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UAE: Journalists reportedly sacked en masse over article on cost of living crisis

The Dubai-based Al-Roeya has fired dozens of writers and editors after the publication of an article that criticised rising prices in the country
A man in Dubai reads a copy of the National, an Emirati newspaper owned by the same company that has reportedly sacked scores of journalists over a story (AFP)

The Emirati news website Al-Roeya has sacked dozens of editors and journalists after the publication of an article highlighting the economic impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on the cost of living for low-income residents of the UAE.

Raseef22, a Lebanese news website that revealed the mass sacking last week, reported that employees, journalists and senior editors were fired, and some of them questioned, before Al-Roeya's main online sections were shut down last week.

'In the meeting, it was mentioned that the institution will be permanently closed due to a report that should not have been published'

- Al-Roeya journalist

According to journalists who spoke with Raseef22, Emirati officials were angered by a report published in June in Al-Roeya exploring the economic effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the global market and the increased fuel prices and cost of living crisis affecting low-income residents of the UAE.

A few hours after publishing the report, journalists and editors arrived at Al-Roeya offices in Dubai Media City to find sombre managers informing them that they were fired.

Al-Roeya is one of the UAE's established newspapers owned by the Abu Dhabi-based International Media Investments (IMI) company. In April, Al-Roeya ended its printed edition to cut down costs, keeping its online websites which covered political, cultural and business topics.

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Mustafa Alzarooni, the Emirati editor-in-chief of Al-Roeya, told journalists and editors in a meeting that the website's main sections would be shut down and the site would be dedicated to business news around the world.

A journalist at Al-Roeya told Raseef22 that almost 60 employees had lost their jobs, and three people are currently running the news website. The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that number may be as high as 90 journalists.

"In the meeting, it was mentioned that the institution will be permanently closed due to a report that should not have been published. More than 60 employees will pay the price and lose their jobs and sit at their home looking for a new opportunity elsewhere," the journalist told Raseef22.

"The salaries in Al-Roeya were excellent because it was funded by the government, and today most of us have been without work for three months."

Fury over report

The report published by Al-Roeya in June was taken down after it was shared widely on social media. It interviewed residents of the UAE who said that they had driven to nearby Oman to fill their vehicle's tanks with fuel as it was cheaper.

'The UAE touts itself as liberal and open to business while continuing its repression'

- Cathryn Grothe, Freedom House

Journalists who spoke to Rasees22 and the Associated Press said that these interviews brought the ire of officials. 

However, according to AP, IMI officials said that Al-Roeya's closure was part of the newspaper's transformation into an Arabic business outlet with CNN Business Arabic, which will be launched later this year.

“The UAE touts itself as liberal and open to business while continuing its repression,” Cathryn Grothe, a Middle East research analyst at the Washington-based group Freedom House, told AP.

“Censorship is rampant, online and offline. ... It limits the work that journalists are able to do," she added.

A royal business

Al-Roeya was founded in 2012 and had gone through a rebranding to appeal more to the youth and widen its readership pool three years ago.

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IMI also runs other publications in the UAE, including Sky News Arabia and the English-language newspaper The National. IMI is owned by the UAE's deputy prime minister and billionaire Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the owner of Manchester City football club in the UK.

A journalist told Raseef22 that it was hard to work for UAE media without facing censorship.

"In my experience and the experiences of my colleagues, we suffer a lot in our work, any tourist or economic report needs from one to two weeks to obtain approval by the competent authority," the journalist said.

"Whoever works as an independent journalist will not be able to write more than three reports a month, and this does not concern them; what concerns them is their beautiful image."

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