By way of introduction
I’ll begin with the disclosure that I am writing under a pseudonym. Michael O’Riordan is not my real name. Also, I can’t mention for whom I work except to say that my employer is one of the two national newspapers in the Emirates.
Why? The UAE is a police state where, up until a few years ago, journalists were jailed for offering criticism of the status quo. Now we don’t face jail, but we do face being sacked and frog-marched out of the country. A colleague of mine had his visa yanked over the summer for getting a little too edgy with his blog.
Due to the incredible PR job this country does it may come as a surprise that Dubai is part of a police state. The Emirates have managed something of a coup in the way this country is portrayed as an open, tolerant and progressive country in the middle of a region full of turmoil, war and repression. Do not be fooled.
On the surface this place appears to be a modern oasis in a backwards area of the world. And, to a great extent it is. It is a police state none-the-less. I’ve never felt my life, career or freedom was in jeopardy except when I am working. The are incredible internal pressures at my publication not to offend our hosts in this country by writing anything damning, true though it may be.
There are a number of taboo topics, including: exploitation of labourers, trafficking of sex workers, basic human rights violations, homosexuality and the treatment of women. We don’t actually have censors in our offices, but it is know and accepted that we are all within a hair’s breath of being fired and removed from the country for anything too negative. We all do a very fine job of self-censorship.