SEATTLE — The United States enjoys a strong relationship in the Middle East with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Despite waning U.S. credibility in the region, the UAE has remained loyal, earning itself the nickname “Little Sparta.” As the name suggests, the U.S.–UAE relationship has been primarily defense-oriented. But there is no reason these two countries should exclude humanitarian aid as a tool for further cooperation.
The UAE already transacts $27 billion in trade with the U.S., purchasing advanced warplanes and munitions, cars, broadcasting equipment and other technology. It even hosts branches of U.S. universities such as American University and the New York Institute of Technology. All of this attests to the UAE’s standing as a major U.S. ally. UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba expressed the sentiment.
“We’re your best friends in this part of the world,” al-Otaiba said.
Yet the UAE and U.S. could become more than just friends by taking cues from each other’s NGOs. One UAE non-profit, Dubai Cares, stands out as a unique brand in Middle Eastern development. Since 2012, the group has launched projects in Nepal, Bangladesh and this year, in Senegal.
Dubai Cares focuses on global education projects. Its work in Bangladesh, a country in which over half the people live on less than $1 per day, has touched over 50,000 children who were unable to attend primary school. Now Dubai Cares is turning toward the education of refugee children. Executive Chief Tariq al-Gurg commented on the decision.
“There are worsening problems throughout the Middle East and beyond,” said al-Gurg. “According to UNICEF, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than non-refugees.”
This year at the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) conference, Dubai Cares announced a $10 million donation to research on challenges to refugee education. It later earmarked a further $3 million for the UNESCO Capacity Development for Education (CapED) program. In June, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations made it clear that it, too, is prioritizing the education of both refugees and women.
Like the U.S., the UAE desires a secure Middle East, especially in light of Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, UAE air and ground forces have fought alongside U.S. forces in practically every Middle Eastern conflict, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria. Throughout these conflicts, the UAE has not been afraid to send its best units into the riskiest combat situations. Its fighter pilots are considered some of the best among U.S. allies.
According to Marine General James Mattis, “There’s a mutual respect, admiration, for what they’ve done, and what they can do.”
Extending this admiration to the humanitarian front would help the U.S. improve its credibility in the Middle East. It would also help “Little Sparta” nurture a kinder image and make the UAE and U.S. two wings of the same bird.
– Alfredo Cumerma