Beyond Neverland

Observations on Jacko in Dubai

He's hounded by the world's press, comes from a large dysfunctional family and has seen his name dragged through the mud while in exile. But enough has been written about the exploits of Osama Bin Laden. The Middle East has a new international man of mystery: Michael Jackson.

Ever since he touched down in the glitzy emirate of Dubai late last month, making his first public appearance since the end of his child molestation trial, speculation has been rife as to his motives for holidaying in this part of the world.

He has stayed as a guest of the rally champion Mohammed Bin Sulayem and Sheik Abdulla bin Hamad al-Khalifa, a son of the king of Bahrain, and apparently everyone got on famously, with Sulayem even commenting that Jackson was "as normal as anyone [he has] met". Having plastic surgery to make yourself look like Elizabeth Taylor must be less distracting in the Middle East than to the rest of the world.

One thing is for sure: he has loved his stay so far. After enjoying the delights of the seven-star Burj al-Arab hotel, he wolfed down a plate of buffalo wings at the Hard Rock Cafe before being taken on a speedboat around the Palm - an exclusive, man-made, Stella Street-esque island retreat where, depending on when you visit, you might bump into Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger or the entire England football squad.

It was enough to sell Dubai to Jackson, and now rumour has it that he is thinking of buying property and settling down there for good. The oppressive summer heat might be one drawback, but locations such as Bahrain and Dubai give Jackson something that few places can: tightly controlled media. Criticism of the government, of its friends and business interests, is simply not tolerated.

As a guest of the royal family, Jackson can bask in a seclusion that Neverland failed to deliver. Like Bin Laden, his present whereabouts are a mystery. But, then again, that's the reason he's here.

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