BY RAYNALD C RIVERA
The recall of their ambassadors in Qatar by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has ignited an online row involving citizens of these countries, who are exchanging provocative remarks, at times using foul language, on Twitter and other social media.
The three Gulf Arab states last month took the unprecedented step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar in protest at what they see as Doha’s political meddling and support for Islamist groups.
The move led to discussions in social media not only in the GCC countries but also in the wider Arab world. Many say the issue shows the weakness of the Gulf Cooperation Council, while others expressed the hope that these countries would work towards unity and integration.
Thousands of comments related to the issue have been made on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, including by clerics and officials. One such comment recently prompted a Qatari journalist to lodge a formal complaint against a Dubai official.
Noted Qatari woman journalist Dr Elham Bader Al Sada filed a complaint with the Public Prosecution against Dahi Khalfan, vice chair of Dubai Police and Public Security, for his allegedly provocative remarks against Qatar and its people.
Dr Al Sada alleged that Khalfan had been “threatening and terrorising” the Qatari people with offensive comments on his Twitter account, calling her country the “eighth emirate” of the UAE.
Dr Al Sada believes there is some kind of social media campaign against Qatar involving officials.
“This campaign on social media was started two to three years ago by officials like Dahi Khalfan. He started it against Egypt and some influential figures, and recently against Qatar,” she told The Peninsula.
“Political issues are matters for politicians, who have their own way of addressing them. But with the involvement of officials in provoking ordinary people through social media by using foul language, what do you expect ordinary people to do?” she asked.
A netizen posted a reaction on Twitter, saying: “It is surprising to see scholars and clerics taking part in this provocative campaign when their role should be to prevent people from increasing tensions. People should not concentrate on negative aspects. As GCC citizens we should look at the positive side of our relations and ties.”
Many users of social media, Dr Al Sada observed, had appreciated the stand of Qatar and how Qatari officials were handling the issue, because no Qatari official had brought up this issue in social media or got involved in the discussions, because they believe it is a political issue that can be solved through diplomatic channels.
A Qatari tweeter said the recall of the ambassadors and the foul language used against Qatar had elicited sympathy from other Arab citizens, particularly since Qatar had not withdrawn its ambassadors from the three countries.
“Those who use social media to create hate and insult others don’t represent GCC citizens; they are just a few who don’t represent the opinion of GCC citizens and their genuine attitude towards each other. In the end, the majority of GCC citizens believe they are brothers who belong to the same family and their relations will not be affected by this,” said Dr Al Sada, adding that many people commenting in social media were using fake names.
To many, the spat has come as a shock because this is the first time since the establishment of the GCC that tension between member states has reached a point where they have withdrawn ambassadors. Some tweeted that this was virtually the end of the GCC.
Qatari writer and social media activist Faisal Al Marzooki said there had been instances in the past when political relations among GCC states had deteriorated, but they had not sunk to this level. No ambassadors were withdrawn as the leaders had managed to bridge their differences over specific issues.
“The reason why people have been very much involved in social media is that this is the first time ambassadors have been recalled. It was shocking and no one expected it. The second reason is the existence of social media; earlier it was not available but now people are using it widely. Another reason is that some entities in and out of the GCC use social media to take advantage of the situation, to set citizens against each other. Lack of diplomatic solutions also contributes to the involvement of the people,” Al Marzooki told The Peninsula.
He said he never expected that the political misunderstanding would lead to attacks and insults. “But this shows that there are people who have a hidden agenda in provoking GCC citizens to clash, disintegrate and intensify disputes among them.
“But the role of those people, who have a hidden agenda behind creating hatred, will end when the issue is solved. We have high hopes of GCC intellectuals bringing the situation back to normal and solving this problem, especially what is going on in the social media.
“We need our people to learn the ethics of social media; they should use social media not to breed hatred but to keep people in touch.”
He noted that in the GCC and other Arab countries many people air their views on such issues in social media “because we lack political participation and people don’t have enough means to express their opinions.”
Mozah Abdulaziz Al Ishaq, a Qatari columnist, said the spat had shocked Qataris, who see themselves as a part of the GCC family.
“We are the same family at different levels, whatever the differences of opinion we have, and these should not affect our individual and social relations. The current problem will also pass like other misunderstandings among these countries before. Therefore, journalists and intellectuals should play a positive role and not be influenced by the provocative language used in social media. They should have an intellectual dialogue, using proper language, to address the issue, because creating more tension is not in the interest of anyone, and we have our ways of solving problems,” Al Ishaq told The Peninsula.
The negative comments made online apart, there are also many who look at the bright side of the issue.
“We should not justify what our government is doing, and instead of fighting each other we should ask for transparency because none of us knows the real reason for the withdrawal of ambassadors,” a tweeter said.
“The recall of ambassadors will only benefit the enemies of GCC countries,” read another reaction, adding that it should not cause divisions among GCC citizens.
The withdrawal of ambassadors is political anger which will disappear after some time. When their anger dies down, people will realise that what they are saying and the language they are using is not correct, said a Twitter user.
“Policies are continuously changing, so are rulers, but the people of the GCC will remain, and our social and cultural fabric will stay intact and this provocative media discussion will not affect our relations, therefore people should not spend time on these nonsense discussions,” said another tweeter.
A female Twitter user said, “I feel sad to see the relationship among GCC citizens being affected by this issue, giving others the impression that GCC citizens’ relations are fragile and that we are not yet politically mature. When the ambassadors return to their posts in Qatar, it would be as if nothing had happened. In doing this, we are giving a bad image of our relations as GCC citizens.”
She also warned GCC netizens to be cautious when using social media as there were outsiders provoking and heightening misunderstandings among GCC citizens.
“We should be open-minded and should not react emotionally,” she said.
With some people using the issue to attack and insult others in social media, some netizens are asking why the GCC states don’t shut down these platforms, while others say that is not the answer to the problem. The solution, they say, is to teach the new generation how to use media platforms properly.
“Social media should not be judged by its misuse by a few people, because the majority is using it properly,” said a posting on an Arabic news website.
The solution, the poster said, was to have policies in place to regulate use of social media.
Social media is “like a knife in a child’s hand; he can hurt others and himself,” said a netizen.
Another commenter said: “A problem with social media is immature teenagers addicted to these platforms; otherwise it is good for serious discussion, sharing breaking news and exchanging useful information.”
He added that some people used bogus accounts on social media to spread rumours and confuse people, and “for such users we should find a legal solution, and technology can make it easy to control such misuse.”
The issue, some say, has transformed social media from a means to connect people into a political platform.THE PENINSULA