21 April 2019
As the only international financial center in the Middle East where IS can move its money around easily, Dubai is unlikely to become its next target. Photo: Bloomberg
As the only international financial center in the Middle East where IS can move its money around easily, Dubai is unlikely to become its next target. Photo: Bloomberg

Why IS is unlikely to come after Dubai

As I mentioned in an earlier column, some western international relations experts at a recent academic seminar suggested that Dubai has the potential to replace Hong Kong as the next global financial and logistical hub.

Some readers might be skeptical about that, given the recent political turmoil in the Middle East and the threat posed by Islamic State’s military expansion, casting doubts on whether wealthy monarchies like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar can stay unharmed amid IS’s onslaught.

However, I still remain rather bullish about Dubai, because there are not as many variables in the future of the emirate as many people might think.

In comparison, I would say Hong Kong’s future could prove more unpredictable than Dubai’s.

Dubai in many ways may epitomize the kind of corrupt, polluted and decadent place that IS has vowed to subvert and clean up.

For example, the city is extremely wealthy and pro-western, people there lead an extravagant life, and above all, the Dubai regime doesn’t embrace orthodox Islamic fundamentalism.

Besides, the UAE air force has been playing a leading role in the air strikes against IS.

So it’s logical that Dubai is very likely to be IS’s next target of subversion — or is it?

True, the UAE is one of the key players in the Arabic coalition against IS, but its war effort against IS is half-hearted, because like Saudi Arabia, the UAE is actually more interested in containing Shiite Iran, something that has almost become an open secret in the Arab world.

Moreover, Dubai is a sparsely populated city where citizens enjoy a whole lot of social benefits, and most Dubaians are quite happy about their lives and the status quo, making it difficult for IS to spread their radical ideas and recruit new members.

As far as the tens of thousands of South Asian migrant workers working in Dubai are concerned, they might be underpaid and overworked, but many of them believe they are still better off than their countrymen back home.

So there is also little incentive for them to take part in any large-scale and organized subversive activity against the “paradise” they are working and living in.

Perhaps the most important reason why IS is unlikely to come after Dubai is because the city is the largest or probably the only international financial center in the region where IS can easily get financing or move its money around.

While most major banks in the West are under international pressure to cooperate with law enforcement agencies in the fight against tax evasion, money laundering and terrorism, banks in Dubai are well-known for their first-class customer protection, making the city an ideal place for IS and other terrorists to deposit their money.

In fact, it is likely that Dubai is making a big fortune out of the war against IS.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 16.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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