The Middle East might be growing in wealth and influence on the back of its fortuitous geology, but culturally and politically it is still a world away from most of the West. The West’s long dalliance with international forums and organisations like NATO and the UN stands in sharp contrast to events over the last few days in Dubai in which the murky hand of the Israeli secret services has been detected in the alleged murder of a senior figure from Hamas.
Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh was found murdered in his Dubai hotel room on January 19th and suspicion has fallen on Mossad – who have a long history of carrying out assassinations in this manner. Al-Mabhouh was a prominent member of Hamas, the political organisation who are currently in opposition to Israel.
Aside from the method of execution – which could have been lifted from the pages of a spy thriller – the incident further highlights how far the region still has to go in terms of internal stability. Some of the alleged agents were using stolen British passports, which threatens to create a major diplomatic row with the UK if Mossad do turn out to be involved.
This reminder of the tensions that straddle the region come as many Britons are looking to take up jobs in the Middle East. Unemployment at home has been hit hard by the financial crisis so young people with technical knowledge are leaving by the thousand to take up positions in the Gulf, which is still booming on the back of its oil-funded economy. Blithely unaware of the very, very different cultural background in which they are working, they fall foul of local law and custom – often getting into very serious trouble.
The fact that this incident involves the apparent theft of British passports shows how lightly our own cultural niceties are treated in many states in the region. Of course, assassination is vanishingly rare and most people who seek work in the region are circumspect and respectful of local cultural norms. But as East increasingly meets West in this fascinating corner of the world, more tensions will continue to bubble up to highlight the gulf (sorry for the pun!) between us.