Despite the risks attached to free speech in the Gulf autocracy, some Emiratis are prepared to speak out against the ‘betrayal’ of the Palestinian cause.
A network of Emirati activists have launched a campaign against Abu Dhabi’s recent normalisation pact with Israel.
Besides demonstrating that support for the disputed deal in the UAE is far from universal, the statement by the group called the Emirati Resistance Union against Normalisation (ERUN) comes amid a crackdown on any form of dissent by the country’s autocratic crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed.
Founding members of the group include both Emiratis living inside the country and those based in other countries.
In a video statement put out to mark the establishment of the group, co-founder Ahmad al Shaybah said:
“Our presence here is to reaffirm the choice of the Emirati people who strongly support Palestinian rights and stand against this deal, against these illegitimate deals and against all acts of treason.”
Other founders include; Saeed Nasser al Taniji, the director of the Gulf Center for Research Studies, journalist Hamid Abdullah al Nuaymi, writer Ahmad al Shaybah, businessman Saeed Khadim al Mari, activist Hammad Mohammed al Shamesi, and writer Ibrahim Mahmoud al Haram.
The use of strong language to describe the deal, such as “betrayal”, is a rare occurrence in a country known for not tolerating any criticism of its leadership. Nevertheless, tt is also puts the UAE in the uncomfortable position of criminalising pro-Palestinian activism should it decide to persecute those involved in opposing normalisation.
In the past weeks, the UAE has tried to create the perception of support for the deal by concocting endorsement from Islamic scholars and amplifying PR stunts by pro-government influencers backing the deal.
Arab and Muslim states reject normalisation
Initial hopes of catalysing a paradigm shift, in which droves of Muslim countries follow Abu Dhabi’s lead, have yet to materialise.
Early speculation suggested countries, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Pakistan, among others were planning to follow suit. However, all have either dismissed the idea of normalisation with Israel outright or announced they have no plans for the near future.
Morocco said it would not take any action that embolden Israel to further “breach” Palestinian rights, while Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that there would be no normalisation with Israel until Palestinians were given a just solution to their plight.
Even the UAE’s chief ally, Saudi Arabia, has said it would not entertain the idea of normalisation until there was a Palestinian state.
Just two Arab states, Oman and Bahrain, have made any public steps towards normalisation since the UAE announced its deal early in August.
Despite the formal announcement this month, the UAE and Israel have long enjoyed a strategic partnership that was an open secret for years.
The two states have shared regional ambitions, as well as shared ideological beliefs.
When it comes to geopolitics, both countries are opposed to Iranian expansionism in the region and are on the same page when it comes to supporting punitive measures, such as sanctions against Tehran.
The pair also share an ideological commitment in ensuring that pro-democracy movements in the Arab world do not displace long-entrenched autocrats.
Both Israel and UAE were beneficiaries and supporters of the 2013 military coup in Egypt that removed the late democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and replaced him with the pro-Israel military dictator, Abdel Fattah el Sisi.