Hardly a week goes by without news of a new gadget being adopted by Dubai, the economic and cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates, yet hardly a week goes by without news of someone being arrested there for the most ridiculous reason.

No one is fond of conspiracy theories, but it is hard to accept this trend of ‘cool-washing’ the UAE is innocent.

True, UAE and its iconic brand Dubai has made impressive efforts to embrace (and overhype in the process) the most cutting edge tech, from Elon Musk’s putative Hyperloop to personalised ‘drone ubers’ and robocops to guard its streets.

The UAE is even funding a mission to explore and possibly colonise Mars (and perhaps annex the Red Planet as its eighth emirate).

But in equal measure, the Emiratis and their friends have gone full 1984 with their mass suveillance tech and correspondent cybercrime (and thought-crime) laws.

The Emiratis have ministries of happiness and tolerance but only the most gullible of kool-aid drinkers have bought into this, because everyone knows somewhere in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, there’s also a Ministry of Extreme Paranoia.

The UAE has invested top dollar in clickbaity sites – in addition to its serious propaganda mouthpieces – to peddle its cool factor, and subtly squeeze in its narrative in millenials-baiting headlines.

Yet browse social media and you will sense the amount of paranoia and self-censorship expats in the UAE live in, because they know they can be deported on the silliest grounds if not jailed and made to disappear.

Emiratis are equally at risk of their government’s draconial laws, with dozens of activists languishing behind bars, some even held incommunicado.

At a time when Emirati social media stars themselves have been forced to go silent for refusing to toe the government’s line – especially in the ongoing virtual war on Qatar – make no mistake: No amount of hype about Dubai’s cool gadgetry can hide the fact that there is something rotten in the (police) state of the Emirates.

 

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