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Internet Penetration Policy and Its Implications in UAE


Over the last decade, the world has experienced rapid penetration of the internet even in countries that were previously deemed to be conservative. This rapid uptake has not spared even the most conservative countries in the Middle East and North Africa. As such, the heightened speed of embracing the internet especially in the United Arab Emirates indicates that people are hungry for alternative means of communication within and without their borders. For instance, freedom of the press in the UAE has always been entangled in controversies largely due to government reluctance to guarantee total press freedom. Needless to say, press control has mainly aggravated the public’s quest to express their opinion. Therefore, internet penetration has turned out to be a real-time solution to this problem. Moreover, the ease with which the internet has accelerated the publication of information as well as its ability to reach millions of audiences at very minimal cost has not been received well by the UAE government.

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It is against this background that the UAE government has realized how the internet has demolished monopoly walls of information control, a situation that has witnessed authorities take major steps towards implementation of controversial policies aimed at controlling penetration and access of internet in this region (Deibert, 2008). These policies seek to censor access to materials that are deemed to contain inappropriate political, religious, social, moral, and legal content (Allagui, 2009). Consequently, this move by the UAE government to repress web freedom has generated numerous debates on the implications of such a move to human rights and freedom of expression among its citizens.

Nonetheless, the big question revolving around this controversial debate is whether such a move is genuine in preventing citizens from exposure to the negative effects of the internet or it is a random move to shun the looming political threat.

According to Deibert (2008), the mandate to regulate internet penetration and access in UAE rests with Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) which was established in 2003. The body operates under UAE federal law. It is authorized to perform several tasks such as ensuring that there are adequate and effective telecommunication services in the country as well as coming up with regulatory and policy frameworks to act as a guideline while implementing these services. Secondly, TRA designs policies such as the Internet Management policy that is responsible for censoring online content which authorized ISPs are allowed to access. According to Allagui (2009), since 2006, TRA vigilance has increased both in scope and depth. Besides, the last few years have also witnessed the development of numerous policies which have largely imposed restrictions on how much web content can be accessed by the public.

As epitomized above, though broadband access has been growing at a relatively high rate in UAE as compared to other regions in the Middle East, the government has perceived this as a potential threat to political stability due to the internet ability to reach and influence a wider audience (Deibert, 2008). In response to this looming threat, the UAE government, via TRA, has accelerated filtration and surveillance measures to ensure that its public remains protected from external influence occasioned by the internet (Deibert, 2008). Recent research by ONI testing between 2008-2009 periods found out that TRA is tasked to block any content that is considered to be morally offensive such as pornographic and nudity sites, alcohol, and drug use sites, sites that discuss gay and lesbian issues as well as those that provides access to online dating (Allagui, 2009). In addition, online gambling sites, some sites that discuss the historical Nazis regime or the activities of historical revisionists are also blocked. Moreover, TRA restricts some political and religious discourse over the internet, and those who violate these restrictions face legal prosecution (Deibert, 2008). The gravity of the matter is that TRA also censors access to internet sites that offer the public opportunity to download spyware as well as hacking and malicious codes soft wares (Allagui, 2009).

The above situation indicates that no internet activity by UAE citizens escapes the attention of the government and even though citizens are allowed to use private emails, there is no guarantee that their communications are not monitored (Allagui, 2009). It is imperative to mention that the Arab world has been regarded as the most repressive on freedom of expression and the move by the UAE government does not make the situation any better. According to Allagui (2009), the UAE government move is just a precautionary step that does nothing but further restrict the already voiceless citizens. Perhaps, having observed the creativity upon which social network users have supported democratic movements in other regions around the world, the UAE government must be wary of the potentiality of similar forums to cause a revolution in this region. However, while internet penetration control policies are highly significant in protecting internet users from negative influence, blocking policies that are evident in UAE might impact negatively on the human rights of its citizens (Deibert, 2008).

According to Allagui (2009), human and political rights activists especially in dictatorial governments have previously utilized internet communication platforms to expose government acts of corruption and dictatorship and evidence indicates that such actions have yielded positive effects to the benefits of citizens. The above notion underscores that UAE internet penetration and access restrictive policies violate UAE citizens’ democratic rights. On the same note, Deibert (2008) underscores that the move by the UAE government to over-censor internet usage among its citizens should be viewed with skepticism and suspicion since the underlying motive is to silence the massive power of information exchange and increased awareness.


Furthermore, although the UAE government has succeeded in the past to crack down and censor traditional mass media, Deibert (2008) thinks that such a move has no place in the 21st-century world whereby information exchange is very significant in liberating the world population from oppressive government regimes. The move by the UAE government to prosecute bloggers and online activists following publications of content deemed to be violating TRA regulations further indicates that current policies impact negatively on human rights freedom of expression. Deibert (2008) further adds that the fundamental idea behind the information revolution, which is promoted through the technological revolution is to encourage freedom of expression, universal access to information as well exchange of information among citizens from both democratic and non-democratic societies. Therefore, the move by the UAE to embrace information technology while at the same time restricting universal access and the free exchange of information tends to dilute the whole essence of promoting technological advancement in the region. This notion is also supported by Allagui (2009) who underscores that technological revolution is meant to promote social, political, economic, and cultural change. Therefore, internet penetration policies practiced by the UAE government attract more negative than positive effects on society. Indeed, the role of the UAE in internet policing should be viewed as a move to deny its citizens the universal human rights on open access to information.


  1. Allagui, L. (2009). Multiple Mirrors of the Arab Digital Gap. Global Media Journal, 8(14) 12-21.
  2. Deibert , R. (2008). Access denied: the practice and policy of global Internet filtering. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

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