On Aug. 13, the governments of Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached a historic diplomatic agreement to normalize relations. Since the formation of the Jewish state in 1948, only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, have recognized Israel. The new deal would make the Emirates the third.
Five days later, during an interview with Sky News Arabia, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the commonality between the two Middle East countries:
"The deal connects the UAE with Israel; both of them are advanced democracies and their societies are advanced."
This is false.
Although both countries can boast economic achievements, Israel is a parliamentary democracy, while the United Arab Emirates is a federal monarchy that generally scores low on indices of civil liberties.
The U.S. human rights monitor Freedom House gives the United Arab Emirates a paltry score of 17 out of 100 on its freedom scale and classifies the UAE as “not free.”
“Limited elections are held for a federal advisory body, but political parties are banned, and all executive, legislative, and judicial authority ultimately rests with the seven hereditary rulers,” Freedom House said of the Emirates in its latest world survey.
“The civil liberties of both citizens and noncitizens, who make up an overwhelming majority of the population, are subject to significant restrictions.”
The same report states that UAE government policy is determined by the country’s dynastic rulers, while the elected Federal National Council functions purely as an advisory body.
In the area of press freedom, Freedom House scored the UAE at zero, calling the country’s 1980 media law one of the most restrictive in the Arab world. The law prohibits criticism of the government, and a number of journalists have been jailed for violating it.
Laws governing speech online also limit what ordinary citizens can express. Human Rights Watch found that the UAE government arbitrarily detains and, in some cases, “disappears” its critics. In 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the UAE for its treatment of dissidents.
Another area of concern in the United Arab Emirates is the exploitation of foreign migrant workers. The UAE is unique in that nearly 90 percent of its population is foreign-born.
According to Amnesty International, migrant laborers are often subject to extremely low wages (there is no minimum wage in the country), to wage theft, to confiscation of passports, and to other forms of exploitation. Many workers find themselves detained indefinitely when they are unable to pay fines for visa violations.
Women in the UAE are also subject to discriminatory laws.
The new agreement between Israel and the UAE covers a wide range of activities, from tourism to direct flights to diplomatic relations.
Under the deal, Israel promises to suspend earlier plans to annex the West Bank, a majority-Palestinian territory. The Palestinian leadership condemned the agreement and withdrew its ambassador from the UAE.