Abu Dhabi has carried out mass deportations of Palestinians in the past, and has a record of muzzling free speech.

Around 100,000 Palestinians have made the UAE their home, with the overwhelming majority living in the country without citizenship rights.

In the aftermath of Abu Dhabi’s announcement of formal recognition of Israel, these Palestinians may find themselves in a precarious situation where they are unable to speak out against the deal without risking deportation.

These fears are rooted in two precedents; the expulsion of Palestinians from Kuwait following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the general atmosphere of repression of free speech that has intensified in the UAE in the past decade.

After the Gulf War ended with the capitulation of Saddam’s armies in the face of an American-led international force, the newly restored Kuwaiti government ordered the expulsion of 400,000 Palestinians because the PLO’s leader, Yasser Arafat, had sided with the Iraqis during the war.

Palestinian officials have reacted angrily to the UAE’s normalisation announcement, calling it a betrayal.

"The Palestinian leadership rejects what the United Arab Emirates has done and considers it a betrayal of...the Palestinian cause.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in response to the news.

Yet there is no indication yet that the UAE would do the same, at least not to all Palestinians, as was the case with Kuwait. Especially given that renegade Palestinians, such as Mohammed Dahlan, have served as key middle men to advance the UAE’s foreign policy agenda.

Nevertheless, the idea of mass expulsion of particular communities from a Gulf state is not anathema. 

Speaking out

The more realistic threat for Palestinians in the UAE is from voicing their opposition to Thursday’s announcement of normalisation of relations between Abu Dhabi and Israel. For that there is no shortage of precedent.

Both Emiratis and expatriates, including Palestinians, have found themselves on the wrong side of the UAE’s security apparatus.

Emirati activists, such as human rights campaigner Nasser bin Ghaith, have been given lengthy prison sentences just for tweeting or calling for basic reforms.

Award winning activist, Ahmed Mansour, has been given a ten year sentence of charges of ‘insulting’ the UAE.

In one prominent example of a Palestinian falling foul of the UAE, activist Iyad el Baghdadi was arrested, imprisoned, and then deported for supporting the cause of democracy in the Arab world.

The UAE also has a record of deporations for even more opaque reasons.

In 2009, hundreds of Palestinians were arbitrarily deported by the Emiratis for reasons that were never made clear. That round of expulsions was preceded by deportations of Palestinians for reasons like sending money to relatives in Gaza.

This recent history means Palestinians have to tread a very thin line when it comes to speaking out on what the UAE does.

One Palestinian on Twitter wrote: “I’m sure they’re angry but if they say or tweet anything they’ll get themselves and their family deported, so i don’t blame them if they’re quiet. 

"All the ones who aren’t quiet, they (UAE authorities) are not going to leave them alone.”

Source: TRT World