When a head of state visits the UK, some things are normal. Motorcades, traffic problems, photo-ops. And protests, blimps, hundreds of thousands marching the streets, with leading politicians making public statements, ordinary people demonstrating about real or perceived wrongs committed by that figure, or by the state he or she represents.
The perfect example of this, of course, is the recent visit of Trump who was greeted by a political class committed to attacking him for a wide range of things that strike the professionally upset. His wall with Mexico, the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ on migration, his support of Israel, and many others.
So far, so normal. But when others visit the country things are different. This week, the Amir of Qatar visited the City of London and Westminster. Screams of protest there were few, and those that there were, were weird.
Across the capital, hundreds of taxis were emblazoned by odd claims, posters sprung up like fireweed and a rag-tag bunch of bemused ‘protesters’ descended on Parliament Square. The posters, adverts, and protesters had been bought and paid for by people linked to Qatari opposition leader Khalid Al-Hail, who from a suite in a luxury London hotel had wanted a show.
But advertising on websites for ‘resting’ actors to play protesters at £20-£50 a pop just isn’t how things work in the UK. Instead, the fake protest was rumbled and the only coverage of the trip was about the fraud. A little lesson needs to be drawn, no matter how legitimate the cause, that faking it doesn’t work in the UK, and those who were advising Al-Hail should have told him precisely that, rather than looking to their bank balance.
None of this bizarre going-on should take away from the key point. The visit of the Amir to the UK should give us all cause for concern, and not least for the secrecy that surrounded it.
Sheik Al Thani is no stranger to this country, he went to school in Dorset and is a graduate of Sandhurst. His country’s investors own vast swaths of London from Canary Wharf through to luxury hotels like Claridges and the Berkeley and vast residential areas like the old Chelsea Barracks development.
All in all, he and they own more than the Queen, a portfolio of over £30 billion expected to rise to £35 billion in the next year or so. Add to that their questionable hosting of the next World Cup in 2022, and the people of this country really should care about this man and his regime.
And what a regime. Infamously secretive and theocratic, its law is based on a strict understanding of Islamic sharia law. Homosexuality is illegal (up to 7 years in gaol for sodomy), women who give birth outside marriage are thrown in gaol if they are unmarried or sentenced to death if adulterous.
More than 2 million immigrant workers can be treated as little more than slaves, despite recent law changes. The penal code according to Human Rights Watch, “does not criminalise domestic violence or marital rape”. Nice.
These are just the domestic issues, which any decent British citizen might take issue with, but the Qataris use their massive oil and gas wealth to project power. Recently, other Arab nations have banned Qatari TV network Al Jazeera for its overt and covert support for terrorist organisations.
Qatar has also played host to various terror leaders including the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, the head of Hamas, and many others. This support for radical terrorists is nothing new. Qatar also provided a non-job and apartment for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York.
Qatar continues to fund support for Al Nusra, the Al-Quaeda linked radical Islamist group which is slaughtering innocents in Syria. It does this by paying off ransoms for foreign nationals kidnapped by the Islamist terror group. To all the world looking humanitarian, but encouraging the practice and ensuring that hundreds of millions of pounds are funnelled to the men of violence. According to Colonel Tim Collins, the Qataris are “actively funding” the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation whose military wing has been prescribed in the UK since 2001 as a terrorist organisation.
The list goes on. It is a regime steeped in Human Rights abuses at home and the promotion of terror abroad. It insulates itself by its huge oil/gas wealth which it uses to buy acquiescence.
And silence. How is it that this sponsor of dangerous organisations and hammer of gays and women can win World Cup hosting rights? How can he come to London in near secret, meet Government and business in near silence?
Where is the outrage, demonstrations, where the banners, the trumpets, the blimps? Where is Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London? Why isn’t he across the TV stations denouncing this man and his regime as he did with Trump? Where are Owen Jones and his fellow travellers? Nowhere.
The hypocrisy stinks and brings the whole anti-Trump, anti-U.S. movement into question. Do these people really care about peace and human rights, or do they just want to get themselves on telly so that they can impress their friends?
And why the official silence? There is only one comprehensible answer. The money. But can we be honest here? One thing that the London property market doesn’t lack is money. Class, decency, honour, and honesty, yes, they are in short supply.
But money? There’s no lack of that.
Gawain Towler was the long-suffering head of press to the UK Independence Party until 2018. He now runs the public relations consultancy CWC Strategy.