Foul play in the Gulf

How is Dubai, with its on-off boycott of Israel, able to sustain its own moderate image?

February 19, 2009 20:35
3 minute read.
Foul play in the Gulf

shahar peer tennis 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])


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In yet another egregious instance of Arab men cutting off their noses to spite their faces, copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue featuring Israel's stunning Bar Refaeli on the cover have been removed from Dubai magazine racks. And, after intense pressure from the Association of Tennis Professionals, Dubai has reluctantly granted an entry visa to Andy Ram to play in next week's Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships - after barring Shahar Pe'er from playing in the Women's Tennis Association tournament, affecting her earnings, if not her ranking. International response to such anti-Israelism by the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is the commercial center and a self-governing city-state) has been understated. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were critical, and the Tennis Channel cancelled plans to broadcast the Dubai women's tournament. Pe'er's fellow players, hearing about her exclusion at the 11th hour, were sympathetic but decided to go ahead and compete rather than forfeit millions of dollars in sponsors' support. Sadly, anti-Israel frenzy has reached such proportions that in Malmö, Sweden, where Muslim immigrants comprise 25 percent of the population, the Davis Cup tennis first round tie against Israel next month will be played in an empty stadium. Back in the UAE, the first ever "Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature," set for next week, is becoming a real page-turner owing to official censorship of Geraldine Bedell's novel The Gulf Between Us featuring a homosexual relationship set in a fictional Gulf emirate. The Emirates, where fewer than 20 percent of the 4.4 million residents are citizens, likes to be perceived as a tolerant, pro-Western oasis. And, to be fair, the Saudi-controlled, Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiya makes a stab at modifying Al-Jazeera's radicalism. Still, public antagonism toward Israel and Western values is getting ever harder to cloak. QATAR plays an even more duplicitous game, presenting itself as cosmopolitan while shilling for the Islamists. Back in 1996, it hosted the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and seemed to be moving incrementally toward staking out a moderate position in Arab affairs. Indeed, as late as last year, Qatar allowed Pe'er to play in a WTA Tour tournament. But at this week's three-day annual US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, co-hosted with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, some Arab participants echoed a refrain commonly heard from Indonesia - where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just visited - to the Gulf States: If the US really wants to move closer to the Arab world, it will have to abandon its "near-blind" support for Israel and "overcome the veto power" of the Zionists on Washington's decision-making. Qatar, which has the highest per-capita income in the world, has lately adopted a radically pro-Hamas foreign policy; in January, it suspended low-level diplomatic ties with Israel. Controlled by the family of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar has the peculiar distinction of being 75-percent male thanks to its outsized expatriate workforce. Sheikh Hamad is the main financial backer of the Doha-based Al-Jazeera. While Al-Jazeera's English-language website and television take a mild tone, the main, Arabic, enterprise aligns itself with the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbullah bloc. For instance, it identifies those killed in the Gaza fighting as shahids. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been a presence in Qatar, and Al-Jazeera serves as a popular, attractive platform for spreading its extremist views throughout the region. During Operation Cast Lead, Qatar hosted a meeting of radical Arab states, plus Iran, to mobilize support for Hamas and also pledged millions of dollars for Gaza's reconstruction. The al-Thani family also played a key role in facilitating Hizbullah's incremental ascendency in Lebanon. But Qatar is shrewd enough to hedge its bets by hosting bases of the US military's Central Command, which oversees American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The State Department considers both Qatar and the UAE - two of the world's richest countries - as friendly states. HOW HAS Qatar, which promotes the Muslim Brotherhood and bankrolls the poisonous al-Jazeera station, succeeded in maintaining its image as a friend of the West? And how is Dubai, with its on-off boycott of Israel, able to sustain its own moderate image? The answer is money. Lots of it. To win friends, influence people, and manipulate perceptions.

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