February 19, 2009
Dubai has spent the past decade or so doing everything it can think of in order to raise its profile. In the past week, however, two separate international events have been completely overshadowed by controversies. I wouldn't be surprised if the city's leaders spent a few days pining for the good old days of security through obscurity.
First, Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe'er was denied a UAE visa at the last possible moment, and could not take part in a prestigious WTA tournament in Dubai. The move was widely condemned by players and officials, but the tournament could not be canceled with just one day's notice. A tournament official claimed her presence could lead to security problems, but that didn't stop the Wall Street Journal from yanking its sponsorship or the Tennis Channel from deciding not to broadcast the event. The governing body for women's tennis threatened to drop Dubai from future tours. It now looks as though Israelis will be allowed in for the men's tournament next week, but only after an American Congressman made some phone calls, and said as much to the press. So the UAE essentially put itself into a position from which it had to choose between publicly giving in to international pressure and losing the ability to host sporting events in the future. Qatar has played this game far more skilfully, establishing low-level links with Israel, while feeling free to criticize it as necessary.
As if that weren't enough drama for one week, the organizers of a literary festival decided to rescind their invitation to British author Geraldine Bedell. As Brian Whitaker explains, they probably weren't thrilled when they found out she had written about a gay sheikh in a fictional Gulf state. After all, the government does not officially acknowledge that any of its citizens might be homosexual, leave alone members of the royal family. Canadian author Margaret Atwood has pulled out in protest, and others are considering the same.
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I admit I was a little afraid of what the hyperlinked text "pulled out" might lead to in the context of sexual behavior issues, but it was an interesting read.
Posted by: matthew hogan at February 20, 2009 09:03 AM
apparently, Atwood now regrets cancelling going, and there are apparently nuances to the whole book business: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/21/margaret-atwood-gulf-literary-festival
Posted by: dawud at February 21, 2009 11:14 AM