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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Alaa Al-Siddiq: The smearing of an Emirati hero


The Emirati dissident will be laid to rest in Qatar on June 27th, per her family’s request.

The tragic death of Alaa Al-Siddiq, an exiled Emirati activist known for her eloquent and brave human rights activism, shook the Gulf region last week.

Although it appears that Al-Siddiq was killed in a tragic road accident in Oxfordshire, England, it has not stopped partisan commentators in the region from exploiting the tragedy as a tool of disinformation to smear her, her family and the political enemies of the UAE.

Others have also accused the UAE of assassinating Al-Siddiq or being responsible for her death. 

Numerous commentators, many linked to the United Arab Emirates, have sought to sew conspiracies that she was assassinated, either by Qatar or by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Dr. Wafa Ahmed, an Emirati writer and researcher, immediately made the unsubstantiated claim that Al-Siddiq had secrets and a ‘black file’ related to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that they, along with allied countries, assassinated Al-Siddiq when they learned of her impending return to the UAE.

Meanwhile, Amjad Taha, a British Bahraini who is the regional director of the little-known British Middle East Center for studies and Research, claimed that intelligence operatives belonging to the Qatari Muslim Brotherhood assassinated Al-Siddiq upon learning that she was returning to the UAE.

Emirati dissident Alaa Al-Siddiq to be buried in Qatar

Taha’s scurrilous claims were picked up uncritically by other Twitter users known for their dissemination of Zionist propaganda or belligerent rhetoric towards Qatar. In addition to being known for his ardent support for normalisation with Israel, Taha is often a key node and serial offender in many disinformation campaigns in the region.

Recently, he spread fake news claiming that senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya had a private flight turned away from Qatar on account of Netanyahu’s orders. In fact, the flight, carrying unknown passengers, was headed to the UAE.

Taha was also instrumental in spreading disinformation that there had been a coup in Qatar in 2020.

The ‘return to the UAE’ narrative

Others have left the perpetrator of the alleged assassination of Al-Siddiq vague, but insinuated that she was killed because she was on the brink of returning to the Emirates and on the verge of exposing the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamad al Mazroue [UAE_3g] an apparent Emirati tweeter whose account has become notorious for its political and misogynistic attacks on UAE’s enemies [including Qatar’s Sheikha Moza bint Nasser] stated conspiratorially that “when she [Al-Siddiq] decided to return to the Emirates to renew her passport she was suddenly killed in an a car accident…”.

Meanwhile, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science based in the UAE, known for his controversial statements on Gulf politics, also stated that Al-Siddiq was the victim of a “secret organisation attempting to escape justice”, and died prior to being reunited with her family. 

He does not specify which “secret organisation” is responsible, although it’s likely an allusion to the Muslim Brotherhood. 

There is no evidence to suggest that Al-Siddiq was about to return to the UAE. Indeed, the narrative promoting this seems purposefully designed to exonerate the UAE’s human rights record in light of renewed scrutiny following her death.

Read also: Rights group urges immediate probe into death of Emirati dissident Alaa Al-Siddiq

After all, if she was to return to the UAE, it would only be because she felt that there would be no reprisals. Given that her father, Mohammad Al-Siddiq, has been imprisoned in the UAE since 2013 for his political views, this scenario is highly unlikely, bordering on absurd. 

Added to this is the fact her body is reported to being returned to her family in Qatar, where she will be laid to rest on Sunday.

Smearing the enemies of the state

Al-Siddiq’s articulate and on point criticism of the UAE’s human rights record made her an enemy of the state. The smears against the prominent dissident highlights the willingness of disinformation operators in the region to exploit any opportunity to disseminate propaganda, even if that means the tragic death of a young woman.

Certainly, Al-Siddiq’s death was a threat to the UAE in the sense that she risked becoming a martyr for the Emirati opposition. Her eloquence and articulate critique of Emirati human rights abuses was clearly perceived as credible and legitimate, and thus her legacy was attacked so as to try and deter people from supporting her.

What’s more, the highly public smears from influential accounts were a warning shot to any Emiratis potentially wanting to show solidarity and support for Al-Siddiq. 

Indeed, her powerful activism would make it even less likely that the UAE would allow her body to be repatriated to the UAE. Authoritarian regimes are loathe to make graves that could turn into a shrine for nascent opposition. 

It is also probable that the Emirati authorities anticipated that many would suspect that Al-Siddiq would be assassinated by the UAE. Therefore the smear campaigns sought to muddy the water of that narrative by providing a counter trope that framed non-UAE entities as being responsible.

Indeed, there is no doubt that Al-Siddiq’s activism put her “at risk’” of state reprisals.

Khalid Ibrahim, a close colleague of the deceased dissident and the executive director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, called on the British police to conduct a thorough investigation of her death to rule out anything “untoward”. 

Demonising a regime’s enemies is part of the playbook of any authoritarian regime. While some might try to seek false parity between those accusing either the UAE or the Muslim Brotherhood of assassinating Al-Siddiq, they are far from equal.

To do so minimises the very real danger activists or dissidents face from the UAE government, who have been quick to silence opposition voices.

As for the tropes trying to implicate the Muslim Brotherhood or Qatar, these are merely the remnants of a virulent propaganda campaign that began with the blockading of Qatar by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017.

Marc Owen Jones is an Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Analytics Expert.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Doha News, its editorial board or staff.

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