Christopher Davidson, whose book Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success was just reviewed in the New York Review of Books, recently contributed to the Index on Censorship on the UAE’s recent decision to ban Blackberry use.
Davidson argues that the UAE’s decision is motivated by mounting political opposition in the country. In recent months hundreds of Blackberry chain messages have been sent in the country criticizing ministers and other government officials associated with sexual and financial scandals. Users have also used Blackberries to organize public protests.
The recent ban is not the first time that the UAE has tried to curb Blackberry use. In the days immediately following the Iranian election, the government-owned telecom company Etisalat encouraged users to download a “performance enhancement.” After users complained of malfunctioning after downloading the patch, it was revealed that it was spyware that the government used to monitor transmissions on Blackberry.
Davidson speculates that the ban will lead other Arab countries to also curtail Blackberry use (Saudi Arabia has already done so.) It will also damage the UAE’s international reputation while internally it will once again deny to UAE citizens a “a safety valve for criticism and free expression, and this will likely have serious medium term consequences, as opponents inevitably seek out alternative outlets.”