United Arab Emirates


The United Arab Emirates’ political system consists of a unique blend of the traditional and the modern. It has enabled the country to acquire a contemporary administrative structure and at the same time making certain that traditions from the past are sustained and adapted accordingly to the benefit of the country and its people. The country is a sheikhdom and is actually a union of seven emirates which are: the capital, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaima, and Um Al Quwain. Each of the emirates has its own ruler, the sheikh, who is often the leader of the most powerful tribe in that particular emirate. However, the sheikh of the capital emirate is the president of the country. The federal system of the emiraty government consists of the Supreme Council, Council of Ministers and Cabinet, Fourty Member Federal National Council, and Federal Judiciary. Based on socioeconomic factors, the UAE is considered to be a highly developed country due to its highly industrialized economy. Natural resources as well as tourism are the country’s main sources of revenue. The country's culture stems from a deeprooted belief in Islam. Islam is more than simply a religion, it is a way of life. The religion governs every activity and decision made on a daily basis.

In 2006, the Ministry of Information and Culture which was responsible for the country’s media affairs was transformed into a National Media Council and a Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community. The core media bodies in the form of the Press and Publications Department, the External Information Department, Emirates News Agency were placed under the authority of the National Media Council. The council oversees the media development in the UAE and provides support to particular media initiatives which include the development of the filmmaking industry in the country.

Local Films

Summing up from various sources of information, local films are treated differently than foreign films. According to articles about the Dubai International Film Festival that was held in Dubai in 2005, local filmmakers stated that unlike films in other Arab countries, none of their films that were screened during the festival went through any censorship body. However, although the United Arab Emirates is a rich country, it does not mean that every single local filmmaker is able to pay for the creation of his or her own film. Due to that, filmmakers require funding where the government plays a large role in supplying. In order to promote the film industry in the United Arab Emirates, the government provides financial grants for local filmmakers. In a way, this could impose some kind of censorship where money is given only when certain conditions are met. Local filmmakers stated that they themselves self-sensor their work because they believe that they are conservative people living in a conservative country and would not in anyway convey anything that would affect the religion, country and at times themselves.

Foreign Films

As for foreign films, before being screened films are presented to the classification board and most often the classification given follows the one obtained in the county of origin. However, despite the classifications, the films are then passed on to a film censorship committee, which decides on what is to be removed and then sends it off to a sub department, which does the cutting. Moreover, no foreign film will be licensed unless there is an Arabic subtitle conforming to the film’s dialogue. The committee referred to as the Film Censorship Committee is chaired by the National Media Council’s undersecretary for press censorship affairs and consists of representatives of ministries of education, interior, social affairs, justice and Islamic affairs state security and Israel boycott office.


Although the constitution of the United Arab Emirates guarantees freedom of expression, the government dilutes the power of media persons. Every single piece of media that is imported into the UAE requires receiving clearance from the country's media regulation agency, the National Media Council. The council heavily censors anything they find inconsistent with religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the country. The main topics that are focused on are pornography, material deemed insulting to Islam, and criticism of the country's rulers. Other things include personal opinions violating public discipline and order, or involve offense to teenagers and/or a call for the circulation of rebellious ideas. Moreover, any material instigating criminal activity, arousing hatred or provoking action of opposition among individuals of the society is also prohibited.


For every action there is a consequence. As stated in the UAE Publications and Publishing Law Articles, violators will have to pay fines and/or face imprisonment. Fines range from one thousand to twenty thousand Emirati Dirhams, which is equivalent to approximately three hundred to six thousand and seven hundred Australian dollars. As for periods of imprisonment, they range from one month to two years. However, there has been evidence of other kinds of punishment.

According to a very well known female emirati writer, Dhabiya Khamees, the emirati government put her through mental and physical abuse for something she did not do. In her article, she states that it all started with harassment through prank calls, which developed into something worse. Agents from the UAE Criminal Investigation Department turned up at her door asking her to accompany them to the political intelligence offices in the emirate of Sharjah. At the start, she was not told what accusations she was facing nor her family was informed about her whereabouts. Her interrogation lasted about three months where she got only a few short breaks from punishment. She then faced accusations of communism, socialism, feminism, social and political disturbance as well as agitation. All of her writings and especially her literary work were treated as personal memoirs and incriminating evidence, which justified her imprisonment. Dhabiya Khamees’ story gives proof that being conservative might not be the only reason behind self-censorship.

Films cut or banned in the UAE

The English Patient is one of the movies that have been greatly censored before being screened in the country where five scenes have been taken out. The film is a romantic one based on events from World War II and is set in the Sahara Desert, which has won nine Academy Awards. Three days after its opening in the UAE, the film was banned because an official from the former Ministry of Information and Culture took offense over some scenes which depicted Islamic morals in a negative way. A scene in the film showed a sex scenario with the Muslim call to prayer as a background audio. Recently, the ban on the five scenes from the Oscar winning film has been lifted and now audiences in the UAE can view the original uncut version.

Syriana, a film about USA’s aim to fight off terrorism, promote democracy in the Middle East as well as secure its oil and military interests is another film that has undergone censorship. The films was premiered in theatres, but with two minutes of “offensive” scenes taken out. Sources have stated that it took the film censorship committee four months to go through and remove irrelevant scenes of the film, which was partly shot in Dubai. The scenes taken out from the original version of the film conveyed mistreatment of Asian workers in the Gulf as well as references to a late Saudi King and Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

As for Brokeback Mountain, the film as a whole has been banned from screening in the country. The film is a story of two male cowboys who have fallen in love in a conservative West America. In the UAE, homosexuality is considered to be a serious offence and is punishable by flogging as well as imprisonment. The film is seen as promoting acts that are irrelevant to the country’s Islamic morals.

This heavy censorship of films is believed to have incited piracy and covert internet screenings of the movies

MEIFF - The Middle East International Film Festival

The Gulf has produced a few films that are of world repute. In Saudi Arabia, not only films are censored, but cinemas in the first place are banned. This, along with heavy censorship in the Middle East has cut filmmakers off from an enormous audience. Prior to the Middle East International Film Festival that was held in Abu Dhabi last year organizers said that the festival films would not be cut. They affirmed that filmmakers cannot be asked to participate and at the same time be told that climax scenes will be taken out if they are found to be corresponding to prohibited material. Some of the films screened in the festival with sensitive issues are Salata Baladi and Brian De Palma’s Redacted. Salata Baladi, translated as Local Salad is an Egyptian documentary portraying interreligious marriage and was partly shot in Israel. As for Redacted, it is a recreation of a real life murder and rape of a teenage Iraqi girl by U.S troops. Moreover, the festival gave the first ever screening of a UAE feature film, Jumaa and the Sea.


To conclude, film and television censorship is an important issue in the United Arab Emirates where it has significantly progressed over the years to the benefit of all and especially content producers such as myself. Today, content which is allowed to be publicly screened in the country was completely unacceptable in the past as films were banned as a whole rather than being cut. However, through the research I have conducted, I have come to the conclusion about what kind of material to include in my work and what not to. Moreover, the consequences of breaking the rules have also become apparent, both the known and the unknown enlightening me on how to avoid unwanted situations with the law.


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