There has been a lot of talk over the past week or so about Arsenal’s sleeve sponsorship deal with Rwanda yet the moral outrage from some journalists that greeted news of the arrangement has been conspicuously lacking in relation to deals with the likes of Emirates, Etihad, or Roman Abramovich.

arsenal visit rwanda

Just this week, the United Arab Emirate’s leading human rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor, was jailed for 10 years for his ‘social media activity’.

Mansoor’s ‘crime’ was to use his social media accounts to publish ‘false information’ and ‘spread hatred and sectarianism’. In addition, he was also fined Dh1 million (approx. £204,000) for insulting the ‘status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols’, including its leaders.

The reality, however, is that Mansoor, who had, prior to his arrest, faced ‘repeated intimidation, harassment, physical assault, and death threats from the UAE authorities or their supporters,’ according to Amnesty International, merely expressed support for a fellow activist.

Osama al-Najjar was still being held by authorities despite completing his three-year sentence for tweeting about human rights abuses.

ahmed mansoor
Ahmed Mansoor via

“Ahmed Mansoor is one of the few openly critical voices in the UAE, and his persecution is another nail in the coffin for human rights activism in the country,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The decision to lock up Ahmed Mansoor for the next 10 years for simply sharing his opinion on social media is what causes the real damage to the UAE’s reputation and so-called ‘social harmony’, not Ahmed Mansoor’s peaceful activism.

“Ahmed is a prisoner of conscience who has been targeted, tried and sentenced for using Facebook and Twitter to share his thoughts. He should never have been charged in the first place and now he must be released immediately.”

International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE
International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE

Joe Odell of the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE told Daily Cannon, “This outrageous sentence is just the latest episode in the UAE’s continued clampdown on freedom of speech and expression. It is yet another clear indication that the regime who owns the Emirates brand have no regard for human rights – and a clear disdain for anyone who seeks to defend them.

“In reality, all that Ahmed Mansoor is guilty of is speaking up for the rights of the oppressed people throughout the region. It is about time that Arsenal FC Kick out the Emirates and say no to the UAE’s sport-washing.”

So what’s all this got to do with Arsenal?

arsenal 18 19 home kit

“Emirates Airline is a company that is wholly owned by the government of Dubai,” Odell added.

“In recent years, the human rights situation in the UAE has deteriorated considerably with practices such as arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances becoming increasingly commonplace.

“Despite this, many in the UK continue to associate the UAE with luxury holidays and sporting events rather than human rights violations.

“In some respects, such deals enable the UAE authorities to ‘launder their reputation’ through cultural institutions in the UK such as Arsenal Football Club.”

When you think Rwanda, you likely also think ‘genocide’. That’s what made it so easy to criticise that deal despite the complexities of the situation there.

It is a country that has serious issues when it comes to democracy, free speech and poverty, amongst other things, but on the other hand they are taking massive strides towards alleviating that poverty and are dragging women’s rights a few inches out of the middle ages.

In the UAE, they are doing none of that, yet because we think of the country as a utopia we all aspire to afford, mouths are kept shut.

It is a country that forbids criticism of its government, government officials, police and royal families and, in 2012, enacted a law to ensure online criticism was also punished.

It is illegal to be queer.

Women must receive permission from a male guardian to marry and it is illegal for them to marry non-Muslims.

They punish those accused of adultery by flogging, but only the unmarried ones. Married adulterers are stoned to death.

80 lashes for alcohol consumption. 100 lashes for pre-marital sex. Theft, drunk driving, kissing in public…lash, lash, lash.

They even have actual laws to dictate what sort of clothes you can wear.

You know this, right?

I think we all do, but on some level choose to ignore it.

While I knew most of the laws listed above, I don’t think I’d ever read them all together, and certainly not within the framework of our current political climate.

I’d been thinking, as I watched the Handmaid’s Tale, that it wouldn’t take much to get us from here to there. A little more Trump and the DUP and who knows what sort of dystopia we could find ourselves in.

But the Handmaid’s Tale is not the future. It is already here, now, playing out in the United Arab Emirates while we support our football team running around with their names emblazoned on our shirts.

William Gibson once said that “the future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Arsenal being sponsored by ‘Fly Gilead’ might seem like an absurd notion, but is it really much different than ‘Fly Emirates’ given how they treat women and ‘gender traitors’?