The murder of American kindergarten teacher Ms. Ibolya Ryan in daylight in a restroom on Reem Island, Abu Dhabi, on Monday has shocked the country, particularly as it occurred at the same time the people of the Emirates celebrated 43 years of peace and prosperity since the unification of their country. The tragic event, and the placing of a makeshift bomb outside the home of an American doctor, plus the recovery of additional bomb making materials, has brought into sharp focus the safety of Americans and expatriates in general, living and working in the country and has also raised speculation and questions about possible linkages to ISIL, Syria and Iraq.
The attack came only weeks after the U.S. Embassy warned of an anonymous posting on a Jihadist website calling for the death of American teachers in the Middle East. But within 48 hours of the attack the alleged suspect was arrested and taken into police custody after the mounting of a rapid operation to apprehend her. Calm has returned to Abu Dhabi and the community of Emiratis and expats that make up this forward-looking, stable and prosperous country have cautiously attempted a return to normal.
The UAE is a moderate, liberal, open-minded and modern Islamic state. Of the 9.5 million people living in the country ten in eleven are expatriates, among which one of the largest Western populations is American, amounting to about 40,000. Estimates are that there are over 240,000 British expats as well. The atmosphere is friendly and hospitable. Expatriates seem happy to be here and the kaleidoscope of cultures that mix happily and daily on the streets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, do so because of high levels of Emirati tolerance, cultural common sense among the expatriates, coupled with the necessity for institutional development and economic growth that expat support and presence in such large numbers suggests.
When His Highness the Late Sheikh Zayed, the revered founder of the country, hatched a plan to invest his considerable oil wealth into the country, rather than suffer the resource curse found in so many less benevolent resource-rich countries, his vision resulted in investments in his people, their future and country infrastructure. The Emiratis love their leaders; having recently spoken to new military recruits about to join the armed forces through national service, their genuine determination to give back to their cherished country leadership was evident. The UAE is a safe and happy place to live and work. The people are proud and the mix works.
Iboyla Ryan’s tragic death is by no means devalued by favorable comments about the Emiratis and their country. A beach vigil will occur Sunday for the fallen mother of eleven year old twins. The police do not differentiate among people types in pursuit of creating a safe environment for all. Statements by senior leadership were as empathetic to the Ms. Ryan’s family and friends as they were active in condemnation of the assailant and the instability threatened. Sheik Saif bin Zayed - Minister of Interior and deputy Prime Minister - quickly announced that the incident was: “a crime that goes against all human values and norms.” He also commented that: “Today we are before a heinous crime the likes of which are unprecedented in our safe country.” The crime is being treated as a terrorist attack because the assailant apparently targeted Ms. Ryan because of her American nationality and had no previous ties to her. The investigation is ongoing. The American Embassy has issued alerts to its citizens.
The days and weeks that follow will likely uncover the motive of the attacks, determine whether it was the action of a so-called “lone wolf” or if there were/are any associates, plus quantify if there are any implications to country-wide safety and stability. It is clear through government strategic messaging that there is zero tolerance for extremist incidents as they also threaten national stability. Union is the very fabric of the Emirates, nationalism its currency, as was clearly articulated by His Highness Sheikh Kalifa - the UAE President - in his address to the people to mark the recent 43rd National Day and holiday.