United Arab Emirates Wants al-Watan, Arab-American Newspaper with Anaheim Office, Shut Down

Rori Donaghy, co-founder of the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, is putting authorities from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on notice.

In a piece published on Index on Censorship, he chronicles the absolute monarchy's crackdown on press freedoms which has most recently manifested in the demand that al-Watan be shut down.

The online site, which bills itself as the largest Arab-American newspaper, has several outposts in the United States, where it's based, including a Los Angeles office which is really in Anaheim's unofficial Little Arabia enclave.


The UAE is perhaps better known, unfortunately, in the West for Michael Jackson sightings, a vacation play destination for the Kardashians and for its extravagant development, especially in Dubai where an artificial palm tree island resort stretches into the waters of the Persian Gulf.

But the UAE definitely has a dark side. Authorities sent a letter to al-Watan's German hosting company demanding the shuttering of the site. The reason? It is alleged that ownership is really in the hands of the 'Global Muslim Brotherhood Union.'

As Donaghy writes, al-Watan founder Nezam Mahdawi outright denies the claim and puts the real onus for the pressure on their stories critical of human rights violations. “I established this newspaper in Washington D.C. in 1992,” Mahdawi tells the Weekly. “The issue with UAE started about two years ago.” After a critical story, they threatened him. “My personal Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter account has hijacked.”

Advertisers in Dubai cancelled their contracts with the newspaper due to pressure according to the owner. “We've never belonged to any party or anything,” he says. Mahdawi also wrote of the plight of prisoners held without access to lawyers and other human rights violations only to be criticized as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in court despite stories that have run in his publication critical of them as well.

The website itself is banned in the UAE as a result and in other Gulf states. Raised as an issue of interest, it's noted that only the Arabic language version is in the sights of authorities.

Other English language news webpages critical of the government do not suffer the same and it's speculated such laxity in that regard serves a purpose in presenting an image of plurality and openness.

Donaghy admonishes any such notion writing, “The attacks on al-Watan are a clear attempt to take the UAE's free speech restrictions beyond its own borders.”

Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz

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