Reports show that the UAE has suspended work and visit visas to 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries. Yesterday Reuters issued a report concerning immigration into the UAE, more specifically a suspension on issuing new visas for citizens from 13 nations – a temporary measure. The document was obtained through a state-owned ‘business park’ confirming concerns that have been circling this past week.
Initially, the state suddenly banned visit visas and now this circular confirms new employment visas for reasons unspecified at the time of writing.
The countries in question are as follows: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Somalia, Algeria, Kenya, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen. On November 18th, the date the UAE immigration order was cited to have been circulated, the Pakistan Foreign Office (PFO) announced a halt in the processing of new visas and first believed it to be a Covid-19 related precaution, however, the report yesterday shows that this silent ban has been enforced due to unspecified security reasons.
No official statement has been released by the UAE government at the time of writing. The silence in itself is problematic, considering recent regional shifts, in addition to an incoming US president. Creating space for speculation through a lack of comment can ultimately lead to genuine diplomatic strain with any of these nations.
A large percentage of the UAE demographic includes sizable populations from a number of the countries listed, particularly, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, as well as the remainder of the list. What diplomatic message does this signal when, for example, the PFO, is not informed and thus made a public assumption?
Some believe that this is a precautionary measure is in response to the two attacks in Saudi Arabia this past month. While the most recent, a grenade attack at an event allegedly organised by the French Embassy, has raised alarms, the identity of the attacker has yet to be confirmed.
The preceding attack, however, also targeting the French, likely due to the contentious statements made by the nation’s leader on Islam, the attacker was identified as a Saudi national. This would imply a domestic problem and regarding a specific trigger and not a general phenomena.
Another security consideration to be made, as there has yet to be an official rationale for the temporary ban, would be the UAE’s recent normalisation with Israel. Particularly as Israelis will be allowed entry into the UAE as early as the end of this week, as reported by the Times of Israel. Further to this, the two nations have agreed on a visa-waiver program to come into effect shortly – one that does not even exist between Israel and the US, their closest ally.
Of the 13 countries temporarily banned, 11 have been outspoken in their condemnation for normalisation of relations with Israel. Formal statements have been made by a number of these governments including Iranian, Lebanese, Turkish, Iraqi, and Pakistani, amongst others.
The ‘Abraham Accords’ are being hailed as a breakthrough in peace, but in reality, it has caused a new layer of tension in the region – intensifying false geopolitical dichotomies and further polarising politics in the Gulf, Arab, and wider Muslim world.
The relevance in grouping this heterogeneous group of countries as Muslim-majority is in large in part due to the recent embedding of religion into the Palestinian movement for statehood. This ‘peace-deal’ has instigated heated debate over the custodianship over the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa Mosque.
A recent report highlights a group of UAE nationals (a business delegation visiting Israel) entering Jerusalem to visit Haram ash-Sharif and were confronted with angry Palestinians. In retaliation, comments were made such as, “We will visit Al-Aqsa because it does not belong to you, it belongs to all Muslims.”
A Saudi lawyer chimed into the online debate stating, “it is very important for the Emiratis and Bahrainis to discuss with Israel ways of liberating Al-Aqsa Mosque from Palestinian thugs in order to protect visitors from Palestinian thuggery.”
In addition to different comments from the Palestinian Authority, it would appear that the UAE is moving to take on a larger role regarding the holy site. Whether for political or undisclosed security precautions, or the two intertwined; the diplomatic message, at the very least the perception of it, is problematic and potentially antagonising towards the countries listed.
As the UAE, which no less than a few months ago had a total ban on Israel, moves to working actively with illegal settlements and promoting ties between nationals, it also ices out other longstanding allies and a large majority of the demographic.
How far will the UAE go for their new friends, and how many old ones will they leave in the wake of this new bond? With the hope that this is only a temporary measure and not intended as political pressure – at the very least the region hopes, quietly, the silence is lifted.