The Emirati commentator, Sultan Sooud al Qassemi has spoken about the ‘rise and rise’ of the Gulf states (Leech, 2016). However, instead of confronting the multitude of contentious issues that surround them, he oversimplifies the Gulf-to-Western world- dynamic. He understands that the UAE’s success has created a Western sense of jealousy (Harwood, 2017), and notes that the manner in which the UAE and Qatar have been able to surpass their ‘”leaden-footed former colonial rulers” has been a testament to the ever-changing environment that now is seeking to suffocate the Western nations (Montague, 2017:251). The Emir of Qatar summarised this notion conveniently, stating that “we are coming, China is coming, India is coming, and Russia is on its way, too… I don’t know if America and Europe will still be leading” (Ulrichsen, 2014:46).
Abu Dhabi is the largest and richest emirate of the UAE; a federation of seven royal families which was formed in 1971 by Sheikh Mansour’s father Sheikh Zayed. Abu Dhabi holds a large majority of the oil in the UAE, and thus most of the autonomous power. According to OPEC, the UAE oil reserves stand at 100 billion barrels, and 90% of which is found in Abu Dhabi (OPEC, 2017). During the 2002-2008 oil price boom, as financial leverage, Abu Dhabi has been investing billions of dollars of its remaining oil wealth in an attempt to become a cultural and sporting hub. The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states acquired $912 billion of foreign assets in the five years to June 2008 (Ulrichsen, 2014:11). the state has also become extremely active, on a further international scale, with the acquisition of Western assets. Of those Western assets were universities, museums, infrastructure, and, indeed, football clubs. From 2008, therefore, Manchester City Football Club had a new owner; Abu Dhabi, under the auspices of Sheikh Mansour (Conn,2013). Mansour is one of the Bani Fatima, and one of six sons who his father had with his most favoured wife. These six sons hold elevated importance in the hierarchy of Emirati society (Booth, 2008). His brother Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince, controls the military and the internal security apparatus. Mansour was appointed to key positions of state in his early 30’s, and in 2003 was appointed the Minister of Presidential affairs of the UAE; a significant position to hold, as the US intelligence community noted at the time, effectively equated to him being the ‘gatekeeper’ to the prevailing President Sheikh Zayed (NEED REFERENCE). In 2009, he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE. In addition, he has also held strategically important positions in business. He was appointed Deputy chairman of the Sheikh Zayed Charity Foundation, and was on the board of the International Petroleum Investment Corporation (IPIC), one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the UAE (NEED REFERENCE).
Mubadala, another key wealth-pedalling machine for the UAE, has been key for the Crown Prince in terms of being able to develop his ambitious plans away from AD’s general fiscal budget and assets (LOOK AT HERTOG ARTICLE). Yet, these Sheikhs and businessman within the royal hierarchy that have been involved the acquisition of Manchester City sit uncomfortably close to the political sphere that exists between the Gulf and the Western world. For example, Manchester City F.C. is run from the business side by Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman, who is also the chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, a strategic government body who advises on Abu Dhabi’s international image. Al-Mubarak, of Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala, the state- owned conglomerate, holds an Economics and Finance Degree from Tufts, but is also from a significant family within the UAE and an acquaintance to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (due to growing up at the ruler’s court after his father, the French ambassador for UAE, who was killed in 1984) (Hertog, 2017:11). Yet, on the 16th July, the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, was in London for a meeting with the British Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond, to discuss “co-operation between the two countries pertaining to military and defence affairs.” It was just so that Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the Chairman of Manchester City, accompanied Sheikh Mohammed to that meeting (Conn, 2012). In this sense, the mutual exclusivity of politics and sport cannot be ignored. There are those There are those who believe that Mansour is not even the direct operator or Manchester City, but instead al-Mubarak, CEO Simon Pearce and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
One cannot speak about this unprecedented phenomenon without also paying attention to the influence that Qatar has been seeking to exercise over the past eight years. Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world, and like the UAE, has witnessed Dubai’s vociferous incline into the socio-political stratosphere and has been attempting a similar model of its own. Under the work of Sheikh Moza, the Qatar Foundation (QF), one of the leading sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and charity, has built educational services, a modernist mosque in the educationist city (AND SOMETHING ELSE). This is part of a broader agenda of high culture and research, community development with very strong international involvement. “Getting the people of the world to start thinking” Is their motto. In 2010, QF signed a 170-million-euro sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona, placing its name on the front of their shirt. It has since been replaced with Qatar Airways; yet the strand of internationalism is impossible to escape. Then, in May of 2011, Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an effectively Qatari government-owned family fund, acquired Paris Saint Germain (PSG) Football Club. This was only a year after an intriguing lunch at the Elysee Palace, where French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, Michel Platini, the French President of UEFA, Tammin bin Hamad al-Thani, the country’s emir, and the Qatari Prime Minister sat down to discuss various events concerning the ownership of PSG, and the potential for Qatar to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Due to such ownership, clubs like PSG and Manchester City have separate legal and administrative segmentation from the states. Unlike the urban enclaves of the 1970’s, these leading state-owned enterprises naturally provide little to no employment to citizens at home, and can recruit specifically for the field of work they are going into. They often are associated with de facto monopolies, and are exempt from the national company code (Hertog, 2010 – FIND REFERENCE). In turn, they have A naturally high administrative autonomy, with little to no consideration given to financial or commercial profits (prior to a new wave of legislative changes within soccer were brought in called Financial Fair Play (FFP)). This certainly raises the question of their commercial viability. There are a whole host of other infrastructural developments such as Formula 1 development, tennis tournaments and the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar; however, this only reflects a microcosm of the nuanced intersection of state-branding and the creation of coalitions or regional and international support. They include very ambitious planning, and certainly extremely public on the global scale; this point is key. They are integrated by strong Western individuals who help with such an ambitious mega project such as Manchester City or PSG, that are physically segregated from the Gulf States themselves. No project such as this existed before the early 2000’s. Now not only the region but the globe is littered with similar projects. Yet, it is the copious volume of financial power that separates the UAE and Qatar from the large majority of comparable ventures. For example, below is a diagram which depicts the sheer volume of wealth the UAE hold in relation to the other English Premier League club owners.
(Diagram 1a: A Graph to show the wealth disparity between English Premier League club owners)
However, to begin to understand the shaping and re-shaping of the GCC’s foreign policy agenda, it is first necessary to appreciate the significance of elite agency in the Gulf. As mentioned previously, Mubadala has been intricately linked to its patron, the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed; and the same can be noted for the Qatar Foundation and its advocate Sheikha Moza, the mother of the current ruler of Qatar (Hertog, 2017:7). Therefore, this “rentier” status facilitated the UAE and Qatar’s desire for financial autonomy (Mahdavy, 1970). It is not only pertinent in terms of the rapidly growing urban enclaves in the state, but the western influence and western acquisitions that Abu Dhabi and Qatar have laid claim to in the past 10-15 years. Simply put, the GCC ruling monarchies face no accountability to their formal political, economic and social decision-making. This is certainly partly due to the lack of any structured political up rise from the oppressed, as the populations in both states are mainly immigrant workers. Elite agency is important in the context of this analysis because during this period of high oil surpluses, there was an abundance of uncommitted wealth for both states to utilise (Hertog, 2017:8). Unprecedented levels of autonomy in the modern era, combined with low short-term opportunity for political and economic expansion gave these elites the canvas they needed to irrevocably create for themselves. However, this notion of elite-driven ambitious legacy appears analogous when we look to other second and third generations of family businesses around the world. For example, the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts or the Langhorne-Astors in the United States. The first generations built the initial family wealth, but the second and third generations sought further recognition and immaterial wealth by branching into cultural, social and charitable projects. The Gulf states are not doing anything theoretically we have not seen before; they have just devised and executed the plan in unprecedented manner. The autonomy they hold makes it simpler than any of these American families would have found, and is often catalysed to a greater extent by the ambitions of family members and heirs to not be directly involved in state or middle-east business.
This is certainly significant in the sphere of social science. These constructual forces and determinants are not necessarily that amenable; yet social scientists don’t necessarily appreciate this explanation if it becomes some sort of great man theory of history. However, it is pertinent to understand why agency is so central in the gulf. It is a very small set of elites unexpectedly given vast sums of financial power, with the necessary autonomy, agency and freedom to decide how best to spend this wealth. There were critical moments of state building when it was in fact individual decisions; conflicts between a couple of princes or Sheikhs that truly shaped the way that these states were build and to be built. For example, the relative size and weight of the ministry of defence in the national guard in Saudi, who now altogether employs 1.5 million people, was almost completely determined by conflicts through a number of senior princes in the 1950’s (REFERENCE). These individual preferences matter; leaderships in other countries that are more politically constrained are vastly different. This elite agency that engages within these institutions, and now, the world of football, are rife. In terms of the infrastructural experiments of Paris Saint Germain and Manchester City, these were implemented a few years after the oil boom, but still at a time where there was free-flowing uncommitted capital that could be invested. Therefore, this is why such significant investment was made within 2008-2017. This area of the state’s financial institutional mega projects may not be the most commercial viable, but as we will visit later, this is not the primary reason why they are so aggressive within the Western, sport-centric market. Therefore, this utilisation and actualisation of wealth from the Gulf states in question is quite an interesting mix of powerful states who have the capital to have such an influence on the global audience.
Nye also makes the point that a country is considered powerful if it has “a relatively large population and territory, extensive natural resources, economic strength, military force, and social stability.” Yet, in terms of the Gulf states, there is a case to be made that they only hold extensive natural resources, and by extension economic strength. A traditional gauge of a hegemonic power in international politics was “strength of war.” However, as technologies and natural resources become more prevalent, those sources of strength do not begin and end at the ability to go to full blown war. For example, in 18th Century Europe, the population was the critical factor in terms of power, due to the ability to collect taxes. Yet, once again, the Gulf states do not require taxes to wield potential power. In this sense, converting these natural resources into power was the goal of Qatar and Abu Dhabi. This realised economic potential allowed them to obtain their desired outcomes through well-engineered strategies and skilful international leadership.
They are bearing characteristics of a pre-modern empire on steroids, with vast sums of infrastructural power and yet the population of the UAE and Qatar and these spatial structures are not very integrated into their domestic policy agenda. We cannot present Qatar and Abu Dhabi as the exclusive champions of such political participation. They are not the only regions who cater to specific western norms or leave their local society behind in a remarkably public fashion in order to pursue higher interests in other continents. But it is outstanding and extraordinary due to the pace and vigour in which it has been initiated and proceeded with. Just 30 years ago, more of the onshore society we see today was untouched by modern society. The social and demographic change within Qatar and Abu Dhabi has been surprising, and the manner in which they have lacked any comprehension or sentiment for their national identity, favouring impending ‘over-westernisation’ in material terms and immaterial terms is testament to this. The autonomy that is given to the ruling elites is not found anywhere else in the world to create this soft power algorithm. These questions are going to be focussed on because they are the more puzzling and contentious. Whilst we will not allude to the superb projects the Gulf states are doing around their nations, and are perhaps guilty of selection bias, however these two international projects are particularly outward-oriented. Every government in the world builds museums, national parks and a sufficient level of infrastructure. Not every government in the world do so much to cater for the other nations around the globe.