The UAE and Iran: A Tale of Two Countries
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. Two years after the Abraham Accords opened a new era in Israeli-Arab relations, large parts of the Middle East — represented, for example, by the fast-transforming society of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — are rapidly becoming quintessential 21st-century places to live. Now contrast that with Iran, whose dictatorial rulers have rejected every progressive idea of the last few centuries, and where we see brutal repression targeting women and minority groups. It’s high time for the Biden administration to encourage other nations to follow the peacemaking model of the UAE and to insist that Iran provide dignity for all of its people.
Until very recently in the UAE, even the image of a Star of David — the ancient symbol of the Jewish faith and people — could prompt a criminal investigation by the Israel Boycott Office of the Dubai Customs Department. On August 29, 2020, the UAE abolished the boycott on Israel, and two weeks later, on September 15, 2020, it signed an agreement recognizing Israel at the White House. In May 2022, Israel and the UAE signed a multibillion-dollar free trade agreement covering 96% of the trade between the two nations. Tens of thousands of Israelis have now visited Dubai, where Israeli produce is displayed in supermarkets. On September 23, 2022, it was announced that Israel would supply the advanced SPYDER air defense system to the UAE.
In addition, the UAE is also one of the best countries in the Arab world for women. There are currently nine female ministers in the UAE representing 27.3% of ministerial roles; women also make up 66% of public sector employees and 30% of senior leadership positions and own 30% of the nation’s property. Women in the UAE are allowed to drive, vote, and work, and the World Economic Forum rated it second in the Middle East and North Africa for women’s rights in a 2020 report — behind only Israel.
Meanwhile, in Iran, the nation is reeling from unprecedented women’s rights protests after the mysterious death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. She was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf in an “improper” way, and morality police say she suffered a fatal heart attack, despite having no prior history of heart health issues. A viral Internet photo showed Amini with swollen black eyes and bleeding ears. Now, Iran’s clerical regime has restricted Internet access for tens of millions as mass protests sweep the nation’s cities. Iran’s small Jewish community had to warn members not to attend synagogues on the Jewish High Holidays due to fears of regime persecution. The regime has cracked down on thousands of innocent protestors. In addition to its horrific abuse of women and other minorities, Iran has also publicly executed gay men over the archaic charge of sodomy.
On the two-year anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the Middle East is moving forward at two distinctly different speeds. Nations like the UAE have pursued peace with Israel, integration into the global economy, and increased rights for women and minorities. The Biden administration and Congress should encourage more moderate Arab and Islamic regimes to join their number. Meanwhile, in the medieval anachronism that’s embodied by modern Iran, women are battered to death by police over their clothing choices, Jews are afraid to go to synagogue, and gay men are hanged to death. This model is doomed to fail, and for the sake of the innocent suffering, we must help it along, maintaining our support for the oppressed and refusing calls to normalize and enable the theocratic regime. We must support the future of the Middle East so that the next generation lives in a region that is more like Dubai than Tehran — or we will all pay the price.
Sarah Idan is a secular Muslim who represented Iraq in the 2017 Miss Universe pageant. After posting an Instagram photo of herself and Ms. Israel during the pageant, she received a torrent of death threats. She and her family were forced to flee Iraq, and since then has spoken out on Middle East policy.