Local celebrities in the UAE are stirring up a hornet’s nest over India’s poor treatment of Muslims, in a move which threatens to destroy a special relationship between this Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state, known for its tolerance and western vice, and India—a country which is providing the backbone of the UAE’s employment.
Barely a week passes without another video circulating on social media which shows Muslims in India being treated badly, as a direct consequence of the coronavirus. Often, they come in the form of worshipers coming out of mosques and being beaten by Indian police officers wielding a long cane, as many refuse to stay out of mosques in line with social distancing measures that the Modi government is enforcing.
But finally, the UAE is standing up for them and threatening to go to battle with Modi head on, despite having formidable relations with India, which in recent years has made up, increasingly, the numbers in the job market in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Indeed, since the coronavirus spread across Europe and the UAE began its program to protect itself against its wrath —including a financial lockdown on public spending— a number of Lebanese working in Dubai have been laid off, only to be replaced by cheaper Indian workers, particularly in the media. In short, India, has given the UAE a lifeline to help it cushion itself against a recession, which is already affecting real estate, industry, services, and tourism.
One could even argue that the UAE is punching above its weight now. Restricted by stifled financing on all levels, it is hard to see how this once powerful GCC state can continue to be a larger regional player in Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and, perhaps more importantly, Libya where it has been the king pin in General Haftar’s campaign. Has the UAE broken away from Washington and gone rogue? In Libya, it is allied with Russia.
And more recently, the coronavirus has made things a tad more awkward as the virus brought it closer to Iran, a country which is in the crosshairs of the Trump administration which continues to punish the UAE for allowing its companies to do business there. Abu Dhabi also has broken diplomatic ties with Morocco over Libya (Morocco enjoys “best buddy” status with Washington and is on track to win UN support for its Western Sahara plan).
The UAE largely backs a Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, despite considerable evidence showing that the erroneous move has actually helped the gas-rich peninsula become even richer and diversify its economy further. Whereas the UAE suffered for that action, as many Qatari firms in UAE used local partners it should be noted. And then there is Assad in Syria, which has become the UAE’s new friend due to the Syrian dictator’s military campaign against Turkey’s troops in Idlib, where it is reported that the UAE’s leader Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ) offered to pay Assad $3 billion USD to break a ceasefire agreement with Turkey.
But could the coronavirus ingest a new thought process? A table rase which could overturn all regional agreements for UAE leaders? And in the midst of all that hullabaloo, what would they use to divert media attention away from the real story? Religion.
In recent days a controversial princess in the UAE went on social media and warned the far-right Modi government that it needs to reflect hard on whether it can continue to make “its bread and butter” in the UAE and continue with its fantasies about a Muslim genocide in India. This against a backdrop of a number of Indians losing their jobs in Dubai after posting racist comments on social media in addition to the UAE officially white washing the reports earlier
According to TRT, the Turkish state broadcaster, which has a track record of berating the UAE with bellicose analysis pieces, the GCC state might spark an anti-Indian trend across the entire region, which employs “millions” of Indians.
“Millions of expats from India are working across the Gulf, from the UAE to Saudi Arabia and other countries,” its editorial reads. “In recent weeks, an increasing number of Indian professionals have been reportedly fired and forced to leave the UAE for posting Islamophobic messages on social media.”
Yet, the suggestion of an Indian exodus is very real, as Modi seems unable to curtail the harsh treatment against Muslims, despite his bland rhetoric aimed at soothing the heated debate which has vexed the UAE elite. During these tough times, it would not be out of the ordinary that the UAE’s two firebrand leaders taught Modi a lesson as the beatings see no end of bandwidth on social media. They may well bring in more educated Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and encourage UAE bosses to lighten their numbers of Indians, unofficially. On an official level, they may well even go further and give the Indians their marching orders and reboot UAE-Indian relations altogether, such is the gravitas of the matter. Much depends on what Modi does in the coming days, rather than what he says.
Furthermore, given the financial situation in the UAE, there is an impetus for companies to begin an attrition of investment anyway and ejecting the Indians might be a double whammy, presenting the UAE as a champion of Muslim causes and a defender of human rights, while deflecting attention away from the real issue which is that the economy of the UAE is in dire straits.
This alone leaves many regional experts wondering whether the financial demise of the country will impact on warlord Haftar’s edge in Libya, where reports just this week focus on the number of mercenaries from Dafhur and Chad being enrolled, for a reported $200 USD a month salary. Of course, the mercenaries, while making a mockery of the UN arms embargo (supported supposedly by the EU), may well be part of a trend, given the new financial restrictions which must be affecting the UAE.
If a spending crunch is heading Haftar’s way, then this will certainly be music to the ears of his so-called ally, Putin, who may well take advantage of such a tumultuous situation to appropriate more power for himself within the “coalition in Libya on the side of Haftar.” Or indeed, it may well prove to be a shot in the arm for Turkey which backs the incumbent President based in Tripoli and whose support to the GNA troops has been critical in holding back the advances made on the capital by Haftar’s forces.
If the UAE begins to become a “lone wolf” in the post WWII “new world order,” which always gave its top table position to the US and Britain, then could it bring Iran in from the cold, thaw its relations with Qatar and reconsider its position in Libya?
A new economic dynamic is being thrashed out in the UAE with Abu Dhabi expected to offer the whole country a bailout soon, but under such “belt-tightening” many regional analysts will be looking closely for any changes to these present relations. It’s hard to imagine that nothing will change given that, according to experts, the UAE has been hit the hardest, economically, by the virus, compared to Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are recovering. Being more dependent on tourism, hospitality, services, and airlines, the pandemic has hit the UAE much harder, resulting in its own stock market plunging 26 percent. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, many might argue. Inevitably, something has to give on its regional spending.
Martin Jay is an award winning freelance journalist who has previously worked and lived in Kenya, Belgium and Morocco – reporting for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, DW, Reuters, Sunday Times and others. Currently he lives in Beirut where has reported for DW, AP, TRT, RT and the UK national Mail on Sunday. He can be followed on Twitter at @MartinRJay
This article first appeared in Inside Arabia. Click here to go to the original
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