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How the UAE is using fake news to manufacture a Turkish role in Yemen

Monitoring several UAE-funded Arabic and English media platforms in the last few months, one would notice an increasing barrage of fake news and reports that are specifically dedicated to insert Turkey’s name into the Yemeni crisis by promoting a non-existent Turkish security role in Yemen.

This ‘news’, statements, reports and analysis indicate that they are a part of a carefully crafted disinformation campaign that targets Turkey’s so-called role in Yemen.

The Arab Weekly in particular, a London – based news outlet, has been noticeably very active in this domain. Unsurprisingly, it is funded by the UAE and has an Arabic version Al Arab that has been even more gung ho in this matter.

Interestingly, both the entities are working under the UAE funded umbrella of the “Al-Arab media organization” which also funds sister platforms such as the Middle East Online and the Turkey-focused website Ahval.

The main theme of coverage surrounding Turkey’s role in Yemen revolves around resurrecting the boogeyman of a “Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood (MB)” axis and selling it to audiences through baseless allegations.

These allegations focus on three main claims.

First, Turkey is building up its security presence in Yemen with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party Al Islah.

Second, the ‘Turkey-Qatar-MB axis’ is executing a coordinated plot in Yemen to create its own armed militias and sabotage the Saudi-UAE efforts there especially the “ Riyadh Agreement”.

Third, the Turkey-led axis is cooperating with Iran and the Houthis in Yemen to target Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and that the growing activity of Turkey in three southern coastal regions is a cause of regional concern especially for Egypt.

The sister platforms of The Arab Weekly are used to amplify these messages by re-publishing the same news and articles in more than one language, exposing them to different audiences and boosting their circulation.

The next stage includes what one could call “news laundering” where some of these materials and claims find their way back to foreign platforms in Israel, France, US, Russia among others, just to be used again by the same original UAE-funded platforms as ‘foreign sources’.

Parallel to the defeat of Abu Dhabi’s man in Libya, the warlord Khalifa Haftar, at the hands of the Turkey-backed UN-recognised GNA, the Emirati false narratives on Ankara’s role in Yemen intensified. It peaked with the UAE taking over Yemen’s strategic Socotra archipelago with the help of its local separatist militia of the Southern Transitional Council (STC).

During June, UAE-linked platforms warned of a Libya-like military operation by Turkey in Yemen. Pro-UAE Yemeni figures started to publish articles and give statements on the “Turkish threat” in Yemen.

Some of them even claimed that “pro-MB Turkish military personnel were caught in Socotra” after allegations on the presence of Turkish security members in Yemen. These lies triggered wide reaction inside and outside Yemen.

Commenting on them, Gerald M. Feierstein, former US ambassador to Yemen tweeted: “Fabricating a ‘Turkish threat’ is a dangerous ploy.” He questioned whether Saudi Arabia was complicit in this and accused the UAE of using what he called “agit-prop to justify seizing and undermining Yemen’s sovereignty on the island.”

Feierstein is right.

Yet, this is obviously not the sole goal of the UAE disinformation campaign already in place for months. The UAE move should be understood as an attempt to shape regional and global opinion, incite it against Turkey’s increasing role and influence, and shift the attention away from its malicious and dark role in the region.

Fantastical narratives

By forcibly inserting Turkey into the Yemeni crisis and linking its role there with Yemen’s MBs, Abu Dhabi aims to first hinder Turkey’s growing humanitarian role in Yemen as it is granting Ankara more Yemeni hearts and minds at a time when the image of the two opposing sides (UAE and Saudi Arabia vs Iran and Houthis) involved in the destruction of Yemen is sinking deeper.

Indeed, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, and pro-Iran Houthi all hindered Turkish aid to Yemenis several times over the course of the conflict.

Second, the UAE wants to proactively block any possible Turkish role in Yemen in the future especially with the fact that most of Yemenis are already fed up with the UAE, Iran, Houthis, and Saudi Arabia.

For some time now, the Yemeni President in-exile has been sounding an alarm over the UAE’s separatist agenda in Yemen. He and his government are fed up with the Saudis doing nothing to stop their Emirati allies.

Many of them are even convinced that Riyadh might be complicit or completely under the influence of Abu Dhabi, and have started to seek alternatives.

Third, the UAE wants to bridge the growing gap between its agenda and the Saudi agenda in Yemen by shifting the focus of the Saudis towards a so-called “Turkey, Qatar, Muslim brotherhood” scheme in Yemen with the hope that both Riyadh and Ankara engage in some kind of conflict that can put the UAE in a favourable position.

Fourth, Abu Dhabi hopes that its false narrative on Turkey’s role in Yemen would make enough noise that it will serve as a smokescreen to divert attention away from its own agenda in Yemen. This was obvious in the recent Socotra case.

The Arab Weekly, for instance, labelled the staged coup of Abu Dhabi’s separatist militia (STC) against the forces of Hadi’s government there as an operation that “thwarts Muslim Brotherhood’s plans in Socotra”.

Fifth, aware of its limited capacity, the UAE wants to bring in other countries in its effort to counter Turkey regionally, and such a narrative that involves Qatar and the MB, would perfectly serve its goal.

To perform this task, it has been working lately on several fronts through an array of actors: The Gulf axis (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain), the Arab axis (Egypt, Assad, Haftar), the EU axis (France, Greece, Cyprus), and of course the US.

A recently leaked email for Yousef al Otaiba, UAE’s Ambassador to Washington, shows Abu Dhabi’s efforts to incite US officials against Ankara especially in Libya. This is not new behaviour considering similar cases that go back as far as 2017.

In one of his leaked e-mails at the time, al Otaiba reportedly told a New York Times columnist “We don’t want Turkey or Qatar to be able to shape a dinner menu much less a country.”

He even alleged that “the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatari and Turkish triangle” is preventing Gulf countries from bringing their relations with Israel out from under the table.

Additionally, the UAE has been constantly instigating Egypt against Turkey. This is quite obvious in the Libya case. In Yemen, Abu Dhabi has been focusing on promoting the claim that Turkey’s presence in Yemen is a threat to Egypt.

To boost the “Turkish threat” narrative in Yemen, Abu Dhabi is trying to portray the struggle in Yemen as us vs all. That is why according to its false narrative, Turkey is not only coordinating with Qatar and the MB in Yemen, but also with Iran and the Houthis there. Abu Dhabi even inserted Somalia and Oman to this imaginary coalition.

Ironically, during the last year, Abu Dhabi has sent several security delegations to Iran and coordinated with Tehran on different levels including the Gulf security and Yemen.

Iranian officials admitted recently that the UAE changed its behaviour and policies towards Tehran and that both are cooperating on several levels. These Iranian statements might explain why the Houthis continue to hit Saudi Arabia and Riyadh with missiles and drones while sparing Abu Dhabi.

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