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Dubai paper suspended for 20 days 3, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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A state controlled Dubai newspaper Al Emirate Al Youm has been ordered to suspend publication for 20 days by an Abu Dhabi court. The paper under the auspices of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum published a front-page article back in 2006 suggesting that stables owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi, the Al Nayhan, engaged in horse doping. The court in Abu Dhabi upheld the defamation case put by members of the Al Nayhan family and imposed the harsh punishment which included a 20,000 Dirham ($5400) fine for the editor as well as the suspension of the whole paper for 20 days.

In terms of background it is perhaps worth noting that Sheikh Mohammed the ruler of Dubai was investigated by equestrian authorities for horse doping. Although he denied knowledge of this he accepted full responsibility. It could be suggested, therefore, that this article in one of his controlled papers was some kind of attempt to smear the rival rulers of Abu Dhabi with similar accusations. Horse racing along with falconry is an important aspect of the social construction of legitimacy and society in the Emirates. Success in such a regal sport, with all the connotations of power that come with it, are clearly important in the Emirates. In the same way, cheating at this gentleman’s sport could severely tarnish the reputation of those involved.

It is important to be aware of the fierce rivalry between the Al Nayhans and the Al Maktoums and the two cities. Whilst Abu Dhabi with its oil and gas has always had the upper-hand in the relationship, Dubai has often out-shined its neighbour in, for example, construction of the world’s most luxurious and tallest hotel, the tallest building in the world and by underwriting the growth of Emirates as a world-spanning airline. Abu Dhabi, by contrast, whilst being intrinsically far richer and more powerful, has taken a slightly different tack by seeking to become something of a cultural hub to Dubai’s brash luxo-tourism centre. They signed agreements for the first ever Louvre museum and Sorbonne University outside of Paris to be opened, for the construction of a Guggenheim gallery and branches of prestigious institutions such as New York University. This rivalry has been complicated recently by the financial collapse and Dubai’s severe troubles with the failure of its property model. This has increased their reliance on Abu Dhabi. There have been reports suggesting that Abu Dhabi, in return for bailing out Dubai and helping them more generally, wanted the control of Emirates airline, one of Dubai’s flagship projects.

This smear against the rulers of Abu Dhabi is, however, nothing compared to the recently released torture video showing one of the half-brothers of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi torturing an Afghan grain dealer for 40 minutes. This revelation, and the fact that the Emirate authorities knew about this for months but did nothing about it whatsoever, has, alongside migrant worker issues, apparently jeopardised many of their aforementioned flagship projects which were to be built on Saadiyat Island.

Hat tip: UAE Community Blog

Sarkozy’s Islam comments poorly timed 23, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Middle East, Qatar.
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French Emperor President Nicholas Sarkozy has controversially stated that the Islamic Burka is not welcome in France:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.

Many worry that overt symbols of Islam such as the Burka or girls wearing the Veil in schools (as well as anyone wearing any religious symbolism in schools) threaten France’s secular nature.

These comments come, however, during the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Al Thani, to France. Qatar is something of a confusing country. Outwardly, they host Al Jazeera, allow alcohol consumption in the state, invite Western Universities to Doha to teach their children, but they are intrinsically a conservative country and follow the strict, much maligned Wahhabi version of Islam, as in Saudi Arabia. Conservative or not, such comments are sure to be provocative in a country where France wants to secure lucrative defense and other types of contracts. Indeed, this visit officially celebrates Qatar Airway’s purchase of Airbus aircraft at a time when the aviation industry isn’t far from on its knees.

One wonders how one the one hand Sarkozy wants to tow this hard-line approach at home, sure to anger many Muslims, but also seek to create ever greater links with countries in the Persian Gulf. These links range from establishing a French military base in Abu Dhabi, to supplying the Emirates with fighter- aircraft as well as ‘selling out’, as some French people see it, and allowing the Sorbonne and the Louvre to go to Abu Dhabi. Indeed, it seems like Sarkozy is seeking to let himself have cake and eat it.