Me, my wife and our baby – a personal story of how the Gulf is letting down its women by denying their children the right to nationality

 

The children of Gulf women married to foreigners are not automatically granted nationality, unlike their male counterparts (image source http://www.flight965.com)

 
I promised I’d write on my experiences as a father and I’m having to start things off on a serious note. As some of you may know, my wife is from this region but I am not. We welcomed into our lives a little princess earlier this year.

The sad story is that in the Gulf region children born to Gulf women, in other words women with a nationality from the six GCC states, who are married to foreign men do not receive their mother’s nationality. This is in contrast to Gulf men who are married to foreign women. Their children do receive their father’s nationality.

It’s important to us that our little one cherishes both her cultures and that she’s recognized as both. She’s fortunate to have a European nationality through me, but, try as we might with visits to interior ministry offices and other government bodies, we realized that there is no formal process for our daughter to become a Gulf national like her mother. This is the same all over the Gulf, despite sporadic exemptions to the contrary.

I’ve heard countless reasons for this, such as the need for Gulf women to marry Gulf men, and the legal requirement that a Gulf national should have only one passport. To me, any discussion is bogus. If I was a Gulf male and my wife was a European foreigner our daughter would have qualified automatically for both nationalities.

I hear lots of news about progress being made it terms of women’s rights in the Gulf, which I applaud. However, until Gulf women are able to give their children everything that their male counterparts can, I cannot contend that women here are anywhere near to being equal to the men.

I hope for change, if not for my wife’s generation, then at least for my daughters. I hope you will join me in calling for a change to how Gulf women and their children are treated in the Gulf.

The Ups and Downs of Periscope in the UAE

It was a case of down Periscope last week in the UAE

It was a case of down Periscope last week in the UAE

No pun intended with the title, but Periscope, the live video streaming app which is owned by Twitter, really has been through the wringer of late. The service, which only launched at the beginning of this year, was picking up steam in the UAE thanks to its purchase by Twitter.

However, the country’s users were left out in the cold after the government’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority put a halt to its usage last week. The allegation made on social media was the Periscope users were sharing content that they shouldn’t have been sharing and which was not in keeping with the UAE’s culture.

But that’s only part of the story. According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority there was no ban on the application, but rather a technical problem which was stopping users from accessing the application in the country.

As of Thursday and 48 hours after the initial blockage the app was up and running. However, the episode is another example of how easy it is for applications to be blocked in the region without notice. You’ve been warned.

How Investigative Journalism Encourages Debate – the Case of Apple and Bloomberg

Bloomberg's scoop on Apple's ownership structure in the UAE was an example of investigative journalism that we often sorely miss in the Gulf

Bloomberg’s scoop on Apple’s ownership structure in the UAE was an example of investigative journalism that we often sorely miss in the Gulf

There’s no limit to the respect I have for good journalists. These people can toil away for weeks and months on a story, digging for a piece of information or a lead that will result in the next big story. We aren’t blessed with a great deal of original breaking news in the Gulf region; much of what there is out there is, I’ll admit, news which companies want to release to the media.

It’s refreshing to see news which isn’t essentially public relations, a story which has been diligently worked upon by an investigative journalist. One piece piqued my interest this week, the news of how the IT giant Apple has been granted an exemption from the UAE’s foreign ownership laws to fully own its operations in the UAE. The piece was written by Bloomberg’s Matthew Martin.

The piece is a public interest story which I’m sure Apple would not have wanted to be published and which, unsurprisingly, Apple didn’t respond to, though I’m told they had ample time to do so. As the doyen of modern journalism, Lord Northcliffe, said: “News is what people do not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”

What I particularly like about such practices is the debate that it engenders, and how it gets people talking. For me, the story leaves me with a host of questions that Apple and the country’s authorities need to address for the benefit of the wider business community. Let’s hope we see more investigative journalism being practiced in the Gulf region. Goodness knows we need it.

Discrimination, Verbal Assaults and the Internet – is the UAE doing more harm than good to its brand?

Is the UAE risking its well-earned reputation as a country that we all love by arresting and jailing those who fall foul of its legal code when alternatives are available to resolve conflict?

Is the UAE risking its well-earned reputation as a country that we all love by arresting and jailing those who fall foul of its legal code when alternatives are available to resolve conflict?

There’s never a dull moment when it comes to local dramas. For years we’ve had cases of messy divorces, affairs and other issues which have spilled into the local media here in the UAE. However, these soaps have been superseded thanks to a glut of new laws (or a stricter implementation of existing laws) relating to personal rights and freedom of speech.

Only this week, there have been two cases which have made regional headlines. The first has been the arrest of a man at Abu Dhabi Airport for what has been best described as a rant after he missed his connecting flight. I’ll quote from the article in the English-language newspaper Emirates 24/7:

Emirati Police recently arrested a British citizen of Indian origin for allegedly insulting security personnel, the airline’s employee and the UAE, using obscene words, after he missed a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi.

He missed a connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to India caused by delays of his earlier flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi.

Lieutenant Colonel Fares Al Bakiri from CID, Abu Dhabi Police, who is heading the investigations, explained that the incident took place a week ago when the traveler arrived at Abu Dhabi International Airport on a delayed flight from Heathrow Airport resulting in missing the connecting flight from Abu Dhabi to India. He started swearing at the airline’s employee, and blocked the passengers’ queue behind him, insisting to board his connecting flight although the gate was closed and the aircraft is about to take off.

The second story this week involves the first case brought under the UAE’s new anti-discrimination law. Aimed at making hate speech a legal offence, the law imposes a jail term up to 10 years and a fine of between 50,000 dirhams to two million dirhams on any person or group causing offense or aiming to create discord in the country. To get back to the case, here’s the story from the English-language daily The National:

A high-ranking Dubai security chief has launched a criminal complaint against a Saudi writer under the new law against hate crime.

Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan, deputy chief of police and general security, accuses the writer, Dr Mohammed Al Hadif, of spreading hatred of the UAE on social media.

“We are organising a case now to pursue him, according to the new law,” Gen Khalfan said on Twitter. “Criticism is one thing and hatred is another thing. The case has been filed, Al Hadif is wanted, and it’s time to try him in court.”

Gen Khalfan, the former Chief of Dubai Police, has previously accused Dr Al Hadif of being a member of an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The writer has been a vocal critic of the UAE’s involvement in the Saudi-led coalition to defeat Houthi rebels in Yemen, and of the UAE’s relations with Iran. Last year, Saudi Arabia banned him from using Twitter because of his support for the Brotherhood and for the reinstatement of the former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

The law criminalising all forms of discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin was enacted on July 20.

Penalties for those convicted range from six months to more than 10 years in prison and fines from Dh50,000 to Dh2 million.​

To repeat, the defendant isn’t in the UAE, but rather Saudi Arabia. And my assumption is that he’s speaking or airing his views from Saudi Arabia which is outside of the UAE’s jurisdiction.

As a global hub, the UAE has done brilliantly at carving out a reputation as a business-friendly country which welcomes all who want to invest and live in the country. However, with other recent cases in mind, is the UAE at risk of damaging its own hard-earned reputation as the place to be by making examples of individuals in difficult circumstances or who are outside of their own jurisdiction?

I can imagine that we all would be peeved after missing our connecting flight, while I can’t help but think that it’s better to engage proactively with those who share different views rather than take them to court, especially if they’re not in my jurisdiction when they commit a crime which the other country made not consider to be a crime.

While the law is the law, I can’t help but feel a dollop of common sense wouldn’t go amiss here, especially if the UAE is to continue its brand building project to shape in our minds the image of a country where we all want to be in, live and support. Are these cases doing more harm than good to the UAE’s reputation, and should we all be more forgiving when it comes to such cases where a touch of empathy would help to resolve the situation.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

Did @Khaleejtimes break the UAE’s defamation law with the Muwatana video?

And the viral video of the year goes to this amazing clip which was published by the Dubai-based English language daily Khaleej Times yesterday morning. The video is of a heated discussion between a UAE national female with an expatriate Arab female (possibly the Egyptian actress Abeer Sabry) about what the Arab expat is wearing. The discussion, which is only 1 minute 22 seconds long and is mainly in Arabic, is about the Emirati lady’s disagreement with what the expatriate Arab lady is wearing.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of this – there’s the Twitter hashtag #فيديو_المواطنة which tracks the debate – but the video has been a sensation. It was posted at 10am UAE time on the 12th of May, and within 24 hours it has already had over 1.7 million views.

The question is, does this video and its publishing on an open platform break the UAE’s defamation laws? The UAE does not allow for filming of a person without that person’s permission, which I am assuming was not given in this instance. The basics of the UAE’s defamation law are below:

1) It is publicly forbidden to take a picture of another person without their permission.
2) Verbal abuses or gestures (even without the presence of a witness) can also lead to a fine and/or sentence.
3) Defamation via libel (written) or slander (spoken) is dealt by a criminal court as opposed to a civil court, where punishments would only include a monetary fine.

In addition, following the outcry last year about the Ramadan YouTube incident the authorities stated that they would look into online content if it became a matter for ‘public opinion and concern.’ The person who filmed that clip was arrested for defamation and the videos were pulled from YouTube.

The law isn’t clear on what happens when people share content online, but judging by the interest in this video it’s going to be hard to remove the content which has been shared over 24,000 times.

So, the question stands. While there’s a strong possibility that whoever filmed the incident broke the UAE’s defamation law, did the Khaleej Times break the law by posting the video online without the consent of the persons being filmed? Whether yes or no, the muwatana video as it has been named by social media users will become a precedent for other media outlets who are looking to develop their distribution and reach through the use of content shot by their readers and the general public.

And if you haven’t seen the video, here it is below!

Hashtag hijacking and the need for authenticity – the #EtisalatChallenge

Let’s face it, social media is entertaining. As communicators, we really do need to think through the consequences of using digital. But sometimes, the best of intentions just aren’t enough. Companies who don’t think through the reasoning behind their campaigns will face a backlash online, including derision, contempt, and abuse.

There are many examples globally of hashtag hijacking; possibly the best is McDonalds and its #McStories campaign. Fortunately for us in the Middle East, we now have our own example of how not to launch a hashtag on Twitter. A couple of days back the Abu Dhabi-based telecommunications operator launched an advertising campaign called the #EtisalatChallenge. The idea is simple enough – Etisalat challenges consumers to find offers and prices that are better than their own and they’ll match or beat that offer. You will literally see the below advert everywhere across the UAE at the moment.

Are you ready for the #EtisalatChallenge?

Are you ready for the #EtisalatChallenge?

Now, there’s a couple of issues here. The first is pretty basic; the UAE’s telco market is a duopoly. Both operators are government-owned and there’s not much in the way of competition when compared to other. The second is Etisalat’s reputation. The company isn’t the most consumer-friendly in terms of its support. Shortly after Etisalat launched its hashtag #EtisalatChallenge (complete with a huge marketing campaign), the hashtag itself was taken over by customers complaining about high costs and poor service.

Despite the obvious backfiring of the campaign (and, as you can see from the tweets below, the campaign has been taken over by negative sentiment), Etisalat has persevered with the #EtisalatChallenge.

What’s even stranger is the number of bots, of Twitter accounts which are automated which have are now tweeting the same message about the campaign.

The other element of the campaign which is intriguing is the number of celebrities that Etisalat has brought in. There is one of Scotland’s finest, Gerald Butler, Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan, and Filipina actress and singer Lea Salonga. Etisalat has also paid a number of the UAE’s leading social media influencers. While the use of social media influencers to support marketing campaigns is becoming standard practice, the #EtisalatChallenge in unusual in that many of the influencers have previously worked for the UAE’s rival operator Du. Have a look below.

Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali was a Du supporter

Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali was a Du supporter

But now Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali is also an Etisalat fan

But now Emirati social media celebrity Mthayel Al Ali is also an Etisalat fan

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed was part of Du's marketing before his switch to Etisalat

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed was part of Du’s marketing before his switch to Etisalat

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed is also a fan of green as he shifts to #EtisalatChallenge

Egyptian footballer and model Sherif Fayed is also a fan of green as he shifts to #EtisalatChallenge

Before her support for the #EtisalatChallenge UAE media personality Diala Ali was a Du supporter.

Before her support for the #EtisalatChallenge UAE media personality Diala Ali was a Du supporter.

From blue to green - UAE media personality Diala Ali shows her support for the #Etisalat Challenge

From blue to green – UAE media personality Diala Ali shows her support for the #Etisalat Challenge

While one can easily fault Etisalat for getting out the cash and spending a fortune on social media endorsements, these online influencers are more to blame in my eyes. They’re doing their own brands more harm than good by changing from one corporate brand to the other so quickly. Their authenticity is at stake, and for someone who runs a social media agency Mthayel Al Ali should understand that authenticity matters to fans, and fans are the reason these people are paid to endorse brands. There’s little long-term thinking from influencers who have worked with Du previously and whom are now working with Etisalat.

Going beyond the pains of creating corporate hashtags (which, in this case clearly don’t work), what was Etisalat thinking? And what is it still thinking, seeing as the campaign is failing so badly? Come on, share with me your #EtisalatChallenge!

The Gulf’s new social media hybrids and the success of @maxofarabia

Living in a region which is known for diversity but which is still pervaded by barriers between all the cultures you’ll find in the Gulf, I’m fascinated by individuals who bring differing peoples together. One such person is Max, who goes by his online moniker maxofarabia. A British-American by background, Max has not only lived in the Gulf but he’s also taken the region to heart. Unlike many expats, Max has picked up Arabic and is fluent in the language (he has a strong Emirati accent).

By creating content in both English and Arabic about issues that are relevant to nationals, Max is opening up a new world for both expats as well as those outside of the region. Max prefers Instagram, but you can also find him on Twitter and Facebook (he’s also on Snapchat, but I’m way too old for that platform). His popularity among Emiratis is evident, and he regularly uploads videos about the UAE and its people to his Instagram account, where he is followed and watched by almost 190 thousand people. Max has become a social media ambassador for a number of projects in and around Dubai.

If you’re an expat and you’d like to know more about the Emirates in particular, then Max of Arabia is one to watch. Have a look at some of his posts below (apologies but Instagram’s embedding function is taking a day off today).

A good morning from Max's trip into the desert on the trails in the UAE

A good morning from Max’s trip into the desert on the trails in the UAE

Huge thanks to @hooralq for the invitation to @sharjahart - a great evening spent in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by creativity, with some of my favorite people - #Sharjah #SharjahArt

Huge thanks to @hooralq for the invitation to @sharjahart – a great evening spent in one of my favorite cities, surrounded by creativity, with some of my favorite people – #Sharjah #SharjahArt

Max even looks good in a thob - here at a wedding in Riyadh

Max even looks good in a thob – here at a wedding in Riyadh