Why the UAE is Still Far from Getting Internet Freedom in 2017

It‘s 2017 and the whole world is striving for a net neutral environment. Unfortunately, the UAE still operates with a hypocritical face of free trade and confiscated internet. The claim that the UAE is far from getting Internet freedom is backed by a combination of facts and figures which we are going to discuss here.

First, we will shed light on all those underlying factors that result in strong internet censorship in the UAE.

A conservative social construct

We all know that most of the Arab world, especially the Gulf countries, has had a conservative social makeup for centuries. The outlook which we see today of many of the GCC nations has come from recent developments that are only a few decades old. When the West was going through the industrial revolution, the Arab Bedouin were still living in medieval times.

Therefore, it is the opinion of this writer that the imprint of those times is still strong on their collective psyche and that is in total contrast with what Internet values stand for.

Political dynamics

The political setup of the United Arab Emirates also suits an Internet that is subject to more regulations. The political system of the UAE doesn’t look anything like modern democratic systems. It is the amalgam of presidential system and monarchies. UAE is the federation of seven monarchies and therefore the political system is also ruled by few families.

We have seen that in the postmodern world, the existing monarchs are facing severe threats to their existence and the UAE is no different. Monarchs think that the freedom of speech the internet provides will make it easy for people to spill their dissent freely. And this can culminate into full-blown agitation. The untapped power of people in these cases can result in the ouster of monarchs.

Religion: A strong influencer

Even though UAE is one of the most economically liberal countries, but the brand of Islam which is prevalent is of extreme orthodox nature. Wahhabism is the most common religious philosophy here, and the monarch is heavily influenced by it. A free internet contains many things which are considered offensive to the extreme nature of this religious ideology. Therefore, it is not likely that the inhabitants of the country will be getting their internet freedom any time soon.

Now let’s look into some of the current events and incidences that happened in the UAE over the past two years which tell us that practicing freedom on internet can have very stark consequences.

  • Many news portals that are UAE based have been blocked by the authorities because they were reporting on the bleak condition of human rights in the country.
  • Two Iran-based news sites were also blocked just because the relations between two countries were going through a bad phase.
  • In 2015, the law was devised which makes offensive religious posts on the internet a crime of high contempt. People can be jailed for up to 10 years and can be fined for more than half a million dollars on mere online posts.

There are some famous cases of arrests, where people were charged and convicted because of practicing their freedom of expression through the internet.

  • A man named Nasser al-Faresi was sentenced for a three-year jail term because he tweeted against the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the federal court. The man was charged for “spreading rumors and information that harmed the country”.
  • A prominent academic and economist Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith was arrested on his critique on Twitter of the Egyptian government which is an important ally of the UAE. Recently, he was sentenced for devastating 10 year jail term on several charges, all of them related to freedom of expression.
  • Even the foreigners are not spared from the horrendous cyber laws of the UAE. In 2015, an Australian woman Jodi Magi was sentenced and then deported for her Facebook post in which she criticized the government for its human right violations.

All of the above examples clearly indicate that UAE is far from getting the internet freedom which has been enjoyed by most part of the world. It will also be interesting to see as how the rest of the world keeps overlooking all these medieval practices of the UAE government under the garb of pretentious liberal outlook.

Posted On December 7, 2017