"What’s clear is that Manchester City FC and New York City FC enable Abu Dhabi to gain footholds in centres of power and influence, and provide a platform for the pursuit of further business opportunities which themselves consolidate and strengthen Abu Dhabi’s political influence. What’s not clear is whether that’s the primary purpose of their football interests, but Pearce’s emails point in that direction. Placing an abusive dictatorship under such bright spotlights is a high-risk strategy, as Pearce makes very clear, but he appears supremely confident of his ability to manage the reputational risks. He does this in three ways: firstly, by presenting the clubs’ owner as a wealthy benevolent businessman (Mansour), rather than an all-powerful statesman (MBZ); secondly by flooding the media with puff-pieces about how progressive the UAE is; and thirdly by attacking the credibility or the motives of groups and individuals who criticise the UAE’s abuses. Unfortunately, he’s very good at his job.
Speaking about Manchester City on the excellent Second Captain’s podcast, Ken Early recently referred to Manchester City as a “host organism”. Early didn’t go so far as to compare Abu Dhabi’s rulers to a malicious virus, but when you look at how the men behind Manchester City exert their influence abroad, “host organism” is the perfect metaphor.
In 2012, Simon Pearce wrote briefing notes for Mohamed bin Zayed in which he urged David Cameron’s government to take steps to end what Pearce described as Islamist infiltration of BBC Arabic — Pearce advised MBZ that he should demand the prime minister’s “help … with the BBC in particular.” In return for silencing the British press and other favours, Pearce’s briefing notes indicate that Cameron was to be offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British business which would have generated billions of pounds for BAE Systems and allowed BP to bid to drill for oil and gas in the Gulf. Abu Dhabi also invests millions in Washington DC, much of it on the type of think-tanks that seem to think mostly about money. After successfully encouraging the neo-conservative analyst Michael Rubin to write an article questioning the credibility of Human Rights Watch research on torture in the UAE, Pearce could scarcely disguise his glee in the email he sent to Yousef Al-Otaiba. “Happy new year!!” it began. “The [Rubin] article demonstrates that we have now empowered the right to make legitimate demands of the left wing Human Rights lobby.” (In the interests of transparency, I should point out that I researched and wrote the Human Rights Watch press release on torture that Rubin criticised.)
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Fit and proper persons anyone?