Emirates Leaks

Nuseir Yassin normalisation tour: Loving the UAE

Yassin’s reductionist antics, capitalist narcissism, and techno-washing of Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing are the opposite of cultural exploration

The 28-year-old Harvard graduate, whose real name is Nuseir Yassin and who hails from the town of Arraba in the Galilee, shot to internet stardom in 2016 when he left his $120,000-a-year high-tech job in New York to travel the world posting daily 60-second videos oozing with cliche and orchestrated cheer.

His Facebook page currently boasts 17 million followers, which does not inspire enormous confidence in the human race. Video topics have ranged from “The Most Lovable Country!” (the Philippines) to “Serbian Food Heaven!” to “AFRICA’S SECRET COUNTRY!”, Swaziland, where Yassin documented “half naked” dancers and, as Steven Salaita writes, it all “looked like a research trip for a 1940s Disney feature”.

It gets more problematic, of course, when Yassin takes a break from revelling exuberantly in superficiality and engages in blatantly political commentary – like the time he explained, in one minute, the mass slaughter, destruction, and expulsion of Palestinians that attended the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948: “Some Palestinians left, some got killed, and some stayed in their land. My people stayed.”

Stating that he had opted to “accept the borders of Israel” and to “move on”, Yassin lectured his audience that “in life there are better and bigger things to focus on than the name of a piece of land!”

This is a fine and dandy sentiment, to be sure, unless the land in question continues to make life hell for millions of Palestinians more than seven decades after it was forcibly renamed.

It’s not quite clear how residents of the Gaza Strip, for example, are to “move on” in the midst of a blockade and regular Israeli military massacres of civilians. The vast majority of Palestinians – not to mention the vast majority of humans on this planet – don’t have the option to move from Harvard to a $120,000 salary to a career of international gallivanting that entails being lodged for free in executive suites in exchange for a mention on Instagram.

Selling out

On 16 May 2018 – two days after Israeli forces killed around 60 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza – Yassin regretfully interrupted his reports on infinity pools and floating breakfast service in the Maldives to offer a 60-second take, “Israel vs. Palestine”, buttressed with the apology: “I am so sorry. I hate making political videos… I will get back to regular programming starting tomorrow!”

The exceptional programming featured the argument that “if you stand with one side and one side only, you are wrong”, although not much justification was provided for why anyone should stand with the side that had just killed 60 people aside from a note that “I can name a hundred things we as Palestinians (and Arabs like in Egypt and Jordan) did wrong in the past 70 years.”

At the end of the day, even Yassin’s floating Maldivian breakfasts are fundamentally political – seeing as they show how great Palestinians can supposedly have it if they simply sell out.

Yassin’s Israeli passport naturally enables him to “move on” at a much faster rate than other categories of Palestinians, such as those forcibly prevented from even leaving Gaza. There have, however, been obstacles – like when Kuwait Airways wouldn’t let him fly from New York to India via Kuwait and paid for him to fly on Qatar Airways instead.

A new venture

This grave injustice merited another minute of Yassin’s thoughts on the “boycott” of Israel – a “stupid ban” that is “pure politics” and that “only benefits the people in power, the outdated undemocratic kings of the Arabs and the far-right Israeli leaders”.

Flash forward a couple of years and the mole is back with unrepentant love for some of those monarchs – namely the ones in the United Arab Emirates, who in August struck a deal to normalise relations with Israel.

So much love that Yassin’s new venture Nas Academy – advertised as “building the world’s best creator school” – is backed by the New Media Academy, which was launched this summer by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister and vice president of the UAE as well as ruler of the emirate of Dubai (how’s that for democracy?).

Long a normaliser himself, Yassin has now been singled out for his own personal boycott in a statement from the BDS movement, which also highlighted his search for 80 Arab content creators to become “The Next Nas Daily” – clearly just what the world needs.

Curiously, Yassin was already collaborating with the New Media Academy in June, i.e. two months before the Israeli-Emirati love affair was made official. Even more curiously, as of July he was posting videos he had shot in the UAE – this after having previously griped about not being able to travel to the country on account of his Israeli passport (see charming video “THEY WON’T LET ME IN!!”).

Finally in the UAE

So what did Yassin find when he finally arrived to the UAE with his girlfriend Alyne Tamir, an Israeli-Jewish Mormon whose theatrically chipper demeanour reaches similarly aneurysm-inducing proportions?

Well, first he found the answer to his question “Safest Country to Visit in Corona?!” Following a travel hiatus due to the pandemic, Yassin was back in the skies with Emirates airline – whose coronavirus safety precautions are apparently nearly orgasmic – and then on to the “clean, sanitised rooms” of Dubai.

Predictable clips of water sports, mall-skiing, desert scenes, and Yassin gripping the pole of a giant Emirati flag ensue. Then there’s his video on “How This Country is Fixing Religion!”, which deals with how the UAE is supposedly a trailblazer in quelling religious intolerance: “This is a beautiful system where Muslims and non-Muslims can live together in harmony.”

Never mind when the same system undertakes to spontaneously deport longtime Shia Lebanese residents of the UAE and break up families – or that it’s a rather unharmonious situation when the slightest criticism of the government can be grounds for imprisonment, torture, or disappearance. Nor, of course, does the bombing, starvation, and torture of Yemenis constitute the greatest example of coexistence. Ditto for the abuse and exploitation of the Emirates’ vast migrant workforce.

A bad reputation

To be sure, the UAE is not the only authoritarian regime to have captured Yassin’s heart. There’s also Singapore, where his fawning coverage can be compared to Human Rights Watch’s tally of instances like the following: “In May 2018, the government charged activist Jolovan Wham with ‘scandalising the judiciary’ for posting on Facebook that ‘Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.’”

But in the case of the UAE, the authoritarian fetish directly abets normalisation, while also obviously translating into lucrative financial perks for Yassin.

And the more that normalisation can be tied to modernity, the better. In another video on the UAE’s Hope Mars Mission, Yassin laments how the Arabs went from inventing algebra, discovering stars, and starting universities to associating themselves with war, poverty, and problems.

The solution? A Martian orbiter designed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre!

In the video’s accompanying text on Facebook, Yassin writes: “For centuries, my race had a bad reputation. And I understand why… That’s why I couldn’t be happier to share this amazing achievment [sic] with you. This is why I built Nas Daily – THIS is what I wish to amplify.”

Indeed, nothing says shooting for the stars like Yassin’s brand of auto-Orientalism and self-colonisation. An Instagram post of Yassin and Tamir in traditional Emirati attire meanwhile bears the caption: “I traveled the world exploring other people’s cultures. I think it’s time to explore mine.”

But Yassin’s reductionist antics, capitalist narcissism, and techno-washing of Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing do not a cultural exploration entail.

He deserves a bad reputation – before there are 80 more like him.

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