Friday, July 20, 2007

States without Citizens

A while back Jeremy Tamanini, a Fulbright Scholar in Dubai with his own blog, wrote asking for some references to help him think about the strange citizenship arrangements in the United Arab Emirates:
In the UAE, Emirati citizens are less than 20% of the total population, and this number continues to shrink. My article is about how a government "services" a population of primarily non-citizens, how the "public" and "private" interact in the realms of health care and education, and the balancing act for an unelected government in addressing citizen and expatriate constituencies. I hope to contextualize the UAE situation a bit in comparing it to other similar demographic situations, but as you point out, these are difficult to come by.

Any references or articles you could point me too would be much appreciated.

While the situation in the UAE is more extreme than other countries, and also has some unique characteristics--since being deprived of citizenship there means losing out on the massive amounts of oil wealth its "native" population receives--it is by no means unique, as Jeremy recognizes. Indeed all countries make the same distinction in the UAE: even poor countries prevent those without birthright nationality from becoming citizens under many circumstances, and may even expatriate women who marry foreigners. As a research question, the problem of the "guest worker" has extensive bibliographies and I'm not going to provide one here-- but I will talk about a few relevant books that I've found interesting. (If you want a start on the bibliography, you might consult this thoughtfully assembled list of suggestions from the American Association of University Professors, though it seems to be a bit U.S.-centric.)

The book that deals with this question most provocatively, and I believe incorrectly, is Yasmin Soysal, The Limits of Citizenship (1994), where she suggests that to the extent the European Union was providing equal benefits for citizens and non-citizen workers, citizenship per se was not crucial to welfare rights. She misreads T.H. Marshall's classic book Citizenship and Social Class (1950) and claims that he overlooked the possibility that populations could obtain social benefits without political rights. In fact Marshall begins by discussing patronizing protectionist Poor Laws designed to assist women, paupers, and children, and suggests citizenship developed as a struggle against these very policies that are now in place in the EU, that also are distinguishing between those who can run the government and those whom the government will administer.

A really excellent book as a model for how to integrate theoretical with ethnographic approaches to this question is Ayhan Kaya, Sicher in Kreuzberg. Constructing Diasporas: Turkish Hip-Hop Youth in Berlin (2001). (Ayhan chaired my department when I taught in Istanbul at Bilgi University.) I like this book because it gives really detailed statistics on changes in German demography and laws AND shows how these have consequences for emerging subcultures, in this case, Turkish Hip-Hop. It's at least two books in one (it also has a great discussion of methodology), and you might want to take a look to see if the approach might by helpful for the UAE.

In the U.S. context, the best book on Mexican labor laws crafted to suit the needs of industry and not Mexicans residing and working in the U.S. is Joseph Nevins, Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the 'Illegal Alien' and the Making of the U.S.-Mexican Boundary (2001).

I haven't read any scholarly works but based on what I read in the newspaper it seems that the situation in the U.A.E. is a form of aristocracy and monarchy, where those mythologized as closest to the hereditary leaders by descent form a closed group that controls the wealth. The redistribution of wealth to a small number of people buys their loyalty, a bribe so they won't agitate for such craziness as a Parliament that would make laws and not just advise the royalty. (Come to think of it, it seems that the United States has moved far closer to the UAE than they have to us.)

The other books I would suggest would be anything about the history of the Ottoman Empire and the reconfiguration of borders following WWI, as this makes clear the utter arbitrariness of the distinctions being treated as long-standing national affinities. In fact the name itself "United Arab Emirates" performs this arbitrariness.

Finally, at the risk of seemingly shameless self-promotion, you might want to look at chapters 3 and 4 in my book Reproducing the State (1999), as these provide numerous examples of how citizenship laws based on beliefs of hereditary descent come to be established. Good luck and keep me posted! Image is from recent article in about foreign labor.

1 comment:

bklyn_in_dubai said...

good advice. i'm going to poach in on it for my own dubai-research purposes!


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