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Cameron defends profit instead of human rights in UAE

The politics of lobbying and its impact on modern democracy has been well debated in the UK. Much of the debates have been surrounded by the concept of lobbying and whether it causes a disruption to the British democratic process. As Lionel Zetter said in his book “Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion”: “The lobbying industry often finds itself in a no-win position. Either lobbyists have little or no influence – in which case why should anyone retain them? Or they do have influence, in which case the press – and some sections of the public – think that this is an unwarranted distortion of the democratic process.”

Last week, the Daily Mail newspaper revealed leaked documents that the Mail on Sunday obtained regarding the way the UAE buys its way into British political affairs in what they referred to as “a secretive network linking powerful figures in Britain and the Gulf”.

The Mail on Sunday revealed a £60,000 a month contract between Emirati officials and Quiller Consultants which is composed of some of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s strongest political allies and serves the purpose of influencing UK foreign policy to match the interests of the UAE. It is important to remember that one of the founders of Quiller is Lord Hill, a close ally of David Cameron, and that the company has a history of having access to top Conservative officials.

Officials which the network has identified to lobby also include journalists, including those at the state owned BBC. The report said Quiller staff met with influential journalists providing them with material that engineers the narrative on matters that concern the UAE. Quiller Consultants denied this claim, saying the contract between them and the UAE allows them to pass down “research” to journalists and policy makers and the information being sent to media officials is part of this research and thus is not in breach of that agreement.

In no way is this a new occurrence, nor should it be a shock to anyone. It is still very common for the British media to sweep the human rights abuses of the UAE under the carpet. Last year, British military giant ADS Group collaborated with the Dubai Police to hold a conference and exhibition to encourage the growth of British and Emirati industries. Some 1,000 visitors from 90 countries attended the event, and it is due to be held once again on 27-28 October of this year. It is clear that sustaining the mutual interests of the UK and the UAE are of an extremely high priority for the current Conservative government.

It is understandable why the UAE would seek to pay for their legitimacy. They are notorious for their atrocious human rights record. The fact that they have entered the war in Yemen via the coalition, which has caused 60 per cent of the civilian deaths in the country shows that they, along with their Saudi allies, are in need of positive press relations on the international level. In addition to lobbying war apologism, they seek to influence the British political and media machines to influence public opinion on the internal rifts in the GCC.

Much of the British press has a consistent editorial bias against Qatar, baselessly referring to them as a “terrorist funding” state. The Daily Mail itself is one of the main perpetrators of this, along with the Daily Telegraph who had a “Stop the Funding of Terror” campaign last year which consisted of articles specifically targeting Qatar’s reputation and eligibility for hosting the FIFA 2022 World Cup. In all fairness, there was mention of legitimate issues in Qatar, such as the human rights abuses behind the construction of the stadium, though the hypocrisy of the issue is that the British media stayed silent on human rights abuses that took place while Bahrain prepared for last year’s Grand Prix.

One of the reasons behind the difference in treatment is Qatar’s dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE has pushed for a British inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood, using information provided by UAE lobbyists. The Emirates believes the Muslim Brotherhood challenges the stability of its sheikhdom. The UAE’s ability to control the global opinion on Qatar gives it a strong advantage over its fellow Gulf state.

It is clear that the UK government is acting beyond the human rights discourse it preaches. It is also clear that officials in the Conservative government are profiting from attempts to sell the UAE to the public. For David Cameron and his allies, ensuring the so called “British values” is only a concern when trying to antagonise minority groups and fuel Islamophobia in the country, not when profit is involved.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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