Davidson's book is available in much of the rest of the world, but distributors in the U.A.E. contacted him via e-mail in May with an early indication that the powers-that-be were not happy. "The censors reported the book is well-written, but because it discusses the fratricides in the 1920s, it will have to go to the highest authorities for approval," he said, citing the e-mail. The 1920s was a particularly bloody time in Abu Dhabi's history, as three of Sheikh Zayid bin Khalifah's sons took power by killing a brother.For more on Christopher Davidson check out my catalog of posts on him at The Emirates Economist.
But Davidson doesn't think century-old blood is the real reason for the delay in approving the 276-page book, which the "highest authorities" have not yet ruled on after four months. He says it's more likely to relate to the contemporary elements in his book, namely Abu Dhabi's weak human rights record and--ironically--its tightening grip on media censorship.
Davidson says censorship in the U.A.E. is the most "sinister" in the region, and succeeds not by heavy-handed interference but by creating a subtle atmosphere of self-censorship. He cites a new media law passed earlier this year, which threatens fines of up to 1 million dirhams ($272,250) for critical reporting on U.A.E. authorities--including Abu Dhabi's ruler Sheikh Khalifah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, or his billionaire half-brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan--and asks media organizations to set aside provisions as "collateral" for these fines.
"What the U.A.E. can't allow to happen is direct criticism of members of the ruling family, or what they call "negative reporting" on the U.A.E. economy that could damage confidence," says Davidson. "When you have an economy that relies so heavily on foreign direct investment, you can't have the hedge funds selling short the U.A.E."