Middle East Eye / August 14, 2020
Dissidents living overseas say those remaining in UAE risk persecution if they speak out against deal.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel’s agreement to normalise relations has sparked a bitter row on Gulf social media.
Under the agreement, which was brokered by US President Donald Trump and announced on Thursday, Israel said it would suspend the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank.
Just hours later, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he remained committed to annexation.
Prominent Emirati influencers and public figures welcomed the agreement, claiming the UAE was helping to promote peace.
Yasser Hareb: Peace needs courage… Congratulations to the UAE on this achievement
Billionaire business owner Hassan Sajwani and Sharjah’s Princess Hend bint Faisal al-Qasimi celebrated the fact that Muslims from the UAE could now visit Islam’s third-holiest site: the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
The two public figures were met with fierce criticism online.
Twitter users reminded Princess Hend that, while Emiratis could now worship in Al-Aqsa, Palestinians from across the West Bank and Gaza were still unable to do so.
Meanwhile, Sajwani was ridiculed for mistaking the Dome of the Rock, which is in a separate part of the Al-Aqsa compound, for the mosque itself.
Sajwani additionally claimed that he had “8 close Palestinian friends” who all loved the UAE and recognised the importance of the agreement with Israel.
He was widely mocked, as some compared his statement with those who claim not to be racist because they have black friends.
Aside from Sajwani’s eight friends, scores of Palestinians across Gaza and the occupied West Bank widely condemned the deal as a prelude to more persecution.
“With this decision, the UAE is not just betraying the Palestinian people, but all Arabs, and even their own people,” Iyad Naser, secretary-general of the Fatah movement in the southern Gaza Strip, told Middle East Eye.
Several videos and images emerged on social media showing Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa compound tearing apart and stamping on a picture of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
‘Gulf against normalisation’ trends on Twitter
Several social media users took to Twitter to criticise the move, including Emirati dissidents and activists living abroad.
Ibrahim Alharam: Do not represent the people of the Emirates. The people of the Emirates are with the Arab and Muslim peoples against normalisation with the Zionist entity, and the dustbin of history accommodates all traitors, whatever their names and the names of their families
One activist claimed that a crackdown on free speech had paved the way for normalisation.
Alshamsi: The Emirati normalisation with the Zionist entity would not have been a reality except after Abu Dhabi was able to shackle society with laws that criminalise the expression of opinion, opposition to government policies and deal with people of other opinion in a security manner until our society became less than unable even to reject this betrayal
Human rights activists including Ahmed Mansoor have been detained in the Gulf emirate for speaking out against the government. Mansoor is serving 10 years in prison on charges of “insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols including its leaders” via his social media accounts.
Many were keen to point out that the views of the UAE government and prominent influencers were not representative of its people, who would likely face persecution if they spoke out in favour of the Palestinian cause and against normalisation.
One Dubai-based political scientist simply posted a crying emoji shortly after the announcement, with some suggesting this was the most he could express by way of dissent.
Human rights activist Iyad El-Baghdadi, who grew up in the UAE, shared a tweet from verified Emirati personality Hamad al-Hasani, who was encouraging authorities to monitor those who disagreed with the normalisation policy.
Across the wider region, the hashtag ‘Gulf against normalisation’ was used by those critical of the agreement.
It notably top-trended in Saudi Arabia, a UAE ally.
Riyadh has also been accused of turning its back on the Palestinian cause, after arresting dozens of Hamas supporters and accepting Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” plan to address the Israel-Palestine conflict.
If implemented, Trump’s scheme would result in the annexation of the Jordan Valley and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, about 30 percent of the territory.
While Saudi Arabia did not release an official statement on the UAE-Israel deal, Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh reminded Saudis not to discuss political issues.
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Rayhan Udin is a freelance writer based in London