Influential Palestinian-Jordanian cleric faces Emirati court for 'spreading hatred' on social media

Influential Palestinian-Jordanian cleric faces Emirati court for 'spreading hatred' on social media
2 min read
05 March, 2020
An Emirati criminal court claimed Wassim Youssef had threatened 'national unity and public order' for a Twitter post directed at those who defamed him online.
Youssef had served as the Imam of Abu Dhabi's Shaykh Zayed Mosque until February [Getty]
A prominent Jordanian-Palestinian cleric appeared before an Emirati criminal court on Tuesday, accused of allegedly "inciting discrimination and hatred", according to Arabi21.

Wassem Youssef, a household name in the UAE and wider Gulf, hosted a variety of popular Islamic TV shows, which featured live call in sessions on contemporary religious issues from across the Arab world, with excerpts amassing millions of views online.

Naturalised as an Emirati citizen in 2014, Youssef served as the Imam of the government owned Shaykh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi until February this year, when he was suddenly relieved of his duties.

The prosecutor on Tuesday described his charges as relating to the "propagation of an agenda which seeks to spread hatred and prejudice in society, as well as posing a threat to national unity and public order", Alarabi report.

The heavy charges brought against Youssef, who was present in court without legal representation, allegedly stem from his use of a single offensive term in posts on social media.

Youssef used the term in reference to Emirati nationals, with whom he had an ongoing legal dispute, in relation to a campaign of personal defamation.

The severity of the court's allegation Monday stands in stark contrast to the political positions Youssef maintained throughout his high-profile career as a religious authority in the UAE. 

An outspoken supporter of the country's monarchy, he carefully toed the official line on regional affairs, including voicing harsh criticism of the Arab spring uprisings and the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

When plans to build an interfaith complex housing a mosque, church and synagogue were unveiled in the country's capital, Youssef defiantly rose to the monarchy's defence, in the face of outrage expressed by conservative elements of Emirati society:

"Abu Dhabi embodies the values of co-existence and tolerance in the UAE. It has made these values a lived reality. The Abraham Family House is an affront those who are in darkness", Youssef wrote on Twitter.

Yet observers today believe that the cleric will be stripped of all his religious appointments under the sheer weight of the legal campaign against him, according to Arabi21.

In January, Youssef became the target of abuse across social media ,when he came out to publicly question the infallibility of two collections of Prophet Mohammad's traditions, texts seen as semi-sacred by the majority of Sunni Muslims.

Kamal Afzali is a journalist at The New Arab

Follow him on Twitter at @KNIAfzali