To Confront Political Dissent, Emirates Taking a Cue from Bahrain

By Shah, Angela | International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2012 | Go to article overview

To Confront Political Dissent, Emirates Taking a Cue from Bahrain


Shah, Angela, International Herald Tribune


The United Arab Emirates have intensified their effort to quell political dissent, with 15 men now being detained by the security forces, according to human rights groups and family members.

The United Arab Emirates have intensified their effort to quell political dissent, with 15 men now being detained by the security forces, according to human rights groups and family members.

All but two are members of Al Islah Reform and Social Guidance Association, which holds beliefs similar to those of the Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamic organization. The men have called for a more democratic political system in the country, a group of seven principalities ruled by hereditary emirs.

Christopher Davidson, a lecturer at Durham University in Britain who is an expert on Gulf issues, said the Emirates were following the example of Bahrain, which has cracked down harshly on dissidents. Leaders of the Emirates are "emboldened" by the Bahrain government's actions against protesters "and the lack of any significant condemnation of the Bahrain regime by the international community," he said.

"The U.A.E. authorities want to govern over a nonpolitical country and a depoliticized population," he said. "They want to be guardians of an economy that makes money for everyone."

One stick that the U.A.E. government is using against dissidents is the threat of taking away their citizenship. In December, a group of seven Emiratis, all of whom are members of Al Islah, were stripped of their citizenship. They were arrested in March when they refused to seek out alternative nationalities, their families say. A court ruling on the authorities' actions is imminent.

"This is aggressive in nature and so vicious in a way that has never been done before," said Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights activist and blogger. He was among the first group of Emiratis arrested and put on trial last year for calling for democratic reforms.

In November, Mr. Mansoor and four others were convicted of threatening state security and insulting the Emirates' leaders and sentenced to three years in prison. But days after the verdict, the men were granted a pardon.

Many Emiratis say that their leaders' governance has provided them a prosperous and easy life and that there is no need for political change. For many, public criticism of how the Emirates are governed or their rulers is unacceptable.

The Emirates' Western-oriented business climate and position as a safe haven have lifted the local economy. Leaders want to preserve that status, even if it means a crackdown. …

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