UAE arrests Emirati influencer for 'racist speech', as coronavirus epidemic sparks foreign workers' debate

UAE arrests Emirati influencer for 'racist speech', as coronavirus epidemic sparks foreign workers' debate
Emirati prosecutors reportedly ordered the arrest of an influencer named by courts as TM.
3 min read
16 April, 2020
The UAE said it is clamping down on 'intolerance' [Twitter]
Emirati authorities said on Thursday that a local influencer has been arrested for "inciting hatred" after a video was shared online that prosecutors said sowed divisions within the Gulf state.

The UAE Federal Public Prosecution said it had ordered the arrest and detention of an Emirati "media person" identified only by the initials TM, state news agency WAM reported.

TM was detained for "racist comments" made in a video that "sought to create divisions based on ethnicity and nationality among the various communities living in the UAE", the prosecution said in a statement. 

It added that the film was "an affront to the UAE and its efforts to disseminate the values of tolerance, besides violating the UAE's foundational principles of justice and equality".

The prosecution did not mention the name of the suspect, but it comes amid debates in the UAE and wider Gulf region about the issue of race and discrimination.

Hayat al-Fahad, a Kuwaiti actress, faced a huge public backlash after she last month called for migrant workers to be deported and quarantined in the desert amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Tariq Al-Mehyas, an Emirati poet and social media influencer, came under fire earlier this week after he defended the actress and said that the remarks only referred to Asian migrants and not "irreplaceable" Arab workers. 

"When we say 'migrants' we... mean Asians [not Arabs]," Mehyas said in the video. 

He went on to say: "Egyptian workers are ones with a high sense of dignity, which makes them irreplaceable. God forbid that expat doctors and engineers from Sudan or Egypt or other Arab countries be replaced by an Indian or a Bengali."

The influencer's comments were met with fierce public backlash for his defence with the public personality claiming: "I'm not racist", because he has an Asian maid. 

The UAE has in recent years attempted to build a global reputation for being a regional bastion of diversity and tolerance.

Abu Dhabi crowded 2019 the "Year for Tolerance"  and launched a ministry.

But critics of the country and its authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed do not think that reputation is warranted, given the UAE's continuing detention of dissidents and poor treatment of migrant workers - the majority being from South Asia.

Critics of the kafala system - which governs the lives of migrant workers in the region - have warned that overcrowded and unsanitary housing conditions for migrant manual labourers could serve as a fertile breeding ground for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected