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Unfriended: Lebanese Gulf-based expats deactivating Facebook to avoid deportation Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Unfriended: Lebanese Gulf-based expats deactivating Facebook to avoid deportation

Sunni Arab Gulf states have increasingly cracked down on expats with links to Hizballah [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 March, 2016

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Lebanese expats in the Gulf have started to deactivate their Facebook and Twitter accounts out of fear they will be deported for supporting or even sympathising with the Hizballah movement.

Lebanese citizens who live and work in the Gulf have begun to bury their online personas, as they become caught up in the ongoing diplomatic crisis between the Gulf states and Hizballah.

Lebanese expats have deleted their old social media posts and even outright taken down all of their online accounts, following a string of deportations of foreign workers accused of supporting Hizballah, the Lebanese Shia movement recently classified by Gulf monarchies as a "terrorist" group.

"I deleted lots of old posts that could have been misinterpreted and then I just got rid of all my accounts on social media. I am not going to risk losing my job over useless posts," a Lebanese expat living in Saudi Arabia told The New Arab.

"After they set up a hotline here for people to inform on suspected Hizballah supporters and sympathisers, lots of Lebanese have begun to delete posts and pictures online that display their religious and political affiliations," the expat said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

He added that Lebanese suspected of being pro-Hizballah are summoned for questioning by police and their financial records put under investigation.

At least 500,000 Lebanese citizens live and work in the Gulf

Figures vary but at least 500,000 Lebanese citizens live and work in the Gulf, mostly in professionals in sectors like medicine, finance, media and public relations. They send between $5 and $7 billion in remittances annually to their families back home.

"After the Gulf states classified Hizballah a terrorist group, I've stopped talking about politics on Facebook and Twitter because I think the situation is going to get worse. The online surveillance here is really harsh," a Lebanese expat in Kuwait said.

On Monday, Kuwaiti authorities deported 11 Lebanese and three Iraqis for their alleged links with the group.

Mohammad Ghzeil, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, said: "As an expat I have to respect the local culture and laws, which have let me come here and work far away from the chaos that has taken over my country."

"However, I will never stop openly expressing my opinion on Lebanese and regional politics. If I do criticise, it is always done in a respectful manner,"

"Social media in the UAE is very open and free. Just look at how many government officials use it extensively," Ghzeil added.

In the UAE, seven people, three of whom were said to be Lebanese, were recently put on trial in Abu Dhabi, charged with spying for Hizballah. Last month, three Lebanese citizens, including one with dual Canadian citizenship, were brought to court in the UAE accused of forming a Hizballah cell.

In the UAE, seven people, three of whom were said to be Lebanese, were recently put on trial in Abu Dhabi, charged with spying for Hizballah

The tensions have come on the heels of Lebanon's refusal to join other Arab states in condemning the sacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution of the Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

The Saudis, who over the years have poured billions into holding Lebanon together, then pulled the plug on a $3 billion deal to purchase weapons for the Lebanese army and another $1billion intended to assist in security - in a country that is caught in the cross-hairs of regional rivalries and the war in Syria.

Saudi Arabia said that weapons they bought for the army might wind up in the hands of Hizballah, which fights alongside Syrian and Iranian troops in Syria.

The Sunni powerhouse has also accused Hizballah of aiding Houthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign a year ago with the aim of preventing the rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdallah Saleh from taking control of the country.

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