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Geography of Islam is extremely diverse. The structure of Islamic states includes not only the Middle East, which is the homeland, but also many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. The Islamic arc of instability only confirms the fact that the world of Islam is not homogeneous, thus, it is very interesting to analyze. At a time when the enlightened Roman Empire went from the world stage proving its unsustainability, the Islamic world kept developing and did not show any signs of degradation, but only showed its ability to grow. Many countries that have emerged during the Arab conquest exist till nowadays. In the system of modern international relations, the Muslim world plays an increasingly prominent role due to a number of factors of the economic, political, social, and religious nature. In this region, a complex political geography was formed. Despite the numerous similarities, all Islam countries differ in a political system, a form of government, and a level of economy. The purpose of the current paper is to compare and contrast two Islamic countries – the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.
A Form of Government of the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon
As it was already mentioned, all Arab countries have many differences and similarities. The United Arab Emirates and Lebanon are not exceptions. First of all, these states have a different form of government. The UAE is a federal state that consists of seven emirates. They are absolute monarchies with special powers delegated to the federation. Administrative divisions include Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. In the book Persian Gulf States, it is stated that “Abu Dhabi, the largest by far of the emirates, is the center of the country’s oil industry and contains the federation’s capital city” (Etheredge, 2011, p. 5). There are three largest cities – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. The United Arab Emirates is administratively divided into municipalities. In 1996, the Constitution of the country was converted from temporary to permanent.
The principles of state governance of the UAE include approval of proposals by governors of not less than five emirates passed to execute the government. In 1994, Sharia laws were introduced for the consideration of a number of crimes, such as murder, theft, the consumption and sale of drugs. The highest legislative body is the Supreme Council of seven Emirati sheikhs. The highest advisory body of legislative power is the Federal National Council that consists of 40 members (eight – from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, six – from Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah, and four – from other emirates).
At the head of state is the President – His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is also the ruler (Emir) of Abu Dhabi, Supreme Commander, Chairman of the Supreme Defense Council, and a member of the UAE Supreme Council. He comes from a noble and ancient family. The President is elected from among the monarchs of the Emirates for a period of five years. The President has the power to appoint the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. Each emirate appoints several representatives in the Federal National Council.
The President of the United Arab Emirates is authorized to approve and sign the decrees, orders, and regulations of the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers. He appoints senior civilian and military officials and members of the diplomatic corps. The President also amnesties and confirms the death sentences. Since the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is a monarchy, the position of the emirate’s ruler is passed on the principle of inheritance, meaning from brother to brother. Every five years, Supreme Council United of the Arab Emirates meets to confirm the powers of the President. The latest Council took place in November of 2009.
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Sheikh Zayed distinguished himself as a firm supporter of unity being a calm and peaceful reformer. He advocated for a policy of the use of national wealth to transform the country and create prosperity for people. Under his leadership, the United Arab Emirates entered into the era of rapid economic growth and achieved success in the way of modernization. In the past, it was a country with tribalism. However, these days, it possesses the modern production and social infrastructure. The UAE is one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East. On many indicators of quality of life, it closes to the level of developed countries. Family Al Nahyan ruled Abu Dhabi for more than 250 years. In such a way, it can be noted that politics in the United Arab Emirates is exclusively an elite game, as all the power is in hands of one family for a long period of time and no one from the outside can occupy the main post of the state.
Lebanon is completely different from the United Arab Emirates in terms of a form of government. In contrast to the UAE, Lebanon is a parliamentary republic. The administrative division of the country includes five provinces (governorates). In turn, they are divided into smaller areas – more than 20 (Gordon, 2016). The largest cities are Beirut, Tripoli, Zahle, and Side.
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As Lebanon is a parliamentary republic, the highest legislative body is the parliament – National Assembly. It consists of 128 deputies that are elected for four years in a general election, in compliance with the confessional principle of representation of different religious groups in the government (Gordon, 2016). Currently, Muslims and Christians have an equal number of seats (64/64), while Sunnis and Shiites have per 27 seats, the Druze – 8, and Alawites – 2 parliamentary seats (Gordon, 2016). From 64 seats of Christians, 23 belong to Maronites (Gordon, 2016). The remaining parliamentary seats are being distributed among the representatives of Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Armenian churches. Every citizen who is 21 years old and older can participate in the elections (Gordon, 2016). If men are admitted to the elections without any restrictions, women are required to have the primary education. As in the UAE, the head of state is the President of the republic. He should be a Christian Maronite. In contrast to the United Arab Emirates, the president in Lebanon is elected for a six-year non-renewable term by the members of the National Assembly.
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Another considerable difference between the two countries is the availability of political parties. In Lebanon, there are several political parties that constitute the Parliament of the state (Salamey, 2013). Political parties are being formed in accordance with the religious and class sign. Their members uphold political and economic interests of their religious or ethnic groups, as well as clans (families), to which they belong by birth. In such a way, it can be concluded that, in contrast to the UAE, in Lebanon, politics is not exclusively an elite game and members of the Parliament and the President are being elected on the regular basis.
Islam and Politics in the UAE and Lebanon
Islam plays an extremely significant role in both of these countries. Islam is the official religion of the UAE. The religion determines the way of life of local residents and even the legislation of the country. The most important feature of a true Muslim is a genuine desire to serve Allah. All norms of life, customs, and teachings of Islam, which every Muslim should follow from birth to the last days of life, are set out in the holy book of Muslims – the Koran. In the book United Arab Emirates, it is affirmed that “The forces that unite the people of the UAE are their Arab culture, including loyalty to family and tribe, and their Muslim religion” (King, 2008, p. 80). Islam plays an extremely important role in all spheres of the society in the United Arab Emirates. It also plays a great role in the political life of the country. In the UAE, legislation is based on the moral and religious principles written in the Koran. The United Arab Emirates still operates a Sharia court even towards the tourists and visitors who may confess other religions.
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For many people confessing other religions, Islam can be considered a tough religion. Thus, many people associate this religion with an authoritarian form of government. According to a widespread opinion, Islam and democracy are incompatible, but this is not true. At the core, democracy and Islam are deeply in tune with each other. Like no other religion, Islam can perfectly blend in with the principles of democracy. In this religion, there is such a principle as Jamaat, meaning community and coherence. The harmonious combination of democracy and Jamaat can be observed in the United Arab Emirates. The main idea of both democracy and Jamaat is the welfare and stability of the society and state.
According to Islam, an absolute submission to the governor is cultivated in the United Arab Emirates. In the country, there is no opposition at all. At the same time, Islam prohibits and condemns corruption, slander, and public displays of disobedience to the law. These factors correspond to democracy and do not contradict with it. In practice, Islam is not a more aggressive religion than others. However, theoretically, it is less tolerant, if compared to Christianity or Buddhism.
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As in the United Arab Emirates, religion in Lebanon plays a huge role. Nevertheless, in contrast to the UAE, where the President confesses Islam, the President of Lebanon is a Christian (Salamey, 2013). Organization of state power in the country is implemented in accordance with the division of society into the religious communities. The absolute equality of religions is supported by the law. As it was already noted, even in the choice for the political office, the principle of equal representation of religious groups is used. As in the United Arab Emirates, all religions in Lebanon prohibit corruption and public displays of disobedience to the law. However, in Lebanon, Sharia law is not so widespread. In Lebanon, state offenses and transactions between citizens are being considered in terms of the norms of secular legislation, whereas Sharia regulates inheritance, marriage, divorce, and charitable organizations.
Oil and Politics in the UAE and Lebanon
These days, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of the oil market in the world economy. Oil prices affect many of the economic indicators of the country, their long-term economic policy, and the general well-being. Oil very often becomes the cause of wars. Some states become richer in the short term, ensuring the prosperity to the future generations of the country. The United Arab Emirates is among such countries. Within a short period of time, the state was able to become a full-fledged player in the global economy and this success is based directly on the oil produced. The UAE is the fifth largest owner of proven oil reserves in the Middle East and is ranked the fifth place in the world in the presence of proven gas reserves (Mallakh, 2014). Proven oil reserves amount to about 98 billion barrels, which is 8.5% of all the world’s reserves (Mallakh, 2014). Abu Dhabi Emirate is a center of the oil and gas industry of the country, following Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. Crude oil production is around three million barrels per day. 2.5 million barrels is exported per day (Mallakh, 2014). The United Arab Emirates plans to increase the oil production in the following five years.
The discovery of oil on the territory of the Emirates was the impetus for the rapid growth of United Arab Emirates’ economy. The United Arab Emirates has become a country with one of the highest living standards. Today, every fifth citizen of the United Arab Emirates is a millionaire (Mallakh, 2014). Huge oil and gas reserves allow Emirates to successfully cooperate with other countries. Great investments are being made in the construction and tourism sectors. The United Arab Emirates is famous for luxury hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers. The flow of investments in the UAE is also aimed at the development of agriculture and a wide variety of plants and enterprises, including power, which provides fresh water not only to the population but also green spaces, gardens, and agricultural fields. In such a way, oil and gas reserves have made a great influence on the foreign and domestic political and economic situation in the UAE.
Despite the fact that Lebanon is a country located in the Middle East, where there are rich oil and gas reserves, this state does not have big reserves of mineral resources. To the Lebanon, oil is being imported. In the book Middle East Countries Mineral Industry Handbook, it is noted that “Lebanon currently imports all of the oil consumes” (IBP, 2015, p. 190). These days, the country is totally dependent on its external supplies of hydrocarbons, mainly from neighboring Syria. Therefore, the economy is highly dependent on the relations with the neighboring states. However, rich gas reserves were found a few years earlier in the Mediterranean Sea in the south of Lebanon. Their stocks are tentatively estimated at 200 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. In such a way, Lebanon has the potential to become one of the largest exporters of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean (Salamey, 2013). The findings of large deposits of oil and gas near the coast of Lebanon have caused a real sensation in the world of oil. However, these findings can also be a cause of numerous conflicts with neighboring countries, especially with Israel.
Conflicts in the Countries
There are several conflicts in both the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. In these states, conflicts are associated with the borders and territories. Among the many existing conflicts in the sub-region, one of the acutest and prolonged is a conflict between the United Arab Emirates and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Three islands in the Persian Gulf are the subjects of a territorial dispute between these countries (Kamrava, 2011). There are large oil deposits on these islands. Thus, both countries try to keep them on their territory. Despite the territorial dispute, Iran and the UAE keep actively developing their business relationships.
Lebanon also experienced certain territorial conflicts with the neighboring countries. First of all, there was a conflict with Israel for the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon. One more conflict took place between Lebanon and Syria (Looney, 2014). The conflict concerns an unresolved geographical position of several sections of the border. The USA and other developed countries actively participate in all these conflicts, as all of them have their own interests in these territories that are rich in gas and oil.
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All Arab countries have their differences and similarities. The United Arab Emirates and Lebanon are the countries with completely different forms of government and varying economic situations. However, legislation in these countries is regulated by the Sharia law and the traditions of Islam. In contrast to the UAE that is rich in gas and oil, Lebanon is dependent on the import of natural resources. However, several years ago, large oil deposits were found on the shores of Lebanon, which can increase the economic condition of state and the tension with the neighboring countries, at the same time. Both states have certain territorial disputes with other countries in which the Western powers also participate.