Twitter handles impersonating Arab personalities criticise India over Islamophobia

Several Arabian Gulf users recently took to Twitter to criticise India over the discrimination against Muslims in the country. Old, racist tweets by BJP parliamentarian Tejasvi Surya targetting Arab women had sparked the outrage. Another tweet by Princess Hend Al Qassimi, a member of the UAE royal family, calling-out an Indian national working in Dubai for posting discriminatory tweets against her country, also gained much attention. What followed was a barrage of tweets from numerous handles based in Gulf countries like Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait criticising Islamophobia in India and hateful tweets put out by the Indian nationals working in these countries.

However, amidst the genuine outrage were some accounts impersonating Arab nationals. Soon, the Indian mission in the Gulf issued statements, followed by a statement from the Indian Envoy in UAE, urging non-resident Indians to remain vigilant against attempts to sow religious divisions.

Some of the fake accounts were:

1. Noora Al Ghurair from the United Arab Emirates

One of the tweets targeting BJP MP Tejasvi Surya was by a handle that goes by the name Noor AlGhurair (@AlGhurair98). “Pity Ur upbringing @Tejasvi_Surya that respect for women couldn’t be instilled in U despite India having some great female leaders .Please note if someday the govt bestows a foreign ministry to you, avoid travelling to Arab lands. You are not welcome here. This will be remembered,” reads the tweet posted on April 19, 2020. The tweet was cited as a legit Dubai-based businesswoman and activist by publications like The Telegraph, South China Morning Post, Scroll.in, The Week, and Gulf News. It may be noted that the Al Ghurair Group is a leading conglomerate based in UAE. It seems that the name was deliberately used to mislead social media by indirectly hinting association with the business family.

In just one week between April 19 to April 26, 2020, the account gained more than 30,000 followers according to a social media analytics website Socialblade.

However, we found that the same handle had earlier operated with the user name @DilawarKhanPat5. A primary search on Twitter with the username shows tweets from the handle @AlGhurair98.

We found the Google cache of a tweet posted by @DilawarKhanPat5, now @AlGhurair98. In the screenshot posted below, the handle identifies itself to be a person from Pakistan who is based in Malaysia.

2. Twitter handle impersonating Omani princess

“Oman stands with its Muslim brothers and sisters in India. If the Indian Govt doesn’t stop the persecution of Muslims, then 1 million workers living in Oman may be expelled. I will definitely take up this issue with the Sultan of Oman,” reads a tweet posted by now suspended handle (@SayyidaMona) which pretended to be Omani princess Mona bint Fahd Al Saeed. The tweet had garnered over 8,700 retweets.

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir fell for the tweet by this fake profile. He quote-tweeted @SayyidaMona’s tweet and criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In the screenshot posted below, you can see that the person used to operate the account with the handle @pak_fauj. As the name of the Twitter handle (@pak_fauj) indicates, it has tweeted on issues related to the military. The handle had last retweeted a tweet by a data analyst with Pakistani origins. It was a post on Pakistani Air Force honouring an aviation cadet.

 

Post the tweet on India, the handle gained over 18,000 followers in just two days.

Omani princess herself put out a clarification and said that the tweet which talked about expelling Indian workers was not sent out by her handle. The princess said that the account in question doesn’t have any connection with her. She referred to her official accounts on Instagram and Twitter stating that her social media presence is restricted to these platforms. The Indian Ambassador to Oman Munu Mahawar quote-tweeted the princess and thanked her for the clarification on the fake social media posts attributed to her. He added, “India values its friendly relations with Oman and will continue working closely with the Government and people of Oman to further strengthen our special relationship.”

3. Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud’s impersonator lashes out at BJP MP Tejasvi Surya

Twitter handle @NouraAlSaud is the handle impersonating Saudi Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, the great-granddaughter of Saudi Arabia’s founder. “Indian Parliamentarian @Tejasvi_Surya posted something disgusting about Arab women. I demand from the Indian Prime Minister @narendramodi that racist Tejasvi Surya be Sacked immediately for his derogatory remarks on Arab women. Such comments won’t be tolerated.” read the tweet.

We found that the handle earlier operated with the username @iDanialUsaf and that it tweeted on Pakistani affairs.

4. A resident of “Bahrain” quickly changes the location to Saudi Arabia

On April 21, Twitter user ‘Talal bin Othma Al-Hamdan’ (@KahlownYasin), who identified himself as a resident of Bahrain, posted the message, “Indians (mostly Hindus) are treated well in Bahrain. In return, how are Muslims treated in India? #India Threatening RegionalPeace.”

Now, the handle has changed its location to Saudi Arabia. Earlier, this handle operated with the username ‘Ihsan Etkan’ who identified as a masters student in political science. Furthermore, it used to claim that s/he is a freelancer who has worked in countries like Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and Iran.

Moreover, we also found a Google cache of a tweet by @KahlownYasin. According to this screengrab of the cache, the handle initially claimed to be based out of Istanbul, Turkey. This tweet by the handle also indicated that it could well be run by a person of Pakistan-origin.

Several Twitter handles, mostly from Pakistan, impersonated Arabs to portray that several people from the country were enraged with India’s treatment of Muslims in the country.

With inputs from Ajayendra Tripathi

[Update: The introductory paragraph of this article has been altered to provide context about the issue and what led Arab nationals to tweet against Muslim discrimination in India.]

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