Dubai introduces its own font, Lauding Free Expression it does not permit
Dubai has long had a taste for the finer things in life. The influential Persian Gulf city has been home to the world’s tallest building, a hotel that offers guests private butlers and 24-karat-gold iPads, and even a bakery that sold gold-laced cupcakes for roughly $1,000 each.
Now it is getting attention for a slightly less flashy effort that may soon be coming to a word-processing program near you: Dubai has made its own font.
The font was announced on Sunday morning in a series of near-simultaneous posts on Twitter from a regional division of Microsoft and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai.
In a tweet, the prince called the font a “unique project that reflects heritage and culture” of the United Arab Emirates, the seven-member federation that Dubai is part of, “and reaches out to the whole world.”
The new font comes in both Arabic and Latin script and is available as part of Microsoft Office 365. On Sunday, Prince Hamdan shared a video on Twitter that presented it as a powerful tool for self-expression.
“Expression knows no boundaries or limits,” the video said. “Expression is strength and freedom. It defines who you are.”
As it turns out, though, there are quite a few boundaries and limits on expression in Dubai and across the United Arab Emirates, where the news media is censored to remove criticism of the government or the coalition of royal families that controls it. Last week, the U.A.E. blocked access to the Arabic-language website of HuffPost, the latest in a series of moves to tighten access to the internet.
“What’s missing from Dubai’s new motto is a little asterisk with fine print, ‘Except that anyone who says something the emirs don’t like goes to jail,’” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. She pointed to the case of Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent human rights activist who was arrested last month.
A spokesman for Microsoft did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Sunday.
The United Arab Emirates has no democratically elected institutions and no formal commitment to free speech. It has been accused of systemic human rights abuses, including torture and the forced disappearance of government critics. A majority of its population — at least 85 percent — is made up of foreign workers who do not enjoy the privileges of citizenship.
What it does have is wealth, derived largely from its role as a global business hub. On Twitter, the crown prince described the new font as an important step toward elevating the country’s global business profile. He did not explain how exactly that would work.
Human rights activists have accused the U.A.E. of using its great wealth to silence dissent and present a positive image of itself to the outside world. Ms. Whitson advised the country’s business partners, like Microsoft, to “scratch the surface of their paychecks and take a close, hard look at the disturbing abuses of its clients.”