Over the course of many years, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has adopted a long-term strategy of spreading Islamophobia, particularly in Europe, to fuel intolerance, hatred, and fear towards Islam and Muslims.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring and geopolitical shifts in the region, the UAE felt threatened by the revolutions that targeted Arab regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. As a response, Abu Dhabi engaged in a different approach to managing the protest movements, which had implications in the Gulf region.
While Islamist groups and forces dominated the scene, especially after gaining political power and empowerment in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, the UAE emerged as a leading figure in the counter-revolution.
Abu Dhabi pursued political and ideological confrontation with political Islam through media platforms and cultural centres, aiming to expose its narratives and incite hatred in various forms.
The UAE embarked on tracking the social, cultural, and developmental networks of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West, where they had been rooted since the 1970s.
Concurrently, the UAE promoted an alternative version of Islam based on secularism and aligned with “Islamic left” intellectual figures.
In line with its normalization policies with Israel and the signing of the Abraham Accords under the sponsorship of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the UAE established the “Abrahamic Family House” on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, a complex comprising a mosque, church, and synagogue.
The UAE framed its political and diplomatic statements as exemplifying “moderate Islam.” FOR INSTANCE, the UAE embassy in Washington emphasized “the values of mutual respect and religious freedom entrenched in the structure of the UAE since before the state’s establishment in 1971.” This was highlighted during the signing of the Abraham Accords, stating that the UAE had a “forward-looking vision for the Middle East.”
Since 2011, the UAE has actively reproduced the “liberal” Islamic model, which aligns with its domestic and foreign policies. It contradicts attempts at change following the Arab Spring and its refusal of democratic values, adopting only procedural aspects (such as elections) to achieve political empowerment. This needs ideological justifications to adapt to the failure and frame it within the vision and objectives of each party in a fabricated manner.
During this period, entities such as the Muslim Council of Sages, Forum for Peace Promotion in Islamic Societies, UAE Fatwa Council, European Islamic Conference, Secretary-General of the Forum for Peace in Muslim Societies, and Global Council for Muslim Communities were established, along with interfaith dialogue initiatives.
There is also the UAE-Israeli Jewish Council, which has a representative body of Jews residing in the UAE. In 2019, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna was appointed the first rabbi in Dubai.
The UAE’s inclination towards promoting a secularized Islamic model might have roots in the pre-Arab Spring era.
For example, Abu Dhabi’s media channel, Abu Dhabi TV, consistently hosted Syrian thinker Mohammed Shahrour, known for his modernist interpretations of the Quran using linguistic and philological methodologies, which contradicts traditional and conservative stances.
Observers point out that the UAE’s apparent tolerance and moderation are met with extreme repression, curtailment of freedoms, and justification of aggressive regional policies, as seen in Yemen.