The U.A.E. media laws and free speech

The media law in the U.A.E. just got broader, and stricter.

Matt J. Duffy, a former journalism professor at Zayed University who has personal experience with the difficult balancing act regarding free speech in this part of the world, gave a good summary of the change here: “The revision, published in full in Gulf News, criminalizes anyone who uses a electronic means to ‘deride or to damage the reputation or the stature of the state or any of its institutions, its President, the Vice President, any of the Rulers of the emirates, their Crown Princes, the Deputy Rulers, the national flag, the national anthem, the emblem of the state or any of its symbols.

The decree also offers penalties ‘of imprisonment on any person publishing any information, news, caricatures or any other kind of pictures that would pose threats to the security of the state and to its highest interests or violate its public order.”

In short, Duffy writes, these restrictions, of course, are incredibly broad and will surely lead to even more self-censorship in the United Arab Emirates. Any legitimate criticism of the government could conceivably violate ‘public order.’ Better to just stay quiet while on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube lest one step across this nebulous line set up by the new law.

A friend posted on Facebook asking if comments against Du or Etisalat, the country’s two telecom providers which have inspired many a social media rant over poor service, would also count as forbidden speech. I think it might be – both are government entities.

The new provisions came out just as state media issued an edict updating media laws just as the Abu Dhabi Federal Appeals Court upheld a decision by the U.A.E. Ministry of Interior to strip seven Emiratis of their citizenship earlier this year.

The men had been agitating on Twitter and other online sites calling for greater political participation. Nearly 70 Emiratis have been detained by authorities since the start of the year and many of them are members of Al Islah, an Emirati Islamist group that seeks to have Islam play a more dominant role in everyday life in the U.A.E., which has long aimed to be a crossroads of East and West.

You can read my coverage for The New York Times on the detentions here, here, here and here.

 

Crackdown

My latest story in The New York Times looks at the continuing struggle between U.A.E. authorities and some of their citizens who are pushing for reforms.

 

 

Emirates Step Up Efforts to Counter Dissent

By ANGELA SHAH

ABU DHABI — The United Arab Emirates have intensified their effort to quell political dissent, with 15 men now being detained by the security forces, according to human rights groups and family members.

All but two are members of Al Islah Reform and Social Guidance Association, which holds beliefs similar to those of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamic organization. The men have called for a more democratic political system in the country, a group of seven principalities ruled by hereditary emirs.

Christopher Davidson, a lecturer at Durham University in Britain who is an expert on Gulf issues, said the Emirates were following the example of Bahrain, which has cracked down harshly on dissidents. Leaders of the Emirates are “emboldened” by the Bahrain government’s actions against protesters “and the lack of any significant condemnation of the Bahrain regime by the international community,” he said.

“The U.A.E. authorities want to govern over a nonpolitical country and a depoliticized population,” he said. “They want to be guardians of an economy that makes money for everyone.”

One stick that the U.A.E. government is using against dissidents is the threat of taking away their citizenship. In December, a group of seven Emiratis, all of whom are members of Al Islah, were stripped of their citizenship. They were arrested in March when they refused to seek out alternative nationalities, their families say. A court ruling on the authorities’ actions is imminent.

“This is aggressive in nature and so vicious in a way that has never been done before,” said Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist and blogger. He was among the first group of Emiratis arrested and put on trial last year for calling for democratic reforms.

Continue reading “Crackdown”

Party like it’s 2008!

This is what it must have been like around these parts during the glorious boom days:

Luxury hotel! 450 apartments!

A yacht club!

A soccer stadium that opens up to the sea! Real Madrid Resort Island!

I can’t tell you how much it warmed my heart to see the project’s promotional video, which was unveiled this week. This was everyday stuff back during the boom years from 2006 to 2008 but by the time I moved here in December of that year, the party was ending, the layoff notices at the ready for issuance.

But apparently, we’re back to dreaming big. The emirate of Ras al Khaimah and the Real Madrid soccer team have decided to go into the real estate business together. No one said it explicitly, but I’m pretty sure that this will be the world’s first soccer theme park. I know you’re ready to book that flight for opening day at Real Madrid Resort in January 2015. (I love that the video says “public opening.” No doubt there will be lots of VIP festivities in the months beforehand.)

Wait … what are you asking? Oh, right: Where is Ras al Khaimah?

map of Ras al Khaimah

Home to about 300,000 people, the most northern of all the U.A.E.’s seven emirates is, well, perhaps one of the Middle East’s undiscovered tourism gems. It’s definitely off the beaten path, about an hour’s drive from Dubai. It is not the place you expect to be home to a mega-resort.

Continue reading “Party like it’s 2008!”