05 September, 2009

More to it than book flogging?

British academic, Christopher Davidson, is making the same accusation about new book on Abu Dhabi as he made on his recent book on Dubai: that the authorities are blocking the distribution of the book in the UAE.

Davidson's book is available in much of the rest of the world, but distributors in the U.A.E. contacted him via e-mail in May with an early indication that the powers-that-be were not happy. "The censors reported the book is well-written, but because it discusses the fratricides in the 1920s, it will have to go to the highest authorities for approval," he said, citing the e-mail. The 1920s was a particularly bloody time in Abu Dhabi's history, as three of Sheikh Zayid bin Khalifah's sons took power by killing a brother.

But Davidson doesn't think century-old blood is the real reason for the delay in approving the 276-page book, which the "highest authorities" have not yet ruled on after four months. He says it's more likely to relate to the contemporary elements in his book, namely Abu Dhabi's weak human rights record and--ironically--its tightening grip on media censorship.

Davidson says censorship in the U.A.E. is the most "sinister" in the region, and succeeds not by heavy-handed interference but by creating a subtle atmosphere of self-censorship. He cites a new media law passed earlier this year, which threatens fines of up to 1 million dirhams ($272,250) for critical reporting on U.A.E. authorities--including Abu Dhabi's ruler Sheikh Khalifah bin Zayed al-Nahayan, or his billionaire half-brother Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahayan--and asks media organizations to set aside provisions as "collateral" for these fines.

"What the U.A.E. can't allow to happen is direct criticism of members of the ruling family, or what they call "negative reporting" on the U.A.E. economy that could damage confidence," says Davidson. "When you have an economy that relies so heavily on foreign direct investment, you can't have the hedge funds selling short the U.A.E."
For more on Christopher Davidson check out my catalog of posts on him at The Emirates Economist.


Anonymous said...

All of Christopher Davidson’s work presents a state of the art scholarly approach to this misguided country and is highly respected among scientists concerned with the region. Indeed, everything that offers a critical and concerned point of view is banned in the UAE and scientists are being systematically harassed by the authorities.
Indisputably censorship in the UAE is certainly the most "sinister" in the Gulf and there is no other country in the GCC that has such a bad record in respect to foreign researchers and we all know what is happening to the few local voices that speak up. This concludes in the output of highly manipulated data that “bought” unethical experts are willing to produce, e.g. those irresponsible Environmental Impact Assessments. The latest Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) clearly show how deficient the performance in the 'Voice & Accountability' component is nowadays in the UAE, measuring the extent of civil liberties, political and human rights, and media. (Kaufmann, 2009)

The latest Arab Human Development Report 2009 entitled “Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries“ that has just been issued by the UNDP could certainly be considered another clever disguise to subtly and less frontally revisit politically sensitive governance failures such as those related to basic freedoms. However they would ban this document as well, if they only could!

EnglishTeacher365 said...

Yes, that's right. Telling the truth is to be avoided, and repeating what the authorites say is the right way to go.

That's the best thing about living in the UAE - you don't have to think for yourself, just say what the authorities want you to believe.

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