UAE Cleaning Image via Golden Visas for Celebrities
By Staff, Agencies
Over the past few yaears, the United Arab Emirates has tried to project itself as a land of wealth and luxury. The Gulf state has been luring many from across the world to pursue their dreams in this part of the world.
As part of its branding strategy, Abu Dhabi is now giving golden visas to international celebrities: a 10-year renewable residency. Yet, the other side of the story is not that golden.
Lebanese singer Najwa Karam, legendary footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, Egyptian actor Nelly Karim and Tajik influencer Abdu Rozik all have one thing in common, Apart from their fame and wealth, they’re all in possession of the UAE golden visa: a win-win for everyone.
For the UAE, the presence of these celebrities helps the Emiratis raise their country’s profile as a desirable destination.
Edward Corrigan, a Citizenship, Immigration and Refugee Protection Specialist, said that over 200 “Israelis” have guaranteed UAE passports “which is concerning, because that would allow the ‘Israelis’ to travel through anywhere in the Middle East, any Arab country”.
“When the Palestinian issue and other problems like ‘Israeli’ violations of Lebanese airspace, attacks on Syria, are still there, and I think this should not be allowed the Arab world should work together to try to address those concerns and not simply try to ingratiate themselves to the ‘Israelis’”, he added.
Abu Dhabi introduced the golden visa in 2019 as part of its strategy to develop its entertainment industry and attract foreign investment while refreshing its appearance with the presence of A-list celebrities in the UAE.
Meanwhile, handing these celebrities a golden visa on a silver platter has triggered a backlash in a country where its women are still unable to pass down citizenship to their children.
In the words of Sofia Kaltenbrunner of International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, “The UAE is free to attract foreign investment by extending Emirati citizenship laws, but it should end the gross discrimination regarding women and stateless groups.”
Whereas the slightest criticism might be punished with a prison sentence in the UAE, outstanding figures have begun criticizing citizenship laws.
For example, Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, the wife of the ruler of Sharjah, tweeted earlier this year: “Naturalization for the children of female citizens. A demand. Jobs for the children of the Emirates. A demand,” alluding to the existing discrimination against Emirati mothers with foreign husbands.
Emirati citizenship laws also discriminate against the Bidoon [or stateless] population who are entirely excluded from obtaining Emirati nationality, no matter how long they have lived in the UAE.
Many Bidoon have spent all their lives on Emirati soil, and often have been there since before the creation of the UAE in 1971.
According to Laura Van Waas, the co-director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion [ISI], “Such discrimination runs counter to international human rights law and has a knock-on effect on the child’s enjoyment of other basic rights as well as on the family as a whole.”
Critics say the UAE golden visa is part of the country’s PR campaign to portray itself as a "modern, open and tolerant state".
In reality, the UAE is one of the most repressive states in the MENA region, with an estimated 200 political prisoners behind bars in the country.
Many prisoners’ families have been stripped of their citizenship to intimidate them into silence. That can be disastrous for prisoners' relatives.
All of a sudden, getting a job, earning a pension, education and even accessing healthcare becomes near impossible.
The late Alaa al-Siddiq, daughter of political prisoner Mohammed al-Siddiq, is a case in point.
Alaa gained asylum in the UK in 2018 after being driven out of the UAE following a campaign against dissidents in 2011-12.
The UAE government stripped Alaa and her nine siblings of their citizenship in March 2016, after her father’s citizenship was also revoked.
Recently, the Emirati authorities have promised to shelter 5,000 Afghan refugees in the wake of the recent developments in Afghanistan.
A good PR exercise per se, many observers have taken the promise with a pinch of salt, given the grave reality back in the UAE.
Like many other things in the UAE, golden visas provide the country with a shiny veneer over dark matters Abu Dhabi likes to conceal. Things are not always as bright as they might seem in this Gulf state.