The United Arab Emirates, the consortium of seven city-states that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, boasts a Ministry of Tolerance but can’t tolerate true independent voices.
The Emirates have cultivated a better international reputation than they deserve as relative liberals in the Middle East. In the past two decades, Dubai has transformed itself into a celebrated business hub and a diverse global city. It attracts major businesses and hordes of tourists, major cultural institutions and branches of international universities and art museums.
All of those passing through the Gulf metropolis, however, should implicitly recognize that there is no rule of law there. A person can be snatched off the street arbitrarily and stripped of their rights. It’s happened to Mansoor as well as the Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul.
Mansoor, 49, founded an early web forum for Emiratis and Arabs and has since been a target. Throughout a decade of harassment, physical abuse, and arbitrary detention, he bravely spoke out about human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates. He was a lone voice in a country where organizers and dissenters have been co-opted or silenced. In the process, Mansoor’s bank account was mysteriously emptied of $140,000, vicious Israeli spyware was sent to his phone, and his child’s baby monitor was hacked.
“I continued my activities regardless of what happened because my principles are deeper than what they think,” Mansoor exclaimed in 2016.
But a year later, Emirati authorities arrested him in the middle of the night from his home in the Emirate of Ajman, taking him away from his wife and four children. During a year of pretrial detention, he was not allowed access to legal representation. In May 2018, he was convicted of insulting “the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols” and spreading “fake news,” receiving a ten-year sentence. He has since been held in solitary confinement. His conditions are unbearable—his cell has no bed or sink—which are among the reasons why Mansoor is staging a hunger strike.