Most news media organisations outside the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region frequently highlight malicious activities of certain terror groups emanating from that region, while rarely hyping positive events in the same way.
Unfortunately, these media companies fail to clarify to the average media consumer that some Arabic-speaking terrorists act in their own interest and do not represent any religion or country. Such lack of clarification by news media outlets cause media consumers to assume that the language spoken by the terrorist represents everyone associated to that language.
Consequently, people who have never visited countries in the MENA region have a negative perception of some of these countries, since Arabic is a widely-spoken language in that area.
When foreign news media companies even try reporting on the positives in MENA, their news border the line of sensationalism by highlighting ‘oil money’, gold, and the luxuries in some cities like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh.
The problem with this type of reportage is that, emphasizing wealth does not give foreign media consumers an insight into the tolerance and peace that exists in some countries in the MENA region.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of those countries whose actions at the local and international level is an exemplary model of the rapid changes in the MENA region.
Regarding religious tolerance, the UAE has 'walked the talk' by proving that tolerance exists in some Islamic countries.
In an unprecedented move by a Muslim-dominated country, the Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque in Al Mushrif, a district in the country’s capital Abu Dhabi, was renamed ‘Mary, the mother of Jesus’ (‘Mariam, Umm Eisa’) in 2017.
The renaming was not done because of any petition by any Christian group. His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, made this change out of his own free will to show how his country is promoting tolerance..
Unfortunately, most media companies outside the MENA region did report this story because they did not think this benevolent gesture was newsworthy.
However, almost every media company would have been quick to report rumours of oppression of Christians in a MENA country, just to enforce certain misconstrued stereotypes.
In the international political arena, the UAE government seeks to establish its position as a peacemaker. The UAE was pivotal in the thaw in relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea that stunned the world in 2018.
Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, did not fail to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan for being the linchpin of this historic peace treaty that has restored cordial relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea that lasted for two decades.
Once again, the UAE’s seminal role in achieving peace between these two countries did not gain much media coverage outside the MENA region. The focus around the world was more on the fact that these two countries in the Horn of Africa had buried the hatchet.
However, had it been the case that there were rumours of a MENA country funding armed groups in these countries, it would have hit the headlines outside the region.
Furthermore, unlike certain countries that are encouraging anti-immigration policies or building borders to deter immigrants, the UAE’s stance on immigration is quite laudable.
In an effort to alleviate the woes of illegal residents in the UAE, the government launched a ‘UAE Visa Amnesty’ programme from 1st August to 31st October 2018.
Under this scheme, immigrants who overstayed their visas were given the chance to amend their immigration status at designated immigration centres across the country.
They only had to pay 500 dirham ($137) to modify their residency status, without having to shell out extra cash to hire immigration attorneys. This amnesty came as a blessing to many illegal residents who were spared hefty fines or lengthy jail terms.
For example, a 22-year-old Bangladeshi man who had illegally resided in the UAE since birth had his 1.3 million dirhams ($350,000) overstay fines cancelled. Once again this kind gesture rarely made international headlines.
However, had it been that there were rumours of a MENA country driving out all immigrants by a government directive, most foreign media companies would have been quick to pick it up and possibly spin the news content.
It is quite evident that the UAE is aggressively seeking to reshape the image of the MENA region. However, the onus lies on media companies outside the region to look beyond reporting on the luxuries of the MENA region, and highlight the positive policy initiatives that some countries are using to better the lives of immigrants and citizens.