Self-inflicted wounds in the UAE

There are calls in the United Arab Emirates for action to "provide rapid rebuttal" when the UAE is "a victim of unjust and inaccurate criticism from abroad", according to a report in The National today.

The UAE authorities are fuming over complaints about their human rights performance, and in particular a highly critical resolution passed by the European Parliament in October.

Among other things, the resolution expressed "great concern about assaults, repression and intimidation against human rights defenders, political activists and civil society actors within the United Arab Emirates who peacefully exercise their basic rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and assembly".

At a public meeting with six members of the Federal National Council in Dubai on Sunday, lawyer Ali al-Haddad complained that "people" were working to ruin the UAE's image.

Council member Mona al-Bahar said the UAE must "work with the same aggression" as its critics. "It's like a game, we need to know how to play."

That probably means it's just a matter of time before the UAE goes down Bahrain's route, hiring a plethora of western PR firms and "reputation management" consultants.

It's comforting for Emiratis, of course, to blame their country's image problem on the "bias and prejudice" of foreigners (as the minister of state for foreign affairs has done). To the extent that anyone admits the problem is self-inflicted, it's seen as the fault of lazy ambassadors and a failure to refute "inaccurate allegations" with accurate statistics rather than a failure to protect people's rights – at least, according the The National's report of Sunday's meeting.

It doesn't help the country's image, though, when the UAE arrests a teenage blogger (as happened last week) or issues a new law on internet use which much of the world regards as bonkers.

Accentuating the positive, as the PR firm Qorvis has been doing for Bahrain, may distract attention from the negative but it doesn't actually solve anything. 

recent headline in The National (an Emirates-based newspaper) cheerily announced that the UAE had been ranked fifth in the world for "order and security" by the World Justice Project in its annual 
Rule of Law Index. But "order and security" (low rates of crime and violence) is only one of nine factors used to compile the overall index. 

Referring to the UAE, the World Justice Project's report complained about "discrimination against marginalised groups" in the civil court system and continued:

"The formal system of checks and balances [in government] remains weak, and the country has a poor record on respect for fundamental rights (ranking eighty-second), including labour rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of 
opinion and expression. Accessibility of official information is lower than in other high income countries."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 11 December 2012.