With help from Qatar, Muscat cells mount media campaign against Arab coalition

Cyber-power seems to be used to advance one interpretation of events above another but, beneath its hood, there appears a partisan coverage uninterested in facts on the ground.
Saturday 06/07/2019
In the crosshairs of fake news. A Saudi soldier guards a plane at an air base in Marib, Yemen. (AP)
In the crosshairs of fake news. A Saudi soldier guards a plane at an air base in Marib, Yemen. (AP)

LONDON - Secret media cells and online-based groups aligned with Oman and Qatar are escalating a war of words online to elicit bellicose reactions towards certain actors and regarding developments in Yemen, sources claimed.

Sources on Socotra Island said coordinated Qatari-Omani media campaigns have been increased and focus on actions of the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting in Yemen. The media cells allegedly coordinated a campaign pointing to incidents in Yemen’s Socotra Island and other developments.

Members of the cells are said to be based in Muscat and regularly meet with officials and representatives, discussing ways to unify online content geared against Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

Observers said this was not the first attempt to weaponise media since the start of the conflict in Yemen four years ago.

Socotra-based Yemeni activist Saeed Dhamdad described the co-opting of Yemeni talent as “unfortunate” and added that “it serves to polarise people, which will be of no benefit to the Yemeni struggle.”

The acceleration of anti-Saudi web-based activities, sources in Socotra said, boosted the profiles and pages of cell-affiliates as their largely US and European following grows.

Cell affiliates and their support base appear to be working collectively to inspire traffic that offers a damning commentary against the Arab-led coalition in Yemen.

Yemeni writer in Socotra Said Bouzira described the move as “an extension of Qatar’s media war with a new twist… the involvement of Oman and the exploitation of Yemenis.”

“Yemeni society does not lack the consciousness or awareness to see through these attempts,” Bouzira told the New Arab.

Yemeni writers, journalists and activists form an indispensable arm of online operations but for wages in return, the source added. Yemeni personnel in the cell were recently relocated from Saudi Arabia to Muscat as a matter of personal safety and sever direct links to Doha or other Saudi cities, the sources claimed.

In targeting online outrage at coalition members, cell members may feel risks in Saudi Arabia.

The primary objective of the cells, an unidentified source told Al Arab, was the use of media to demonise the actions and presence of the Arab coalition in Yemen and what some accounts described as “Emirati aspirations in Socotra.”

Socotra Island has long been a hotbed of tensions between UAE-aligned forces and local authorities. The Omani-Qatari media crusade commits to Qatari-approved version of events.

Cyber-power seems to be used to advance just one interpretation of events but, beneath its hood, there appears a partisan coverage uninterested in facts on the ground, the sources said.

One such development, reported by privately owned al Masdar news, was the gradual draw-down of a military presence by Gulf states following talks between Yemeni officials and prominent Emirati figures in June. Later, it appeared that what was called as “gradual draw-down” was no more than “troop movement.”

“It is true that there have been some troop movements… but it is not a redeployment from Yemen,” a senior Emirati official told Reuters, adding that the United Arab Emirates remains fully committed to the military coalition and “will not leave a vacuum” in Yemen.