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‘Argo’, Expats and UAE Proximity

December 8th, 2012 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, The National, UAE

We saw Argo, the Ben Affleck/Iran hostages movie, last night. (It came late to the UAE.) And if the film resonated back in the States, magnify that by two or three for those of us living about a 30-minute plane ride from Iran.

Our concerns, here in the UAE, that we are at special risk because we are Americans, are about 0.01 on a 10-point scale. This country is peaceful, prosperous and orderly, and if the Emiratis are exasperated by all the expatriates around them, and some must be, that exasperation is not America-specific.

But, yes, we are very close to a country where hatred of The Great Satan is a state of mind, and it is impossible to watch “Argo” and not be aware of the proximity.

Further thoughts on the film and Iran and the UAE:

–The UAE is no fan of Iran. On the contrary. As I have written before, Iran bulks large in UAE foreign affairs, and not in a pleasant way. On the eve of UAE independence, in 1971, Iran seized three islands near the Strait of Hormuz that were inhabited by citizens of what was about to become the UAE.

A police officer was shot and killed by the invaders, and he is considered the first martyr of the new country, and the incident has become an important chapter of UAE history — which The National retold in the linked story. The UAE account of events is still disputed by Iran — which claims the islands historically belonged to it, and certainly is not returning them.

–The UAE sees Iran as a regional bully, which did not change with governments, in 1979, when the Shah was overthrown and the mullahs took control of the country — as seen in “Argo”. That Iranians are Shias, the minority branch of Islam, and Emiratis are Sunnis, exacerbates the tensions.

–Certainly, an awareness of  “otherness”, when living abroad, is never quite overcome. Well, maybe it is after decades. But it probably should not be. The scenes in “Argo” of the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran are a reminder of how expats depend on the host government to provide basic protections.

–While watching the movie, I wondered what the handful of Emiratis in the crowded theater in Abu Dhabi’s posh Marina Mall thought about it all. How could people who lived under foreign rule (Britain, in the case of the UAE) not sympathize with Iranians striking at an “imperial” power (the U.S.) … but how could they find Iran sympathetic in any circumstance? And wouldn’t mobs in the street resonate particularly in Emirati minds, given the high degree of stability here?

(A co-worker who saw Argo here said the theater crowd cheered when the six Americans escaped Tehran. No cheering at my viewing, however.)

–The film helps give context to U.S.-Iran relations, which remain awful, and that is useful for Americans not old enough to remember the events of 1979-80. The story went on for months and months, and nightly coverage of the crisis led to Ted Koppel becoming famous and Nightline beginning a very long run as a late-night news staple.

I recommend Argo. It is a thriller that is not actual history but bumps up against it. It takes the viewer back to a particular time and era, perhaps the low ebb of American prestige in the past century. And it is a reminder that diplomats and expatriates cannot live and work without the basic protection of the host government.


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