAE’s growing assertiveness on foreign policy marks its emergence from the 2008-2010 global financial crisis and recession. That downturn hit Dubai emirate particularly hard and called into question its strategy of rapid, investment-fueled development, especially of luxury projects.

For the Obama Administration and many in Congress, there are concerns about the UAE oversight and management of a complex and technically advanced initiative such as a nuclear power program. This was underscored by dissatisfaction among some Members of Congress with a U.S.-UAE civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. The agreement was signed on May 21, 2009, submitted to Congress that day, and entered into force on December 17, 2009. However, expert concerns about potential leakage of U.S. and other advanced technologies through the UAE to Iran, in particular, remain.



Date of Report: May 9, 2012
Number of Pages: 25
Order Number: RS21852
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Building capacity and limiting corruption at all levels of Afghan governance are crucial to the success of a planned transition from U.S.-led NATO forces to Afghan security leadership. 


  • The capacity of the formal Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but many positions at the local level are unfilled. Even though the formal governing structure remains weak, President Hamid Karzai’s Afghan and some U.S. critics assert that he has concentrated authority in Kabul through vast powers of appointment at all levels— appointment power given him by the Afghan constitution.
  • Addressing these criticism, Karzai has publicly and repeatedly denied assertions by opposing faction leaders that he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term and said in April 2012 that he is considering trying to move the next presidential election to 2013. Still, international efforts to curb fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) largely failed and many believe election oversight has improved little since.
  • Nepotism and political considerations in hiring are entrenched in Afghan culture and limit development of a competent bureaucracy, as does widespread illiteracy. Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same institutions have sometimes caused a Karzai backlash when they have targeted his allies or relatives. 
There is concern among many observers that U.S. efforts to help build Afghan governance, democracy, civil society, and rule of law could founder as the United States and its partners seek to wind down their involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Some argue that the informal power structure is a more important factor in governance than the formal power structure and will compensate for a diminution in the power of Kabul. Karzai has turned the informal power structure to his advantage by relying on the loyalty of several close, ethnic Pashtun allies while both engaging and dividing the minority ethnic and political faction leaders that generally oppose him. Some non-Pashtun faction leaders oppose Karzai on the grounds that he is too willing to make concessions to insurgent leaders in search of a settlement. There are fears that a reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics will further set back progress in human rights and the rights of women, and boost ethnic Pashtuns at the expense of the other minorities.

Broader issues of human rights often vary depending on the security environment in particular regions, although some trends prevail nationwide. The State Department and outside human rights reports on Afghanistan attribute many of the human rights abuses in Afghanistan to overall lack of security and to traditional conservative attitudes still prevalent. Women have made substantial gains in government and the private sector since the fall of the Taliban, but many organizations report substantial backsliding, particularly in areas where the insurgency operates. Traditional attitudes also contribute to the judicial and political system’s continued toleration of child marriages, imprisonment of women who flee domestic violence, judgments against converts from Islam to Christianity, and curbs on the sale of alcohol and Western-oriented programming in the Afghan media. See also CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues, by Rhoda Margesson; and CRS Report R41484, Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance, by Liana Sun Wyler and Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: May 1, 2012
Number of Pages: 66
Order Number: RS21922
Price: $29.95

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Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration and several of its partner countries are seeking to reduce U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan without jeopardizing existing gains. In a May 1, 2012, visit to Afghanistan, President Obama said the United States and its partners are within reach of the fundamental goal of defeating Al Qaeda, and he signed a strategic partnership agreement that will keep small amounts of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 as advisors and trainers. During 2011-2014, the United States and its partners are gradually transferring overall security responsibility to Afghan security forces. U.S. forces, which peaked at about 99,000 in June 2011, are being reduced to about 68,000 by September 2012, and President Obama said that “reductions will continue at a steady pace” from then until the completion of the transition to Afghan lead at the end of 2014. A key to the transition is to place Afghan forces in the security lead, with U.S. military involvement changing from combat to a training and advising, by mid-2013.

The Administration view is that, no matter the U.S. and allied drawdown schedule, security gains could be at risk from weak Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan. This latter factor is widely noted as a potential threat to Afghan stability well after the 2014 transition. Afghan governance is perceived as particularly weak and corrupt, despite the holding of regular elections since 2004 and the establishment of several overlapping anti-corruption institutions.

As the transition proceeds, there is increasing emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. That process has proceeded sporadically since 2010, and has not, by all accounts, advanced to a discussion of specific proposals to settle the conflict, although there have been discussions of a ceasefire. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups worry about a potential settlement, fearing it might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic powersharing.

To promote long-term growth and prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement in Afghanistan, U.S. officials also hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral and agricultural resources. Several major privately funded mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs have begun in the past few years, with more in various stages of consideration. U.S. officials also look to greater Afghanistan integration into regional trade and investment patterns—as part of a “New Silk Road (NSR)” economic strategy—to help compensate for the anticipated reduction in foreign economic involvement in Afghanistan. Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2011, the United States has provided over $67 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $39 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. During FY2001-FY2011, the Afghan intervention has cost about $443 billion, including all costs. For FY2012, about $16 billion in aid (including train and equip) is to be provided, in addition to about $90 billion for U.S. military operations there, and $9.2 billion in aid is requested for FY2013. In apparent recognition that Afghanistan will remain dependent on foreign aid for at least a decade after the 2014 transition, the strategic partnership agreement signed May 1 provides for Administration efforts to provide unspecified amounts of aid to Afghanistan until 2024. See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: May 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 93
Order Number: RL30588
Price: $29.95

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