Since the announcement of the UAE-Israel agreement to establish bilateral relations between the two nations, Emirati state-sanctioned commentators and social media trolls have been eager to advance normalization on the popular level by restlessly praising Israel and relentlessly bashing Palestinians. More alarmingly, Emirati authorities are moving towards redefining criticism of Israel or the newly signed deal as “disrespect” toward the Emirati leadership – a crime that carries stiff penalties. Prominent Emirati figures close to the country’s authorities have even been promoting a phone app through which citizens are urged to report on critics of the UAE-Israel agreement directly to the attorney general’s office.
The UAE has previously carried out several arbitrary and unjust arrests against prominent human rights activists and university professors for social media tweets that may have implicitly criticized the country’s record on human rights, such as Prof. Nasir Ghaith and Mr. Ahmed Mansour, both of whom have received disproportionate and large sentences in sham trials. Now UAE authorities seem adamant to implicitly blacklist pro-Palestinian solidarity in an Arab country whose population is largely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
While the implications of such serious crackdown on freedom of speech and expression are severe for Emirati citizens who already live under severe restrictions, the Palestinian community in the Emirates is in exceptional danger.
There are currently around 400,000 Palestinians in the UAE, some of whom have lived and worked in the country for decades and contributed significantly to its current level of development.
With the latest developments, Palestinians in the Emirates fear they can be kidnapped and tortured, detained or even immediately deported from the country without sufficient notice if they criticize Israel, the UAE-Israeli deal, or even express solidarity with their families in the occupied territories. Especially given the fact that state-sanctioned Emirati commentators who are calling on citizens to report critics of the deal or Israel, are particularly and openly singling Palestinians out in specific.
There are alarming precedents that increase fear amongst Palestinians in the UAE. For instance, in 2010 the Emirati government deported large numbers of Palestinians, mainly from Gaza, without prior notice or even adequate justification. Deportees lost their jobs, homes and even salaries and severance packages. The maintains a state of horror amongst Palestinians in the UAE that expressing their thoughts and opinions would render them easy prey for Emirati authorities to turn them into cautionary tales.
Whilst the UAE boosts that it’s a land of opportunities for Arabs from neighboring countries, such opportunities, however, have always been rested on shifting sands for Palestinians. The dangers posed to the Palestinian community in the UAE is now greater than ever.
Meaningful pushback and solidarity from the international community is crucial to ensure that the UAE-Israel deal will not escalate Emirati state repression domestically and abroad.