Sometimes life in the Arab World drives me nuts.
There are aspects of life here that infuriate me because they are so far from life in the United States (and other democracies).
One of these aspects is the delusion of irresistible specialness that afflicts people – and especially men – here.
For example, standing in line at General Security the other day, I watched person after person enter the room, look at the line and … go directly to the counter, lean over the person currently at the front, and attempt to jump the line.
After all, why should he (or, in some cases, she) have to wait? He was special.
Thank God the General Security officers were not as impressed with each person’s sense of self-importance as the person him (or, in some cases, her) self was. They told each and every special person that special or no, they had to stand at the end of the line.
Being told to stand in line is not a common experience for people here. I watched their faces, and saw: shock. horror. dismay. How could they not be special? How could they be forced to … wait?
Notions of citizenship and equality can be difficult to come by in this region – particularly when it comes to equality before the law. I noticed this Associated Press article online today, and it made my blood boil:
UAE presses Bush on child jockey lawsuit
MIAMI, Florida (AP) — The United Arab Emirates’ prime minister has asked for President Bush’s help winning dismissal of a federal lawsuit that accuses the country of forcing thousands of children to work as jockeys racing camels.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, also the ruler of Dubai, stressed the UAE’s role as “a key partner in the global war against terrorism” in a letter to Bush filed in federal court last week. Three American military bases are in the Emirates, along the Persian Gulf.
Maktoum asked Bush for his “personal attention” to the lawsuit filed in Miami federal court, which the prime minister said “is causing an unnecessary interference with the good and mutually valuable relations” between the two countries.
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said Wednesday he was not aware of the sheikh’s letter, which was dated February 11. He added that “typically, the White House does not get involved in legal matters such as that.”
The State Department did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
In December, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote a note assuring the Emirates’ foreign minister that her department was watching the case and praising steps taken to address the child jockey issue.
“We appreciate the efforts made by the United Arab Emirates to regulate the treatment of camel jockeys,” Rice said in the December 26 note, also recently added to the court file.
The jockey lawsuit, filed in September, seeks unspecified money damages for about 10,000 boys and thousands more relatives. It alleges the boys, from countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritania and Sudan, were abducted and sold over a 30-year period to ride racing camels in various Persian Gulf countries.
The Emirates is trying to persuade a federal judge and governments around the world that it has adequately dealt with the issue by creating a program to compensate, provide services for and repatriate the child jockeys involved. That program was recently expanded and extended through April 2009.
The Emirates’ aggressive legal and public-relations efforts follow the international dispute last year over the purchase of some U.S. ports operations by Dubai Ports World, a deal critics said threatened U.S. security. It eventually went through, although the company is in the process of selling the operations to a U.S. firm.
The attorney for the Emirates, Joseph G. Finnerty III, said the sheikh’s letter to Bush was “part of normal and necessary diplomatic relations between two allies.” More important, he said, was the agreements the Emirates recently completed with the affected countries regarding children who raced camels.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga has scheduled a July 16 hearing on the Emirates’ motion to dismiss the case. The Emirates contend the lawsuit should be thrown out because U.S. courts have no jurisdiction and its rulers are entitled to sovereign immunity.
Among other things, the lawsuit contends that Miami is a proper venue because Emirates family members own horse farms in Ocala and because no other court in the world would adequately deal with the claims.
And there it is: that overwhelming sense of specialness that says:
Because we are a global partner in the war on terror, you should bankrupt the US judicial system in order to prevent our being prosecuted for our abuse of little boys.
Maybe we should rethink our choice of partners.