Campaign Reform – Earlier in the week, we went to the Federal National Council. While meeting with some MPs, we discussed the UAE’s elections. Recently, they made the move to elect MPs instead of appoint them. The first phase was the use of an electoral college made up of a set number of appointed voters. Particularly of interest to me was that candidates were limited to spending only 2 million DHR (about $600,000) on their campaigns, and they were all self-financed thanks to family wealth and oil money. I really admire the campaign finance regulations as it frees candidates from taking money from special interests that they will be beholden to once in office. However, I know that self financing is really not an option in the US as it would eliminate everyone except the wealthy from running, but I still admire this one progressive move. In 2010-11, the country will move to free open elections. The Emiratis are not comfortable with this. Several things concern them including only the largest families would win elections, extremists could rise to power, and the fact that this will waste money when the FNC really has no power. My concern is that they women members (who were appointed) may not be able to win election. One phrase heard several times is that “women’s biggest obstacle is women.” Their thought is that women competing with each other will keep one of their own from winning, but I really think this is an excuse for deeper issues.

Dream World – One other thing I wanted to touch on is the immense plans for development here. Planning for new cities is evident in every meeting we attend. Plans include a totally green, carbon-neutral city, a contemporary Arabic capital city, and the most advanced public transit network in the world. However, when I listen to this, I quickly become disillusioned and quite skeptical. I know there is enough money here to do anything, but the rapid timeframes which they propose to complete these projects is quite absurd. Beyond that, it’s all based on the assumption that “if you build it, they will come.” I just don’t think I would be willing to spend that kind of money, well over $500 billion (not to mention disconcerting labor issues), as an experiment in attracting people to live in the desert.

Finally, tonight was our last night in Abu Dhabi, and we were sent out in style. First, we had a traditional BBQ at a university, which included tents, music, and good Middle Eastern food. That was followed up by walking down the corniche (beach boardwalk) and making a late night trip to McDonald’s with Kurt, Amber, and Sahara. Can’t wait to see how the rest of the trip goes!