Anwar Muhammad Gargash (Qarqash) is a prominent businessman, scholar, and government official in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). He gained international attention when, as chairman of the National Elections Committee, he oversaw the first elections held in the U.A.E. in December 2006. He is also the senior executive of one of the most important family business enterprises in the U.A.E., a respected academic, and an important figure on the cultural scene in Dubai.
Gargash was born in Dubai into a family descended from merchants who left the Iranian side of the Gulf in the late nineteenth century, when the Qajar Empire raised taxes, and settled on land provided by the ruler of Dubai, Shaykh Hashir Al Maktum. In 1918 Ali Gargash laid the foundations for one of the leading business enterprises in the Gulf. The Gargash Group now includes insurance, financial, and real estate operations. The Mercedes-Benz dealership for Dubai and the northern emirates is the crown jewel of the family business empire, and Anwar Gargash is its executive director.
Gargash, however, first pursued an academic career. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and a Ph.D. from Kings College, Cambridge University, in 1990 in the same field. He then joined the political science department of the U.A.E. National University and taught there until 1995.
When his father became ill in the mid-1990s, Gargash was obliged to curtail his academic career and play the central role in the family business. He is also influential in the business community of Dubai through his membership on both the Dubai Economic Council and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). Gargash is a member of DCCI's executive committee and heads the chamber's economic and trade committee. At the same time, he has earned a reputation as a strongly committed patron of the arts in Dubai.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Gargash has achieved greatest prominence in his role as a government official. At the request of Shaykh khalifa bin zayid al nahyan, president of the U.A.E., he assumed the new cabinet position of U.A.E. minister of state for Federal National Council Affairs (FNC) in February 2006. The choice was particularly apt inasmuch as Gargash had made the FNC the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Under his direction, the FNC's procedures were streamlined so successfully that, in January 2007, the council won the Arab League's award for the most effective e-government performance by an Arab parliament. As chair of the National Elections Committee, Gargash formed an information technology (IT) team that established what was claimed to be the first e-voting system in the Middle East to carry out the initial election for seats in the FNC. Gargash's personal reputation as a respected intellectual and an exponent of greater political participation undoubtedly enhanced the general perception of the election and may help to move the FNC toward a more significant political role.
One woman, from Abu Dhabi, was among those elected. If the election was historic, it was also exceedingly modest and cautious in its scope. Half of the forty seats in the FNC, whose mandate is to advise on legislation, were contested, and only some 6,689 carefully chosen electors, 0.08 percent of all U.A.E. citizens, were eligible to vote. As in the other Gulf Arab emirates and monarchies, the authority of the ruling families remains unchallenged by the introduction of elections.
Although committed to the principle of increased involvement of the people in the nation's affairs, Gargash appears comfortable with the government's adoption of a gradualist approach, justifying the limited scope of the election on three grounds: the U.A.E.'s lack of an electoral legacy, current political tensions in the Gulf and wider Middle East, and the sectarian and regional divisiveness of elections elsewhere in the Arab world. He has declined to speak of a time frame for future elections or to speculate on their scope. He accepts that the legalization of political parties is not a present possibility in the U.A.E. or elsewhere in the Gulf, and that the government is not talking about democracy but only about widening popular participation.
At the same time, it was significant that the election prompted unprecedented popular discussion of political, social, and economic issues, some of them touching on the sensitive area of Emirati-expatriate relations.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
The election that Gargash planned was significant in signaling that the U.A.E. had finally joined the other Gulf Arab countries in introducing the electoral process to its political system. Internationally, Gargash is respected for helping the U.A.E. make this important step toward popular representation in government.
With his successful planning and implementation of the U.A.E.'s first election, Anwar Gargash has emerged as an important political actor, adding to his regional and international reputation as scholar and businessman. Less visibly but perhaps equally importantly, he is also positioned to exercise an international impact through his leading role in the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which actively promotes Dubai's worldwide business networks. It may be too early to offer a full appraisal of Gargash's likely legacy, but it is certain that he will be regarded as a significant figure in the shaping of the U.A.E.'s political and economic future.
Suwaidi, Jamal S. al-, ed. Iran and the Gulf: A Search for Stability. Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1996.
Malcolm C. Peck
Name: Anwar Muhammad Gargash (Qarqash)
Birth: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Early 1990s: Professor of political science at U.A.E. National University
- 2006: Assumes new cabinet position of U.A.E. minister of state for Federalist National Council Affairs (February); Oversees first elections held in the U.A.E. (December)
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