Authoritarianism in the information age: state branding, depoliticizing and ‘de-civilizing’ of online civil society in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

by Taimoor tanveer

AuthorRobert Uniacke

Affiliation: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies

Organization/Publisher: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies

Date/Place: March 21, 2020/ UK

Type of Literature: Journal Article

Number of Pages: 22


Keywords: Civil Society, Surveillance, Authoritarianism, Online Policing



The Yemen crisis brought a paradigm shift in the politics of the Arabian Peninsula, particularly Gulf States. The Gulf has been divided on the issue of operation ‘Storm of Decisiveness’ since started in 2015 by Arab coalition forces led by U.A.E. and Saudi Arab. This operation was then followed by the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017 when Doha refused to participate in the Yemen war. According to this article, U.A.E and Saudi Arabia established a status-quo, both internally and externally, and is on the offensive taking every possible measure to maintain it. This study focuses on the internal dynamics of both regimes that had been threatened by the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia and U.A.E have imported strong surveillance tools to monitor the digital activities of masses, particularly suppression of opposition. Both states are following a dual strategy to strengthen the internal security (by procuring sophisticated equipment) and restricting the digital freedom. U.A.E and Saudi Arabia have initiated several state-sponsored debates in the social media realm to confuse the masses between anti-regime utopians and pro-regime dystopian accounts. The paper refers to a twitter trend in Saudi Arabia, ‘‘#we’re_all_security’, to malign and threaten opposition voices. Moreover, the murder of Jemal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate at Istanbul is another example of brutality and rigorous surveillance of dissidents. The author concludes that because of changing dynamics in the Middle East, both U.A.E and Saudi Arabia have imposed a de-facto digital authoritarianism to curb political challenges and create a regime-friendly narrative. 

By: Muhammad Taimoor Bin Tanveer, CIGA Research Associate

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