Just a day after he returned to the UK from his three-day trade visit to Qatar, London Mayor Boris Johnson has stirred up a storm of comment in a column for the Daily Telegraph, titled “We can’t afford to ignore our friends in the East.”
Johnson begins by talking about camels, in what appears to be an elaborate metaphor for the “astonishing and dynamic modernization” of Qatar:
“Then he (a Sheikh) told me how he had once found a drop-dead gorgeous camel, “perty and perfect in every respect”, except that she (he thinks it was a she) lacked that come-hither, pendulous quality in the lip area. She looked somehow too tight, too buttoned up. So he went to a dentist and got some anaesthetic and rubbed it into her jaw….
The only trouble, he said, was that everyone else cottoned on, and they all started using ever-more sophisticated drugs to get a droop going in the lower lip. And that is the story of the Gulf today.”
To the uninitiated, the use of such an outlandish opener seems absurd, but it’s all par for the course for Johnson, for whom attention-grabbing soundbites and bluster are a way of life. Indeed, some would say they are perfect cover for the political wiles of the man many think could become the UK’s next prime minister.
Camel beauty contests aside, Johnson also uses the column to pay Qatar effusive compliments:
“They are building new cities on reclaimed land and they are sucking in the sea water, removing the salt and cultivating avenues of trees. Their airport has just run out of room, and they aren’t faffing around with some study into the options – they are building a new one, right on the sea.
They are solving their traffic problems with a brand new metro, and already they have spanking new university campuses, with world-class medical faculties, and their eerily lovely museums are being filled with the treasures of the Earth.”
Johnson then explains why he believes that the UK must not ignore Qatar, and the potential it has for British businesses. He points out that the UK exported goods worth a record $1.9 billion (£1.3 billion) to Qatar last year.
“The Qataris are wearing M&S underwear beneath their kanduras” he writes. “They are eating in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. They are driving Land Rovers and phoning with Vodafone.”
The first sentence of the paragraph above appears to have caused offence to some. Arab commentator Sultan Al Qassami tweeted:
Not very diplomatic of @mayoroflondon: “The Qataris are wearing M&S underwear beneath their kanduras” goo.gl/2QD7t v @pastures_new— שחררו את פלסטין (@SultanAlQassemi)
The article has also drawn criticism for appearing to leave Arab women out of the equation entirely. It begins: “There are some ways in which to rate an Arab in Qatar as fairly traditional. They can still have more than one wife….”
Ann Potter tweeted in response:
@toryscott Boris Mayor of London forgets that Arabs can be women too…his article on visit to Qatar via @telegraph soa.li/sC4b9yd— annpotter (@anndq)
Debate about the article is not confined to Twitter. At the time of writing, the column had 211 comments online.
A broad spectrum of views is on offer, from the very far right to the very far left. The vast majority are from British readers, some of whom are very distrustful of Arab influence on British politics and society.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Boris Johnson’s Twitter account