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UAE deportations raise questions in Lebanon

As more than 200 Lebanese await answers over why they were ejected from the U.A.E., experts point to paranoia in Gulf nations over Iran.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — When Hussein Massoud returned to the United Arab Emirates from his summer vacation in Lebanon on July 17, he entered the immigration line at Sharja airport like he has hundreds of times before over the past 34 years.

But on his most recent trip, the Emirati immigration officers told Massoud that his work permit and residency card had been canceled, and that he had to take the next flight back to Lebanon. Further, neither he nor his family could return.

The sense of shock that his life could change so quickly remains weeks later.

“After 34 years they cancelled it very easily, more easily than drinking a cup of water,” he said.

Massoud had made the U.A.E. his home. He is one of thousands of Lebanese who grew up in the U.A.E., where a majority of the workforce is foreign. He owns a house, land, several cars and an aluminum fabrication business that does millions of dollars of business every year. His kids were raised there.

Hussein Massoud shows his cancelled U.A.E. residence visa.
Hussein Massoud shows his cancelled U.A.E. residence visa.
(Ben Gilbert/GlobalPost)

So upon returning to Lebanon he naturally sought help at the ministry of foreign affairs, thinking all the while that his situation was unique.I n fact, he was told he was the 13th person to call with the same complaint.

Now, he among of a group of more than 200 Lebanese claiming they have been unfairly expelled from their homes, jobs and lives in the U.A.E. They include businessmen, lawyers and doctors. None was given an explanation, and they all have one thing in common: they are Lebanese Shiites.

Wahab Hajj Hassan, another Lebanese who was deported in July, was working as a legal advisor to the U.A.E. Ministry of Education for two years. He says the deportation was meant to send a signal — perhaps at the behest of the U.S. or Israel, that Lebanese Shiites shouldn’t support the Iranian backed Lebanese militia and political party Hezbollah. But he says he’s baffled, because he’s not a Hezbollah member or supporter. He didn’t even vote for them in the last election.

“They [deported] the Shia because it is the biggest sect that supported the resistance, regardless if I am [personally] supporting the resistance or not,” he said, referring to Hezbollah.

Hassan says he was told his residency card and work permit had been canceled for “security reasons” by the U.A.E. federal government. He tried to have friends with connections in the Emirati government help him, but to no avail.

“They couldn’t reach anything,” he said. “All that I knew was that it was a decision from the minister of interior, because they have something on me. What’s this something, I still don’t know so far.”

Massoud says he suspects he was were kicked out because he refused to spy on other Lebanese the U.A.E. government suspected of supporting Hezbollah. He says he was once asked by an Emirati intelligence officer to spy on his fellow Lebanese Shiites, in an effort to discover Hezbollah sleeper cells.

“He said we just need from you to make small email, and we’ll ask you some names, and you give us reports on them,” he said. “And I said well, you should know, I don’t know anybody. I’m not in touch with anyone.”

Now he fears that decision may have led the security services to point to him as a threat. But he says that’s just a suspicion. He doesn’t really know what happened, because he was never given an explanation.