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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Saudi Arabia means so much for the Gulf monarchy’s sporting ambitions

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Abu Dhabi, UAE

It’s a partnership that’s been hailed as “history in the making.”

One of many world’s most well-known soccer stars landed in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Tuesday, the place Cristiano Ronaldo was acquired in an extravagant ceremony, with excited kids sporting his new membership’s yellow and blue jerseys.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia’s success in luring the five-time Ballon d’Or winner on a two-year contract with the dominion’s Al Nassr FC is the Gulf monarchy’s newest step in realizing its sporting ambitions – seemingly at any price.

In response to Saudi state-owned media, Ronaldo will earn an estimated $200 million a 12 months with Al Nassr, making him the world’s highest-paid soccer participant.

Shortly after the 37-year-old’s signing with Al Nassr, the membership’s Instagram web page gained over 5.3 million new followers. Its official web site was inaccessible after exceeding its bandwidth restrict as a result of sudden surge in site visitors, and the hashtag #HalaRonaldo – Hey, Ronaldo in Arabic – was trending for days throughout the Center East on Twitter.

Analysts say that his recruitment in Saudi Arabia is a part of a wider effort by the dominion to diversify its sources of revenue and turn into a critical participant within the worldwide sporting scene.

Additionally it is seen as a transfer by the dominion to shore up its picture after it was tarnished by the 2018 dismemberment and killing of Washington Publish columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the hands of Saudi brokers, and a devastating conflict it began in Yemen in 2015.

Critics have decried the dominion for “sportswashing,” an try and burnish one’s status by way of sport.

“I believe Saudi Arabia has acknowledged a few years in the past that to be a robust nation internationally, you can not simply rely on hard power,” Danyel Reiche, a visiting analysis fellow and affiliate professor at Georgetown College Qatar, advised CNN.

“You additionally must put money into mushy energy, and the case of Qatar exhibits that this may work fairly effectively,” he mentioned, including that Saudi Arabia is following within the Qatari approach with sport, however with a delay of round 25 years.

Neighboring Qatar has additionally confronted immense criticism because it gained the bid to internet hosting final 12 months’s FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Regardless of the smaller Gulf state dealing with comparable accusations of “sportswashing,” the event has largely been seen as successful, not least in exposing the world to a distinct view of the Center East, thanks partially to Morocco’s success in reaching the semifinals and Saudi Arabia beating eventual World Cup champion Argentina of their opening group recreation.

Gulf nations have interaction in fierce competitors to turn into the area’s premier leisure and sporting hubs. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, in shut proximity to one another, every have their very own Formula One racing occasion. However their competitors hasn’t been confined to the area. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have additionally purchased trophy European soccer groups.

Riyadh is taking part in catchup with neighbors who’ve lengthy realized the significance of investing in sports activities, mentioned Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical financial system at SKEMA Enterprise College in Lille, France, particularly as its fundamental supply of revenue – oil – is being progressively shunned.

“That is a part of an ongoing try and create extra resilient economies which can be extra broadly based mostly upon industries aside from these which can be derived from oil and gasoline,” Chadwick advised CNN.

Ronaldo’s new membership Al Nassr is backed by Qiddiya Funding Firm (QIC), a subsidiary of the dominion’s wealth fund, the Public Funding Fund (PIF), which has performed a pivotal position in Saudi Arabia’s diversification plans.

“Additionally it is an indication of interconnectedness, of globalization and of opening as much as the remainder of the world,” mentioned Georgetown College’s Reiche.

The transfer is a part of “a number of current excessive profile strikes within the sports activities world, together with internet hosting the Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua world heavywight boxing championship bout in 2019, and launching the LIV Golf championship,” mentioned Omar Al-Ubaydli, director of analysis on the Bahrain-based Derasat suppose tank. “It’s a vital piece of a giant puzzle that represents their financial restructuring.”

The dominion has been on a path to not solely diversify its financial system, but additionally shift its picture amid a barrage of criticism over its human rights report and remedy of girls. Saudi Arabia is in the present day internet hosting every part from desert raves to teaming up with famend soccer gamers. Argentina’s Lionel Messi final 12 months signed a profitable promotional cope with the dominion.

Hailed because the world’s biggest participant, 35-year-old Messi ended this 12 months’s World Cup event in Qatar along with his group’s win over France, making his ambassadorship of even higher worth to the dominion.

The acquisition of such key international figures may even assist fight the monarchy’s decades-long status of being “secretive” and “ultra-conservative,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow on the S. Rajaratnam College of Worldwide Research in Singapore and an skilled on soccer within the Center East, advised CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Wednesday.

Al-Ubaydli mentioned that the dominion needs to make use of excessive profile worldwide sports activities “as a automobile for promoting to the world its openness.”

Saudi Arabia purchased the English Premier league membership Newcastle United in 2021 by way of a three-party consortium, with PIF being the most important stakeholder. The transfer proved controversial, as Amnesty Worldwide and different human rights defenders anxious it will overshadow the dominion’s human rights violations.

Ronaldo’s work with Saudi Arabia is already being criticized by rights groups who’re urging the soccer participant to “draw consideration to human rights points” in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has a picture drawback,” particularly since Khashoggi’s killing, says Reiche. However the kingdom’s current investments in sports activities and leisure are “not about sportswashing however about creating the nation, social change and opening as much as the world.”

Saudi Arabia is reportedly weighing a 2030 World Cup bid with Egypt and Greece, however the kingdom’s tourism ministry famous in November that it has not but submitted an official bid. Chadwick believes that Ronaldo’s cope with Al Nassr, nonetheless, could assist enhance the dominion’s bid ought to it select it pursue it.

One other approach Saudi Arabia could profit from Ronaldo’s acquisition is that it is going to be in a position to enhance business efficiency, says Chadwick, particularly if this collaboration attracts additional worldwide expertise.

“It is very important see Ronaldo not simply as a geopolitical instrument,” mentioned Chadwick, “There may be nonetheless a business element to him and to the aim he’s anticipated to serve in Saudi Arabia.”

What Ronaldo’s transfer to Saudi Arabia exhibits is that the dominion aspires “to be seen as being the very best” and that it needs to be perceived as a “contender and a respectable member of the worldwide soccer group,” mentioned Chadwick.

UAE FM meets Syria’s Assad in Damascus in additional signal of thawing ties

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad acquired the United Arab Emirates Overseas Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed in Damascus on Wednesday within the newest signal of thawing relations between Assad and the Gulf state. The assembly addressed developments in Syria and the broader Center East, in accordance with UAE state information company WAM.

  • Background: It was Abdullah bin Zayed’s first go to since a November 2021 assembly with Assad that led to the resumption of relations. Months later, in March 2022, Assad visited the UAE, his first go to to an Arab state for the reason that begin of Syria’s civil conflict.
  • Why it issues: Numerous Assad’s former foes have been making an attempt to fix fences along with his regime. Final week, talks between the Syrian and Turkish protection ministers had been held in Moscow within the highest-level encounter reported between the estranged sides for the reason that conflict in Syria started. The regional rapprochement is but to enhance the lives of common Syrians. Syria continues to be beneath Western sanctions.

Turkish President Erdogan says he may meet with Assad

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioned in a speech on Thursday that he may meet the Syrian chief “to determine peace.”

  • Background: Erdogan’s feedback got here after the Moscow talks between the 2 nations’ protection ministers and intelligence chiefs. “Following this assembly… we’ll convey our overseas ministers collectively. And after that, as leaders, we’ll come collectively,” Erdogan mentioned on Thursday.
  • Why it issues: The assembly would mark a dramatic shift in Turkey’s decade-long stance on Syria, the place Ankara was the prime supporter of political and armed factions combating to topple Assad. The Turkish navy maintains a presence throughout the Syrian border and inside northern Syria, the place it backs Syrian opposition forces. Erdogan has additionally pledged to launch yet one more incursion into northern Syria, aiming at making a 30-km (20-mile) deep “secure zone” that may be emptied of Kurdish fighters.

Iran shuts down French cultural heart over Charlie Hebdo’s Khamenei cartoons

Iran introduced on Thursday it had ended the actions of a Tehran-based French analysis institute, in response to cartoons mocking Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and fellow Shia Muslim clerics revealed by French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo this week.

  • Background: Iran summoned the French ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday to protest cartoons revealed by satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. Greater than 30 cartoons poking enjoyable at Iran’s supreme chief had been revealed by the journal on Wednesday, in a present of assist for the Iranian individuals who have been protesting the Islamic Republic’s authorities and its insurance policies.
  • Why it issues: French-Iranian relations have deteriorated significantly since protests broke out in Iran late final 12 months. Paris has publicly supported the protests and spoken out towards Iran’s response to them. French Overseas Minister Catherine Colonna criticized Iran’s freedom of press and judicial independence on Thursday, saying “press freedom exists, opposite to what’s going on in Iran and… it’s exercised beneath the supervision of a decide in an unbiased judiciary – and there too it’s one thing that Iran is aware of little of.”
Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum performing onstage at the Olympia, in Paris on November 14, 1967.

The prized legacy of iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum re-emerged this 12 months when Rolling Stone journal featured her in its “200 Greatest Singers of All Time.”

Rating 61st, Umm Kulthum was the one Arab artist to make it to the listing, with the journal saying that she “has no actual equal amongst singers within the West.”

Born in a small village northeast of the Egyptian capital Cairo, Umm Kulthum rose to unmatched fame as she got here to signify “the soul of the pan-Arab world,” the music journal mentioned.

“Her potent contralto, which may blur gender in its decrease register, conveyed breathtaking emotional vary in complicated songs that, throughout theme and wildly-ornamented variations, may simply final an hour, as she labored crowds like a fiery preacher,” it wrote.

Nicknamed “the girl of Arab singing,” her music featured each classical Arabic poetry in addition to colloquial songs nonetheless adored by youthful generations. Her most well-known items embrace “Inta Uumri” (you might be my life), “Alf Leila Weileila” (a thousand and one nights), “Amal Hayati” (hope of my life) and “Daret al-Ayyam” (the times have come round). A few of her songs have been remixed to fashionable beats which have made their approach to Center Japanese nightclubs.

The singer stays an unmatched voice throughout the Arab World and her music can nonetheless be heard in lots of conventional espresso outlets in Outdated Cairo’s neighborhoods and different components of the Arab world.

Umm Kulthum’s dying in 1975 introduced hundreds of thousands of mourners to the streets of Cairo.

By Nadeen Ebrahim

Women athletes aim their air rifles while competing in a local shooting championship in Yemen's Houthi rebel-held capital Sanaa on January 3.

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