top of page
  • Detained in Dubai

Sherif Osman case highlights America’s dwindling influence in the Middle East

The Texas University graduate has been detained in Dubai on request of Egypt for social media posts made from the United States

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, the United States was the last superpower standing, and then-President George H.W. Bush declared “What we say goes”. One of the first regions where America established its authority in the newly unipolar world, was the Middle East. The US entered the Arab world with guns blazing, both figuratively and literally; and yes, what the said did indeed go. “I recall an Emirati police official confiding in me in the early 2000s that if an American was arrested in Dubai, a single call from the embassy would get him released and sent home within the hour, no matter what the crime was,” remembers Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International.

20 years, at least 2 wars and occupations, numerous other military interventions, 1 Arab Spring, and multiple economic crises later; American prestige in the Middle East is all but non-existent. Not only does what the US president ‘say’ not ‘go’ in the Arab world, they are not even accepting his phone calls.

Perhaps nothing highlights this deterioration in influence better than the plight of American citizen Sherif Osman. The Egyptian-born resident of Massachusetts was arrested in Dubai last month upon the request of Egypt because he had posted commentary on social media critical of the government of strongman Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi. It didn’t matter that Osman’s comments were made from his home in the United States, published on American-owned platforms, through exclusively American-based servers, and in accordance with his constitutional right to free speech; Egypt did not approve, and the UAE therefore snatched him off the street while on vacation in Dubai.

The UAE is simply awaiting paperwork to be processed before extraditing Sherif to Egypt,” says Stirling, who has taken up Osman’s case, “Bilateral ties between the two countries are stronger than they have ever been, and both have a shared interest in making an example of political critics. We believe that his deportation is imminent, and that his life will undoubtedly be in danger once he is handed over to Egypt. Without American diplomatic intervention, Sherif may well become the second Egyptian-American to die in custody i