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UAE exploits football to counter charges of human rights abuse

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The UAE’s acquisition of football franchises is attracting attention away from its autocratic and reactionary policies, writes James M Dorsey

James DorseyBy James M. Dorsey

The recent sentencing in the United Arab Emirates of scores of dissidents on charges of plotting to overthrow the government and UAE support for the military coup that ousted president Mohammed Morsi have sparked assertions that the country is using its acquisition of Manchester City and a franchise to establish a New York-based Major League Football team to polish an image increasingly tarnished by autocratic and counterrevolutionary policies.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in statements to the Guardian warned that the UAE was using football to launder its image. Former English Football Association chairman Lord Triesman has called for making a country’s human rights record one of the criteria for establishing whether a state entity or member of a ruling family passes the “fit and proper person test” for ownership of a Premier League club.

HRW along with Amnesty International, the Emirates Centre for Human Rights and prominent human rights lawyers and activists like Sir Geoffrey Robertson condemned the mass trial of 94 people of which 69 were sentenced to lengthy prison terms as unfair and a violation of due process because a denial of legal assistance while being held incommunicado pretrial, allegations of torture and the lack of a right to appeal. In its response, the UAE justice ministry implicitly did not rule out torture, arguing that alleged victims should have reported abuse to the police.

HRW researcher Nicholas McGeehan, describing the UAE as “a black hole” for basic human rights, told the Guardian: “In this situation, a Premier League club [Manchester City] is being used as a branding vehicle to promote and effectively launder the reputation of a country perpetrating serial human rights abuses. That should be of concern to football supporters as well as human rights organisations.”

The paper quoted HRW as saying that Abu Dhabi’s purchase of Manchester City enabled it to “construct a public relations image of a progressive, dynamic Gulf state, which deflects attention from what is really going on in the country.”

The linking by human rights activists of the acquisition of western football clubs to the human rights record of the home countries of a buyer is closely linked to the emergence of mega-events, like the World Cup to be hosted by Qatar in 2022, as platforms for campaigns for human, labor and gender rights.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, a member of the UAE’s ruling family, bought Manchester City in 2008. The sheikh is UAE deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs, a brother of Abu Dhabi crown prince and deputy supreme military commander Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and a half-brother of UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. He is also responsible as chairman of the Abu Dhabi judiciary for the court that convicted the dissidents.

UAE officials have insisted that the acquisition of Manchester City as well as this year’s agreement to invest in the creation of a twentieth Major League Football team was a personal rather than a government investment. Most analysts however, given Al-Nahyan’s grip on state affairs, take that assertion with a grain of salt. Neither the UAE nor Qatar initially realised that the deployment of soft power using football would also entail that they would become more vulnerable to criticism of their adherence to human and other rights. So far, Qatar, despite foreign policy setbacks as a result of its backing of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces, has proven more adept in deflecting the criticism, particularly on the issue of the rights of foreign workers, who constitute a majority of the population in both countries.

The Gulf state has, until now, been able to fend off demands by international trade unions that it allow the formation of independent workers’ organisations and endorse the principle of collective bargaining by taking far reaching steps to improve material working and living conditions.

The Qatar Foundation, a state-owned body focused on education and research, has adopted rules that oblige contractors to pay a worker’s ticket to Qatar from his or her home country and give employees three weeks’ vacation a year. Qatar is also looking at an overhaul of the recruitment system that would shield workers from becoming indebted to agents who charge exorbitant fees. The UAE and other Gulf states have sought to reform their foreign labor system, but to a lesser extent than Qatar.

James M. Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

  • QuintEssenstialy

    UAE exploits football to counter charges of human rights abuse.
    Only in your twisted mind it does.
    Qatar is busily working away with Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hizbullah, and Hamas on one side (with Turkey an auxiliaryagainst Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and most other Arab states on the other (with Israel an auxiliary).

    http://mideastposts.com/author/james-m-dorsey/page/3/

  • Blue_Bugle

    You can’t really get any more corrupt can you than writing articles
    like this one, that aren’t thought through and are purely designed to throw mud at innocent people that are just doing things in the world, maybe wrong or right things to the uneducated. That is the world and not one nation on this planet and certainly no back stabbing journalist can claim to hold some high moral ground on.

    It would be easy for me to think my neighbour is abusing his dog for example. It’s constantly whaling not barking it sounds like it’s in distress of some kind. I never see him take it for a walk and as far as I am concerned it could, in a negative mind be construed as some form of cruelty.

    But of course I’m not living with them I don’t know anything really, apart from what I’ve observed over very short periods of time, even if this time has been spread over years. The point I’m making is that the moral
    compass that I use is based on the standards I’ve developed in my existence.
    Just because I don’t observe the kindness that my neighbour does or doesn’t show his pet doesn’t give me the right to judge whether or not the animal is happy or not.

    Surely the same type of judgement must apply to larger issues. Just because America, that has agendas against and for some countries,and because they have a large booming voice in the world. This doesn’t and shouldn’t be read as the United States being correct or even having the right to make themselves judge and jury over more or less every neighbour they have in the Middle East.

    And what are human rights issues anyway? I know some women
    that think it’s a front to their right not to be able to shop at Harrods or
    Harvey Nicks. If you can’t get proper medical care isn’t that a human rights issue. Because I know for one that although the government in the UK claim the National Health Service is in good shape, reality
    it’s falling apart. Isn’t that an abuse of human right? Lying and twisting the
    truth. Innocent people die all the time in British hospitals and ones that are just victims of neglect. So show me the perfect political system. You can’t because all of them fall miles short in that department and the human right one..

    Cruelty, and please mark my words, takes place everywhere whether it’s a wife or husband claiming their spouse doesn’t do enough for
    them, it’s a drug dealer/gangster forming gangs and using children as runners and it’s a politician telling lies in order to get votes or claim expenses.

    Let’s just for the sake of it put all cases of human right into one basket and say it’s all caused by ‘Human mafia style behaviour’. That’s really it in a nut shell. In some way we all affect each other’s right. Bosses do it to their employees, Governments do it to their voters with austerity
    measures, that always affects the poor never the rich. So for me for countries like America to think they are closer to being perfect than anyone else is like the moon calling itself the Sun. America used Hollywood in order to try an sell itself as squeaky clean and funnily enough always doing the right thing. Yet most of their heroes were vigilantes. Taking the law into his own killer hand’s whilst at the same time condoning his own behaviour because it was the American way. That’s it, this is how we do things things in America, so the rest of the world you better be prepared to have your human rights trampled on. And today
    in real life they are doing it. Not in the name of Hollywood but because they think we’ve all fallen for their propaganda.

    So America think they are the saviours of the world they interfering in
    everyone else’s business in order to strengthen its own. They are a country with a school for political hit men. They spy on anyone they choose on the internet that in truth belongs to you and I. What does that tell you?

    No, human right issues live everywhere in this god forsaken
    world the politicians are just the salesmen taking advantage of the situation, with the Americans as usual trying to get the biggest commission and slice of the world for themselves. That’s the home of Human right issues, the home of slavery.

    The Egyptian army funded and supplied by America kill their own citizens and then have the shear cheek to throw mud at other countries. Yes obviously to deflect the worlds eye away from them killing their own. But how stupid are they thinking that pointing the finger at others hides there crimes.

    This world is sick it’s sick because no one wants to lose face and because no one wants to do any real good in the world and just in case it affects their nonsensical Clint Eastwood image. They all follow the Hollywood murderers, that got away with it because they were big tough Marlboro smoking Americans.

    DNE you need to look in the mirror and examine what’s wrong about what you have clothed yourself in, before you start tell others how to dress.

    Be careful of the bed fellows you choose you could be next to catch the cap.

    ‘Arab Summer’ what a wonderful Hollywood title. Now who did the screen play for that blockbuster I wonder.

  • Pingback: UAE exploits football to counter charges of human rights abuse – Daily News Egypt | Marlboro Central High School


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