Arab Youth Race Online, and The Curious Case of Dubai’s Security Chief on Twitter
Lt. Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim’s love/hate social media attack on Israel draws attention
The Arab Youth Survey published this week by the Dubai-based ASDA’A/Burson-Marsteller agency delivered a remarkable result: no matter how you slice the cyberverse, in 2011, 62% of Arab youth reported that newspapers formed part of their news consumption.
Only five years later, today, that figure rests at a barely-there 17%.
It may be no wonder then, that Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed has chosen Instagram as his preferred vehicle for public expression. With 3.4 million followers, he’s the most popular royal online. For the purposes of comparison, the joint Instagram account operated by Kensington Palace for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry has 1 million followers.
In 2015, Hamdan was chosen by Snapchat, the app through which one’s pictures and videos can only be viewed once before disappearing, as a global personalities highlighted on its coveted Official Stories. (As of January, 2016, Snapchat reports having 7 billion daily video views.)
Earlier this week, on the very day the survey was released, infuriated Emirati Snapchat users rushed to social media platforms to protest video and voice features that being blocked by the nation’s telecom operators.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates enacted similar restrictions against the WhatsApp and WeChat messaging services.
One angry Twitter user remonstrated that “many families rely on video chat to see their loved ones.”
A Snapchat spokesperson told The National, and English-language Emirati paper, that “Video and voice calling are currently not available in the UAE due to local regulations.”
But there is one Emirati voice that will not be silenced, and it is the Twitted feed of Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the outspoken Head of General Security for the Emirate of Dubai.
In mid-march, the security chief, whose handle is @Dhahi_Khalfan and who is followed by 1.3 million people, let loose with positive comments towards Jews, an air of acceptance, possibly temporary, towards Israel, and impolitic admonitions of Iran.
He leapt right into the heart of Mideast taboos by proposing an end to the aspiration of an independent Palestinian state.
“There shouldn’t be a Palestinian state,” he wrote, eschewing subtlety and warned that “If the leadership of the Palestinian state will be managed by Arabs, it will be another failed state.”
He recommended the Arab world “be satisfied with an Israeli state that encompasses both Arabs and Jews,” arguing, as a growing number of young Palestinians do, that within 70 years Arabs would comprise 75% of the binational state’s population which would facilitate their path towards taking over power, “akin to what happened in South Africa.”
“This is how we will live in lasting peace with the Jews,” he posted.
“If not for the Jews,” he went on, over three days, “you [Arabs] would not know how to deposit your money in the bank. The Jews are the backbone of the world economy today.”
Tamim pled with his increasingly fractious followers “not to treat Jews as enemies, rather as cousins with conflict over land inheritance.” The eventual state, he proposed, could join the Arab League.
“America is trying to get closer to Israel,” he explained further, “ The entire world is…Rapprochement will solve problems. Why shouldn’t we have a coalition with the Jews against the enemies of the Middle East?”
These enemies remained unidentified, but were widely understood to be Iran’s rulers, and in a subsequent tweet he accused Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of “trading in the Palestinian cause.”
Not only Iran was condemned for disingenuousness about the Palestinian cause, but Arab leadership in general.
“We have had enough of the talk that Palestine is the number one cause; it has become the last cause. Some people have forgotten who Abu Ammar is,” he wrote, referencing the nickname of the founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.
Tamim took advantage of popular new feature of Twitter, the 24 hour polls, and asked “The Jews have lived for many years in Arab lands. Is it permissible for them to live as citizens in our countries and we will live in their country as citizens?”
19,628 followers responded, 61% choosing the box “Jews do not have a place with us.”
In a subsequent survey, about the future of Jews in the region, 67% of 10,518 respondents voted “we will throw them into the sea.”
Tamim has not always had soft feelings towards Israel. He is the man who, in his previous role as police chief, uncovered the identities of several Mossad operatives accused of the 2010 assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
And, in fact, week after his initial tweet storm Tamim seems to have had a change of heart lasting till today, even through an April 8 online debate with an Israeli woman to whom he tweeted, “The Jews run America.”
So long, one-state coexistence. Hello, “Israel will fall on its own evil actions. I suggest to my Jewish cousins to give the Palestinians a state on 1947 borders.”
“The US isn’t a Jewish country but suffers from Jewish control,” he chirped.
Earlier this week, possibly borrowing from college classes on Sigmund Freud, but apparently unaware that the father of psychoanalysis was made a refugee by the Nazis, Tamim ventured that “Jews need psychologists to analyze their personality. They have never left a country without angering its people. In a hundred years, Americans will leave as refugees due to the oppression of our cousins.”