Abu Dhabi skyline
Extremists organisations would like to see the UAE destabilised in order to gain a foothold here, whereas rival powers seek to harm the UAE for promoting a model of inclusive development that stands contrary to the exclusionary vision they advocate. File picture of Abu Dhabi from the sky used for illustrative purpose. Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: The UAE has a well-earned reputation for political stability and personal safety. But, like any other country in a turbulent region, it faces threats from non-state actors, like violent extremist groups, and state actors, like some regional powers inimical to its interests. Extremists organisations would like to see the country destabilised in order to gain a foothold here, whereas rival powers seek to harm the UAE for promoting a model of inclusive development that stands contrary to the exclusionary vision they advocate.

Increasingly, cyberspace has emerged as the frontier where the battle between state actors, and indeed between state and non-state actors, is being fought. Globally, and regionally, there is an ongoing cyber arms race. The UAE has the right to develop its cyber capabilities to counter potential cyber-security threats. But in some sections of the international media, dark intentions are being attributed to UAE attempts to use the tools at its disposal for safeguarding its interests.

A case in point is the series of articles by the Reuters news agency on the alleged presence of former US government intelligence operatives working for the UAE to help it “hack” into the phones and emails of activists, and the existence of a “hacking unit”, code named “Project Raven”. The reports also claimed that US citizens were targeted as part of this alleged campaign.

In January, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash acknowledged that the UAE has a cyber-capability, but clearly denied targeting US citizens or countries with which the UAE has good relations. The UAE is not a weak state, and it has used its resources to strengthen its defences, in order to protect itself the extreme dangers and turmoil that has afflicted many other countries in the region.

These articles, written by journalists Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing, first started appearing in late January this year. And, using the same “Project Raven” as a peg, a series of similar articles appeared in Reuters in March, April and, suspiciously, on December 10, the day of the Gulf summit. And, of course, these articles were seized on by anti-UAE media organisations, like Qatar’s Aljazeera and Turkey’s TRT World, to target the country. Besides, these articles also provided a platform for known Muslim Brotherhood members and sympathisers to attack the UAE.

The UAE’s approach to foreign policy continues to be informed by the principles espoused by its founder, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They include non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and the pursuit, wherever possible, of peaceful resolutions to disputes, with strong support for international institutions such as the United Nations.

- Omar Shariff, Deputy GCC/Middle East Editor

The repetitiveness of the Reuters allegations, and the rehashed nature of the articles – based as they are on the same initial reports of the existence of the hacking unit – make them look suspiciously agenda-driven, and aimed at impacting the UAE’s international reputation. Also, media campaigns like these cannot be seen outside the context of the broader effort by vested interests to malign the leadership of the UAE. There has been a marked increase in long-existing efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood, and individuals and organisations that share its worldview, to target UAE leaders, especially His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The UAE’s approach to foreign policy continues to be informed by the principles espoused by its founder, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They include non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and the pursuit, wherever possible, of peaceful resolutions to disputes, with strong support for international institutions such as the United Nations.

In the region so prone to violence and instability, the UAE has provided an alternative vision. It is viewed as a land of opportunity. Surveys shows, year after year, that the UAE is the country many aspiring Arabs would like to live in to build their lives and careers. This reputation is something the country will guard strongly. It is hard-earned, and deserves to be protected from the machinations of hostile groups or states.

Since 2011, the UAE has watched with alarm as the political situation in the Arab Spring countries spiralled out of control, especially with the rise of groups associated with the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood. This reinforced its belief in upholding stability over all other considerations.

While the UAE views extremism as a tactical threat that must be countered for the welfare of the country and the region, it sees the regional powers plotting against it as a long-term strategic threat. To combat these threats, the UAE, like any other country, is within its rights to develop or procure all the tools it needs.