Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Touring the luxurious campus of the
American University of Sharjah last week, I was yet again struck
by what money, especially petrodollars, can buy. Sharjah is an
emirate of the United Arab Emirates, located adjacent to Abu
Dhabi. Designed by the ruler of Sharjah, Sultan Bin Mohammad Al
Qassimi, one of the more enlightened of the region’s many
autocrats, the university’s grand buildings self-consciously
invoke the glory days of Islamic architecture.
They are also part of a larger regional trend of
patriarchy-supervised modernization. Gulf rulers, from the sober
sultan of Oman, Qaboos Bin Said Al-Said, the oldest serving
ruler in the Arab world, to Dubai’s flashy Mohammed Bin Rashid
Al Maktoum, deploy a range of self-descriptions -- philosopher-king, philosopher-poet, chief executive officer -- as they
present themselves ushering, with cautious gradualism, their
wards into the modern world.