05 March, 2009

Davidson says don't blame Abu Dhabi

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Abu Dhabi has been blamed for most of these contentious issues. Am I wrong? If not, who gets credit for these decisions below: Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The decision was the personal initiative of a low-ranking immigration officer in Dubai, according to two Dubai government officials who refused to be identified because they aren’t authorized to publicly comment on the incident.

Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department director Mohammed Al-Marri, a federal official who has the final say on issuing all visas to Dubai, declined to comment
The Peer controversy is one in a series of incidents that have tarnished Dubai’s reputation as a more relaxed sheikhdom where decisions are driven by money, not ideology.

A book depicting a gay sheikh was banned Feb. 16 at a literary festival staged by government-owned carrier, Emirates. A law that will impose fines of up to a million dirhams ($272,000) on local journalists who harm the U.A.E. rulers’ reputation is planned. The government has made it illegal to fire an Emirati employee if a foreigner is doing the same job.

Dubai was behind the media law and the firing restrictions, which apply to the whole U.A.E., said Christopher Davidson, author of the 2008 book “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.”

“Dubai’s success has been based on being open,” Davidson said. “These are really bad steps that turn the clock back.”
Is Davidson correct?


Peter Hellyer said...


Chris Davidson is wrong (and not for the first time,I might add) - and your headline is somewhat misleading.

1. I'm not sure which individual in Dubai was responsible for the decision to refuse a visa for the Israeli female tennis player, but a male tennis player DID get a visa for the male tournament and the Government has now made it clear that Israelis can attend international events of this type, provided that application is made in plenty of time. This incident was probably a low-level screw-up - a pity, but action has now been taken to correct the situaqtion for the future.

2. The book that was allegedly 'banned' hasn't even been published yet. What actually happened was that the festival organisers decided, on their own initiative, (and withoutn any consultation with government) not to choose the book as one that would be launched at the literary festival. That decision was advised to the publisher in September last year. The fuss about 'banning' didn't emerge until February, shortly before the festival was due to open, and was stimulated by the author and publisher. A marevellous pre-publication marketing ploy, perhaps, but not altogether factual.

3. The new media law does say that fines of up to a million dirhams can be imposed on journalists who publish stories that damage rulers' reputations (or the economy), but ONLY where such stories are not properly checked and sourced - and this replaces an old law which provided for the possibility of prison sentences. The new law (to be finalised soon) has NO prison sentences amongst the potential penalties for journalists and publishers, and also specifically states that journalists cannot be jailed for refusing to identify their sources (as is the case in the US and UK etc).

4. It is a vast over-simplification to say that "The government has made it illegal to fire an Emirati employee if a foreigner is doing the same job." Emiratis CAN be fired for misconduct, being in breach of contract etc., etc, though the Government has said that approval must be sought for firing Emiratis for other reasons, in accordance with the law. And, indeed, Emiratis ARE being fired in the current economic slowdown, as are others.

5. Dubai was NOT behind the media law and the firing restrictions. Both are federal government initiatives. The media law was first drafted over two years ago, to replace an outdated law passed in 1980, long before the current wave of critical publicity about the downturn in the Dubai economy. So it it both inaccurate and misleading to suggest (as some have) that the new law is in any way connected to recent puboicity about the Dubai economy

Peter Hellyer
National Media Council
Abu Dhabi

Kyle said...

Mr. Hellyer:

What a coincidence!

Just over 24 hours ago, I wrote a comment on John's label referencing you and here we are with a brand new post with major inputs from your good self.

It indeed is a small world!

I've been actively following the Shahar Peer issue and right from day-one thought it was a stale move and totally in bad taste.

So, what went wrong - that is if you are at liberty to talk about this issue. Or was it a sexist decision or selective-racism in refusing Miss. Peer a visa? Or did the authorities here thought they were setting a precedent viz. Miss. Peer and then scrambled together in a jiffy, a damage-control plan in allowing the male Israeli (tennis) player a visa? Whatever may have been the reason, it was a wrong move especially when it involves a popular sport that Dubai is trying so hard to showcase to increase its popularity around the world.

And I beg to differ with you when you say it was a low-level screw-up because at the end of the day, it's the Ministry of Interior that has the final say. Am I right?

In continuation, might I ask about the philanthropic Guggenheim Foundation that'll be showcased in Saadiyat. Will its presence be up for review owing to its Jewish origin?

For what it's worth, it's always good to hear from you.

Peter Hellyer said...


I'm not au fait with the ins-and-outs of the Peer visa case, but, as far as I can see, it really WAS a low-level decision to deny her a visa (and the request for one came very late, apparently). She (and the tennis tournament organisers) should have realised that there might be a problem that needed sorting out, WELL in advance.
When the World Bank / IMF meetings were held in Dubai a few years ago, Israeli delegates did participate without any difficulty - but the visa issue was sorted out well in advance,quietly, without any problems.
Once the publicity broke, there was an "Oops. Problem" sort of response, and the issue got taken up at a higher level, or that's what I understand, anyway. I doubt that the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even knew about the case until the publicity started (though that's only a guess on my part).
Anyway, there is now a clear public statement of policy that anyone, of whatever nationality, can attend bona fide international sporting, cultural, economic events taking place in the UAE, regardless of whether the UAE has diplomatic relations with the country concerned, and without ahy implication for normalisation of political relations. So muddles like this shouldn't happen again. I hope not, anyway!
I'm a great believer in the "cock-up/foul-up" view of politics, having seen so many incidents over the years of low level officials making a mess of things by failing to refer sensitive issues upwards to a level where a proper assessment of political / public relations implications can be undertaken!

As for the Guggenheim museum on Saadiyat, the origins of the Foundation are utterly irrelevant - I suspect that the Abu Dhabi authorities have always been well aware of its origins, and have procceded with tier planning and agreements in full knowledge of the fact. I've certainly never heard any reference to them, and wouldn't expect to hear any, either.


Anonymous said...

Just out of interest Peter, how do you know whether Dubai was or was not the driving force behind some laws being introduced?

If Shk Mo was involved then claiming it is a federal decision blah blah, is just semantics.

Not really a surprise to see you defending the new, universally criticised, media law though. It is your job after all.

Anonymous said...

Peter - journalists have been asking for comment from the DNRD and the Ministry of Interior/Labour for months now. It was no secret that Peer and Ram were planning to play in Dubai, and they always said that journalists shoul call back closer to the time.

Also, do visa applications for international tennis players get processed in the same way as Joe Public? Take a ticket, stand in line...

alexander... said...

Kyle. Jewish and Israeli are not synonyms.

Kyle said...


What's your point?

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