Since quietly disclosing my departure, many people have asked which of my actions led to my ouster. My answer: “Who knows?” I engaged in many activities that certainly approached the unofficial “red lines” that guide levels of self-censorship here in the UAE and elsewhere in the Arab world.
Here’s a list of my Top 18 guesses:
- I wrote several newspaper columns for Dubai’s Gulf News on a variety of issues including the need to revamp media laws in the UAE.
- I appeared on Emirates 24/7 on DubaiOne and discussed a revision to the media laws. The Federal National Council had announced that they were examining the issue.
- I launched a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a club dedicated to the improvement of journalism in the UAE. Last year, the government disbanded two professional groups amid worries that they were becoming unified with political goals.
- That student chapter of SPJ organized a celebration of the United Nation’s World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2012. The event featured three well-known Emirati figures.
- I taught international media law in my classes including a detailed section on the media environment of the UAE.
- I helped launch an online student newspaper outlet called, “Zajel.” It allowed my students a place to put their journalistic endeavors, often focusing on issues that students thought should be addressed.
- I taught the “Principles of Journalism” in my advanced news writing class. Among other things, the authors stress that journalists should be independent, offer a voice to the voiceless, and monitor those in positions of power.
- Upon my students’ graduation, I tweeted a link to this Muhammad Ali video in which he declared, “I shook up the world!”
- I wrote a column in which I recommended that Bahrain not attempt to regulate speech on social media networks.
- I helped organize a conference last year in which we discussed censorship in the Arab world. The Konrad Adenhauer Stiftung, a German civil society foundation, helped us organize the event. They were kicked out of the country in May 2012.
- In May 2011, I hosted a session of DubaiDebates. The event featured Dahlia Mogahed, the former director of Abu Dhabi Gallup. That organization was kicked out of the UAE in May 2012. Also, the organizer of DubaiDebates announced a suspension of its program earlier this year, citing the current climate of the UAE.
- I defended Madonna’s appearance in Abu Dhabi.
- I hosted BoldTalks in April 2012 in Dubai. In addition to moderating, I delivered a speech in which I extolled the value of public discussion. Watch the video here or read the column here.
- I was in the process of organizing a journalism conference in Abu Dhabi for the Arab-U.S. Association of Communication Educators. The conference, slated for Nov. 16-19 at Zayed University, would provide a forum for a frank discussion of media freedom in the Arab world.
- I have a contract to write a book on media laws of the United Arab Emirates. Now that I’ve been terminated, I have even more time to dedicate to the book.
- Over the spring and summer, a polling firm conducted my survey on Emirati media consumption habits. The National Media Council and Zayed University each paid 40,000 AED to fund the survey. The survey is complete and I forwarded the results to the NMC.
- I gave an interview to the Doha Center for Media Freedom commenting on the limited coverage of the arrest and trial of several activists last year.
- I conducted research with a colleague comparing English-language and Arabic-language newspaper coverage in Abu Dhabi. The results were presented at the AUSACE conference in Beirut last year and will soon be published in an academic journal.
All of these activities seem well within my duties and obligations as a professor of communications at a university with aims of being competitive on an international level. Trying to guess which activity crossed the “red line” would have forced me to curtail all my work. That’s how self-censorship works.