A series of fake accounts, believed to be close to the UAE, attacked Morocco and tried to promote a false image of the country.
The campaign, launched under the hashtag “Thank You El Othmani,” aimed to highlight Morocco’s unprecedented measures to manage to COVID-19 crisis.
Thousands of participants have speculated that the attacks against El Othmani came from Emirati social bots, or “electronic flies” in Arabic. The bots controlled fake accounts claiming to be Moroccan citizens before attacking Morocco and its head of government.
في تويتر ،
يشهد #المغرب حاليا هجوما غير مسبوقا من طرف الذباب الالكتروني الاماراتي ، وهي كتائب الكترونية من عشرات…
“Morocco is facing an unprecedented attack from Emirati social bots … that are trying to promote the idea that Morocco is facing an economic crisis and famine,” one Facebook user alleged.
Moroccan social media expert Ghassan Benchiheb analyzed the organized electronic attack and found that 80% of the accounts attacking Morocco were created on the same day. The remaining 20% were created one day earlier or later than the rest.
فهاد اليومين، بانو شي حسابات فتويتر، بقا فيهم حال المغرب أ سيدي، و ناضو يغردون مستهدفين المغرب و حكومته..و تيشعلو…
According to Benchiheb, the fake accounts reacted to posts about three different countries: Morocco, Qatar, and Turkey. Considering the diplomatic tension between the three countries and the UAE, it is highly possible that the social bots are led by Emirati people, he speculated.
The Moroccan-led counter-campaign quickly became the most trending hashtag on Twitter in Morocco, with several thousand posts thanking El Othmani and condemning the virtual attacks on the country.
وسم #شكرا_العثماني يتصدر تويتر في المغرب ردا على عدة تغريدات يهاجم فيها رئيس الحكومة من طرف حسابات يقال أنها من الذباب الإلكتروني الإماراتي.
أعتبرها هدية مجانية للسيد العثماني جاءته من حيث أرادوا أذيته
Moroccan journalist Ridouane Erramdani commented on the campaign, saying that Moroccans can criticize each other, but they would never allow foreign interference.
The social media hostility comes amid new rumors of tension between Morocco and the UAE.
Earlier this week, the UAE threatened to impose restrictions on a list of countries, including Morocco, that cannot repatriate non-resident nationals to their countries of origin.
The Emirati Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation expressed frustration with these countries, adding that they are planning to restructure their cooperation and relations with them.
The UAE’s revised measures would include introducing quotas in recruitment policies and suspending bilateral agreements, making it hard for citizens from “uncooperative” countries to find jobs in the UAE.
According to the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there are currently over 18,000 Moroccans stranded abroad, with several thousand stuck in the UAE.
Morocco’s diplomatic representations around the world have mobilized to assist the stranded Moroccans, offering food and accommodation for those who cannot afford it. The Moroccan representations have also pledged to cover the funeral costs of any national who falls victim to COVID-19 abroad.
The UAE hosts the largest number of Moroccan expatriates in the Middle East. If the speculations about Moroccan-Emirati tension prove to be true, the dynamic of bilateral relations might change.
The speculations also stem from the growing rapprochement between Morocco and Qatar. In February, Morocco offered to provide Qatar with human and logistical assistance for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar has been under blockade from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain since June 2017.