Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on Friday, where he notably met Sheikh Mansour, owner of Manchester City since 2008 and Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE. The meeting went very badly in England, especially on the side of British parliamentarians.
It is a meeting that could be a landmark, as much in the history of Syrian-Emirati relations as in that of Manchester City. On Friday, Bashar al-Assad was on an official visit to Abu Dhabi, to meet with representatives of the United Arab Emirates. During this meeting, the Syrian president notably crossed paths with Sheikh Mansour, owner of Manchester City.
The images of this official visit quickly caused a stir in England. If Bashar al-Assad, president since 2000 and who subjected the Syrian people to a civil war which left nearly 500,000 dead, went to the Emirates, it is because he is continuing his process of normalization in the Middle East. .
Since 2018, some countries in the region have regained more peaceful relations with Syria, even if it means considering reintegrating the country of Al-Assad into the Arab League, to the chagrin of the United States and human rights associations. The presence of Sheikh Mansour during this political meeting provoked the ire of several British parliamentarians and political figures.
A « highly worrying » meeting
Many of them were moved in the last hours of this meeting in Abu Dhabi. Clive Efford, member of the « Digital, Culture, Media and Sports » committee, stressed that this meeting between the owner of Manchester City and Al-Assad is « highly worrying ».
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the meeting « undermines the prospects » for peace in Syria, as the conflict, which began in 2011, continues in some areas, particularly in the northwest of the country. . This meeting between Mansour and Al-Assad also revives the debate on certain owners of Premier League clubs.
Owners of Premier League clubs under scrutiny
Chelsea is thus at the heart of a storm while Roman Abramovich is targeted by heavy sanctions put in place against him by the British government. « What do people not understand? There is a form of barbarism, continuous murder in Syria, guided by Al-Assad, and now Putin is doing exactly the same in a barbaric way with an attack on innocent people in Ukraine . And some want to meet these bullies?”, protested the parliamentarian Chris Bryant.
The Premier League is still far from sanctioning Manchester City and its owner for this meeting with the Syrian president, even if the relations between the United Arab Emirates and Syria are heating up with this first official visit of Bashar al-Assad in a country of the Middle East since 2011.
The leaders of the English championship know full well that in the event of sanctions against City, they will also have to look into other cases, such as that of Newcastle: the club was bought last October by the investment fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A takeover which was first rejected by the Premier League in the summer of 2020 because the Public Investment Fund did not meet the criteria of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test.