Over the past few weeks two unfounded rumours about the UAE have snowballed on the pages of some newspapers in the Arab world and have even been picked up by newswires. Some media organisations seem so inclined to print negative news about this country that once they have exhausted the typical stories about the effects of the global financial crisis on the UAE, they no longer have an issue with presenting negative rumours as facts.
For instance, one report published last month alleged that 45 Lebanese Shia were denied re-entry into the UAE as part of a conspiracy against our Lebanese Shia brothers and sisters, an estimated 100,000 of whom live and work in the Emirates. Note that last year in one emirate alone, a new immigration programme denied 54,000 people of various nationalities entry into the country. Conspiracy theorists can draw a variety of conclusions from this data to launch accusations that the country has barred one ethnicity or another from entering.
The UAE like any other country has the right to deny any individual entry should it deem this necessary for its national security. This country happens to have a justice system prosecuting former ministers and members of ruling families. The capable judicial system of the country, not a certain element in the media, can decide if any cases merit review.
Additionally, the UAE’s relations with Lebanese Shia are a testament to Arab solidarity. After the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000, the UAE initiated a major de-mining programme that cleared 123 villages from hundreds of thousand of landmines and cluster bombs. Operation Emirates Solidarity for De-mining South Lebanon finished in May 2004 after clearing millions of square feet of the mostly Shia territory.
After the devastating Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006 in which 1,200 civilians died, the UAE launched a second phase of de-mining, the UAE Project for Reconstruction and Support of Lebanon. By December 2007 84 villages had been de-mined. The UAE Army and Red Crescent has cleared eight million square metres in South Lebanon of unexploded ordinance between 2001 and 2007.
In an interview with The National, Bassam Ghamrawi, the director of the UAE Red Crescent in Lebanon, said that “we make a point of not discriminating against any institution or any region, regardless of religion, race or politics”. In fact the UAE has poured a total of $300 million into reconstruction, humanitarian aid and de-mining in South Lebanon. And still we have to contend with audacious reports that the UAE has been actively discriminating against some Lebanese Shia.
Last month there were rumours circulating that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (which was probably busy with the fallout from the Iranian elections) was planning to target a major infrastructure project that is about to be completed in the country. The rumour first started as a report in the Israeli tabloid Ma’ariv quoting “western sources”. The story spread across the wires, newspapers and cyberspace despite official denials by the Chief of Dubai Police that the story is “completely fabricated”.
If I have it right, then a right wing Israel tabloid is reporting that its arch enemy is about to target a country that also happens to be that enemy’s largest regional trading partner.
The UAE is not and should not be in the business of perpetually denying rumours and speculation. Because bad news sells more papers than good news, some publications aren’t interested in reports about the successful opening of the Dubai Metro, or the fact that Dubai International Airport has registered record growth this year to become the fifth busiest airport in the world for international traffic, or that Abu Dhabi secured the right to host a UN organisation and is about to host a Formula One race – all this during a global financial crisis.
Last week I sent a friend a typical negative story about the UAE published in Arabic. His one word reply: “noise.” I thought to myself how fitting that description was.
The UAE is like a seven-carriage train, led by Abu Dhabi, with each carriage having its own charm. Some may – as we have seen on Dubai’s Metro – attempt to press the stop button. Others stand by the track banging their drums, hoping that the country’s progress will cease. No matter how loud they bang on their instruments, the United Arab Emirates continues to register milestones. All that they can produce is obnoxious and unnecessary noise.
*This article first appeared in The National on Sunday, 4th October 2009