THE LAST I HEARD, the Sheikh was under house arrest, and his security guy was in jail.
This was not the way it was supposed to turn out. The Sheikh’s idea was for it to end in triumph, with his grand return to the royal palace, flags waving, trumpets blaring, the masses applauding; new alliances with the West, the possibility of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, peace and democracy in the Middle East.
Well, maybe that last part is a stretch, but the rest of it was the intended endgame, and since I was the Sheik’s voice, who knows?
For the better part of a year, I was the Sheikh’s blogger; or the Sheikh was my avatar. He had hired me to write a series of blogs, under his name, with the aim of ousting his half-brother, an Iranian sympathizer, who had driven him into exile years earlier. Our plan — the Sheikh’s, his handlers, and mine — was to pound out three blog entries a week to convince the Sheikh’s aging father that the tiny stretch of land controlled by the Sheikh’s family for more than 200 years was better left in the hands of my guy, who had closer ties to Washington.
It all started with a cryptic phone call.
As a newly minted freelancer, after 24 years reporting for The New York Times, I was juggling several projects when a long-time friend left a voicemail message, saying, “I have a strange gig for you if you’re interested.”
He’s a political strategist with lots of interesting clients. “Strange” sounded good. I called back right away.
“What’s it about?” I asked.
He was part of a team, he said, representing a crown prince in exile from one of the United Arab Emirates, one nobody’s ever heard of. The Sheikh, as he called him, needed someone to blog in his name, in English, as a way to generate international support for his claim to the throne and put pressure on his father, who remained the titular ruler despite his age and declining health. The real ruler was the Sheikh’s half-brother, who began calling the shots a few years earlier and nurtured a relationship with Iran, which sits 40 miles across the Persian Gulf at the Strait of Hormuz.
The Sheikh’s plan was to use the blogs to point out dangers that Iran posed for the people of his emirate. He also wanted to signal Washington and other western governments that he was open to modernizing his emirate and recognizing Israel as a prelude to peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
He opposed Iranian hegemony in the region, but first and foremost, he wanted to drive his half-brother out of power, and take what he saw as his rightful place running his emirate.
“Sounds like fun,” I said. “How do I get started?”
“Write three blogs, and let’s see if he likes them. If he does, the money will be good.”
“Okay,” I said. “Blogs on what?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll suggest a few topics.”
Over the next few days, I crafted blogs on the Sheikh’s recent visit to the White House, his thoughts (as if I knew them) on a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the Middle East and the Sheikh’s support for new educational opportunities for women in the emirate.
It was pretty tame stuff, and I had no idea if they qualified me to continue. Several days went by, and I heard nothing. But then I checked the website...read more