Dubai: The chances are if you are a western expat in the UAE - particularly a Brit - reading this, you’ve probably had your mum on the phone over the last few days.
‘They are saying all westerners must leave the UAE immediately’ she might have said, ‘It’s in The Daily Mail and everything.’
Yes, the UK papers may have jumped on a particular line spouted by one source in the aftermath of Friday’s death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, but let’s look at this in detail for a minute…
Who said it and what exactly did he say?
All of these headlines stem from one, yes one, Iranian professor Seyed Mohamamd Marandi from the University of Tehran, who told the BBC, “If I was a Western citizen I would leave the United Arab Emirates immediately. Not only will Iranian leaders retaliate but also Iraqis will retaliate.
“The Americans have murdered Iraqi war heroes, this was a senior Iraqi government official. The American position in Iraq is no longer sustainable and I think that the whole region is now a threat.
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“The whole region’s future is unclear because of the terrorist attack committed in Iraq. No matter how you frame it, it’s the equivalent of assassinating the British commander of the British armed forces.
“This is essentially a declaration of war against Iran and they have a pretty wide menu from which to choose [as a form of retaliation].”
Why have the UK papers jumped all over it?
Even when US-Iran tensions aren’t ramped to extreme it seems the editors in London love a click-baity Dubai-bashing headline.
We don’t know why that is, but other than being jealous of the better weather perhaps they need to link the wider Middle East region, which is vast and extremely varied (with a landmass of nine million square kilometres – only slightly smaller than the US), to somewhere where their western readers might actually be able to relate to.
Most people would have holidayed here in Dubai or at least know someone who has. So, if you need web hits, a surefire way of getting them is to go with the most recognisable brand recall in the region, which is Dubai.
It’s also home to 102,000 Brits according to the British Embassy, which after Australia and Spain is one of the biggest collectives of expat Brits on earth. Foreign Office figures also suggest that 1.5 million Brits visit the UAE a year and there are currently 30,000 Brits on holiday here at this very moment, which again makes the UAE, and in particular Dubai, the most popular place in the region for vacationing Brits.
Ironically right next to these stories of impending doom in Dubai, there are also pictures of celebrities vacationing on these very beaches in pre-arranged photo-shoots probably set up by the papers themselves to ‘clandestinely’ capture these celebrities kicking back in the emirate. You can’t have it both ways Daily Mail, should we be staying or going?
In the void of information that follows such an event like Friday’s killing there’s also not that much more for journalists to go on (until Iran actually retaliate), other than to invite a pundit on to speculate about what could happen, because nothing gets hits like a little scaremongering and who better to do it than this guy.
What else has Professor Marandi said?
The American-born academic actually has quite a back catalogue of outlandish statements, none of which have come true, and all of which seem to be heavily centred around UAE-bashing.
One of which, as told to Russia’s answer to Fox News, Russia Today, in July of last year was that “the UAE would cease to exist in a few days.”
Check his tweets and there’s more of the same. He’s previously stated that ‘western expats should leave the UAE immediately’ after similar events like the oil tanker and Aramco attacks last year, but here’s the thing, westerners are still here.
In such a market, and it is just that, some analysts gain notoriety out of being as outspoken as possible, and some channels gravitate towards giving the ‘shock jock’ air time. Marandi is building quite a career out of appearing on TV and scaring people, and as an Iranian academic, with heavy alliance to one-side of the argument he’s unlikely to say anything different is he?
It’s also not all his fault, he may say one thing that gets sensationalised and blown out of all proportion, but the question is why are UK papers trying to smuggle the ridiculous in with genuine news to merge the agenda? It’s pure clickbait.
This from The Telegraph of all papers (oh, you thought you were safe with the broadsheets); headline: ‘Westerners should leave UAE immediately: Gulf warning as British troops put at greater risk in Iraq after US kills Iran military chief, January 3.
Intro: “British troops in Iraq are at greater risk after the US airstrike that killed Iran’s military chief, a former Foreign Office minister has warned, as the US embassy in Baghdad urged Americans to leave Iraq.”
Fair enough, this sounds like a a credible opening, but it’s followed up by the lure that got you to click in the second par of all places: “As one leading Iranian figure urged western citizens to ‘leave the UAE immediately’ for their own safety.”
There it is, the admission that the sensational headline was just that, hidden in the story.
What’s the reality?
US and UK Foreign Offices have indeed updated their travel advisories in the wake of Qasem Soleimani’s death urging citizens in the ‘region’ to ‘remain vigilant’. But none of them explicitly mention Dubai or the UAE.
The UK foreign office notice for the UAE says, “Following the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a US strike in Baghdad on 3 January, British nationals in the region should remain vigilant and keep up to date with the latest developments, including via the media and this travel advice.”
The British Embassy had nothing more than the above to add, while the US embassy in Abu Dhabi said, “US citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good situational awareness.”
All of this is quite different to pack your bags and leave, and it could be the same sort of travel advice the world over with the global threat of terrorism as it is nowadays.
In fact the only three places in the region considered ‘no go’ or ‘all but essential travel’ are Iraq, Iran and Yemen, and they were even before this whole fiasco.
How safe is Dubai?
Dubai ranked 28th in the 2019 Safe Cities Index and sixth in Numbeo’s Crime Index last year.
A 2018 national agenda survey also found that 96.1 per cent of people felt safe to walk outside at night.
The UAE also came first in the lowest rate of crimes related to murder at 0.7 per cent and kidnapping at 0.8 per cent.