In recent years, the Emirati authorities have tried to improve their reputation on the international arena, through a so-called "soft power strategy". Thanks to a successful and well-coordinated PR campaign, they have managed to paint a glamorous picture of themselves as a modern, open and tolerant country.
However, this success has not free. Abu Dhabi has spent billions of dollars on huge cultural, educational and sporting projects, leaving an ideal image of the country as a luxurious tourist destination that hosts global cultural events such as the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi and EXPO 2020, which is currently being held in Dubai.
In recent years, the authorities have sought to exploit this glossy image of the UAE in the international media by hosting expensive events such as EXPO to promote themselves as a safe haven "amid chaos and conflict in the Middle East" and an ideal place for "coexistence and tolerance between peoples and religions".
In particular, the idea of tolerance seemed to play a central role in Abu Dhabi's media campaigns to improve its image, especially since February 2016, when the post of Minister of Tolerance was created for the first time. Since then, the authorities have used the word "tolerance" in all events hosted or decisions issued by the government.
At the end of 2018, the authorities organized the so-called "World Summit on Tolerance", then President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced to declare 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, and today Abu Dhabi is trying to use the Dubai EXPO to promote itself as a tolerant country by launching the so-called "Tolerance and Coexistence Week at Expo 2020 Dubai", which will take place from November 14to 20.
All these initiatives and media campaigns announced by the authorities have been complemented by humanitarian stories aimed at highlighting the human face of the country, such as the reunification of an Australian family stuck in Sri Lanka or similar stories.
But this shining image that the authorities are trying to promote masks terrible facts that many do not know about Abu Dhabi, as Oscar Jenz, UAE coordinator at Amnesty International, noted: "It's the most police state in the Middle East”.
Facts and stories where there is not only tolerance but also humanity and revenge. Perhaps the story of the late detainee of conscience Alia Abdel Nour, who died shackled to a hospital bed, is enough to undermine the discourse on tolerance in the UAE, as the authorities rejected all the pleas for clemency her family submitted for her release due to her medical condition.
Although Alia fainted repeatedly in prison and the authorities knew of the spread of cancer in her body, they refused to provide her with the medical care she needed and were content to give her painkillers. As her condition worsened, she was transferred to the hospital, where she died alone, without anyone by her side.
The story of the child Muhammad Al-Nuaimi, son of Emirati dissident Ahmed Al-Shaiba Al-Nuaimi, is no less brutal than Alia's. Muhammad, who could not speak or move his limbs since birth due to cerebral palsy, was prevented from traveling to London and returning to his family. He died far from his father, who had not seen him for more than 9 years.
Many stories tell of the UAE not reuniting detainees of conscience and their families, even when separated by death. Thus, the tolerance demanded by the authorities did not include Iman, the daughter of the detainee of conscience, Salem Sahoh, who died far from him, and the authorities did not allow him to say goodbye to her or even pray for her.
Emirati tolerance, which grants golden residency permits and citizenship to actors and artists, did not include Emirati citizen Hamdan, the son of detainee Abd al-Salam Darwish, whose citizenship and treatment permits were revoked.
If you ask an Emirati detainee or his family about the tolerance initiatives launched by the UAE, the answer is sure to be, "We do not want your tolerance, we want an end to your vengeance.”