"The UAE's [United Arab Emirates] relatively open borders and economy have won praise from advocates of expanded freedoms in the Middle East while producing financial excesses, social ills such as human trafficking, and opportunity for Iranian businesses based there to try to circumvent international sanctions. The social and economic freedoms have not translated into significant political change; the UAE government remains under the control of a small circle of leaders, although it allows informal and some formal citizen participation to supplement traditional methods of consensus-building. To date, these mechanisms, economic wealth, and reverence for established leaders have enabled the UAE to avoid wide-scale popular unrest. Since 2006, the government has increased formal popular participation in governance through a public selection process for half the membership of its consultative body, the Federal National Council (FNC). But, particularly since the Arab uprisings of 2011-12, discontent has risen somewhat over the unchallenged power and privileges of the UAE ruling elite as well as the government strategy of spending large amounts of funds on elaborate projects that cater to expatriates and international tourists. The leadership has resisted any dramatic or rapid further opening of the political process, and it is becoming increasingly aggressive in preventing the rise of Muslim Brotherhood-linked Islamist as well as secular opposition movements. The crackdown is drawing increased criticism from human rights groups."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21852