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Here are details from pictures depicting Sheikh Zayed (the founder of the UAE) and a number of national envoys, from Hosni Mubarak to Abu Mazen. I found them in a 1993 publication produced by the Ministry of Information, UAE. It’s sort of like Wikipedia before the internet. A statistical and hagiographic portrait of a country that has yet to experience the verb ‘To Dubai’. That will take another decade or so, once 9/11 and the second Gulf War have become historical landmarks. The 1990s was, in retrospect, the transition decade. Between the 20th century grand narrative of Soviet Communism ending and whatever was going to come next. Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisation’, naturally, followed Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’. In these pictures, where Sheikh Zayed sits consistently on the right hand side, the masculine pursuit of diplomacy is made possible only when a bouquet of artfully arranged flowers lie in the discursive pathway. It’s impossible to tell if the flora are real or plastic. Regardless. They’re cores of visual concentration. They bind the two figures together in a shared domain of non-human arbitration. Flowers are unequivocally good. Innocent. Beautiful. (I’m reminded of one of Leonard Cohen’s book of poems, ‘Flowers for Hitler’. Do they become evil once they’re dispatched to an evil recipient?) The flowers can be colourful so that the men sitting on either side of them can choose not to be. Flowers are not capitalist (though they can be produced and traded in capitalistic ways), they’re not Marxist, they’re not neo-liberal, they’re not gay or straight, East or West. Flowers are blind to unethical appropriation. They retain their inate flowernessness. The most interesting arrangement is the last one: Abu Mazen, who is pretty much right between the first and second Intifada, struggles to make eye contact with the Sheikh. The pyramidal bouquet is too high. The symbol for peace has become an impediment to the conversation that is presumably concerned with a specific, regional peace. I think this is why there are three phones on the table. Well, it explains two: one for Abu Mazen to use to call Sheikh Zayed, and vice versa, thus circumventing the obtrusive flower-wall. But who is the third handset that walks between them?

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