The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged uae
Qatar and Egypt still at odds despite GCC reconciliation

David Kirkpatrick reports in the NYT:

CAIRO — Shaking hands and kissing foreheads, the monarchs of the Persian Gulf came together this month to declare that they had resolved an 18-month feud in order to unite against their twin enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.

But the split is still festering, most visibly here in the place where it broke out over the military ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president. “Nothing has changed — nothing, nothing,” said a senior Egyptian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential diplomacy.

. . . 

But government officials on both sides of the gulf split now acknowledge privately that Qatar scarcely budged. Instead, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates suspended their anti-Brotherhood campaign against Qatar because of the more urgent threats they saw gathering around them.

A senior Qatari official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the joint communiqué supporting Mr. Sisi’s road map was merely a “press release” that carried little significance.

“We will always support the population of Egypt,” the official said. Al Jazeera was “editorially independent,” he said, adding that the other states “should not create political issues just because a channel is broadcasting what is happening.”

Although Qatar asked some Brotherhood members to leave Doha because of their political activities, only 10 or fewer have done so, according to Brotherhood leaders and Qatari officials. “We have not asked them to leave in any way, and we have not bothered them in any way,” the official said.

So what's really happened here, then, is that the the part of the al-Saud family that was very critical of Qatar because of Egypt got overruled by the part that's more concerned about Iran and Daesh, Qatar agreed to reduce the media infighting in the Gulf and perhaps participate to some extent in Saudi Arabia's calls for greater economic and military unity, and Abu Dhabi had to accept it because Riyadh said so. But I doubt they'll even be able to keep the media wars at bay for that long, so maybe it's more simply that the Saudis are finally learning to prioritize and not pick fights with everyone at the same time.

Dubai has glitz but no real sewage system


Quite astonished by this:

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. It's located in Dubai, a city with a lot of other skyscrapers. What Dubai doesn't have: A central sewage infrastructure that can accommodate the needs of a bunch of skyscrapers.
You see the problem.

To solve the issue trucks come and collect wastewater from separate buildings, and then can queue for up to 24 hours to deliver it to treatment plants. Perhaps before building the next mega-mall, Dubai might invest in the unglamorous basics.

Censorship in the UAE

I have a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Ed about the abrupt cancellation of an academic conference on the Arab Spring.

The London School of Economics and Political Science abruptly canceled an academic conference on the Arab Spring it planned to hold over the weekend at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, citing "restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom."

The last-minute cancellation took place after Emirati authorities requested that a presentation on the neighboring kingdom of Bahrain—where a protest movement was harshly repressed with the support of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates—be dropped from the program.

The paper was to be given by a professor who the Emirati authorities say has "consistenly propagated views deligitimizing the Bahraini monarchy" (and who has written critically about political repression in the UAE).

Here's London School of Economics professor Kristian Coates Ulrichsen's own account. 

Crackdown on Islamists in the UAE

Jenifer Fenton writes in about the mass arrests of Islamists in the UAE, whose spiraling campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood regionally and domestic dissidents (Islamists from Islah and others, including non-Islamists) at home continues apace. One question I have about these arrests is, how do they play out in the inter-family politics of the Emirates? Notable in all this is the public absence of the Nahyan family, often thought to be the most anti-Islamist, and of course the most powerful in the UAE. The ruler of Sharjah, who might be thought to be in a position where he has to make more public concessions to Islamists (and social conservatives more generally) within his own emirate, has taken the lead in justifying the crackdown — albeit in that typically paternalistic/tribalist manner of the Gulf.

At least 50 people are now detained in the United Arab Emirates.  The arrests amount to one of the biggest crackdown on Islamists in years, after mounting nervousness by the authorities in the wake of the Arab uprisings.

Many, but not all, of those held are members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association (al-Islah), which calls for reform but also for “adhering to Islamic principles”.  

Al-Islah was founded many years ago with the approval of the late ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. The stated purpose of the group was to be a religious and educational body. The government feels that it has moved away from these goals and has developed a political agenda.

On July 15, Salem Saeed Kubaish, the Abu Dhabi Attorney General, ordered the arrest of a group of people “for establishing and managing an organization with the aim of committing crimes that harm state security,” according to the state news agency WAM. The group is accused of  “opposing the constitution and the basic principles of the UAE ruling system, in addition to having links and affiliations to organizations with foreign agendas.”

Amnesty International has voiced their concerns that the detained men “are thought to be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

The round-up the next day included two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed Mansoori. Al-Roken had been defending high profile activists in the Emirates including the “UAE 5” — as the five people who were found guilty in 2011 of “publicly insulting” the country’s leadership and were subsequently were pardoned are known. Al-Roken also fought in court for the “UAE 7”, a group of seven men who were stripped of their UAE nationality. It is not believed he is a member of al Islah.

An Omani, a bidoon (stateless) and an Emirati journalist are also among those detained.

Rights groups have said the arrests are a suppression of dissenting voices in the UAE. “The only conspiracy that Emiratis should worry about is that of the government to stamp out any and every semblance of dissent,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “Just how many Emiratis does the government intend to jail for expressing political opinions?”

Al-Islah is said to have ideological affinities with the Muslim Brotherhood, although the two groups are not officially linked (it would be illegal under UAE law for the group to have direct affiliation with the Brotherhood). The Emirates does not allow political bodies affiliated with, or ones that take instructions from external, organizations. However, the government believes links between al-Islah and the Muslim Brotherhood are strong. And perhaps as many as 20,000 people living in the Emirates are believed by the authorities to be associated with the Islamist group.   As prominent Emirati commentator Sultan al-Qassemi has noted, political Islamists have raised suspicions in the UAE due to concern that they are attempting "to take advantage of the rise of Islamist parties across the Middle East in order to advance their own agendas. As elsewhere, these Emirati Islamists are allying themselves with liberals and non-liberals alike demanding reform as they plan for the post-reform period in which liberals would ultimately be sidelined.”   For the UAE, home to more than 200 nationalities including many non-Muslims, promoting a “fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in the UAE’s political arena represents a direct challenge to the philosophy of inter-faith harmony and tolerance that is fundamental to the nature of the state,” said one official close to government thinking. The UAE will not allow religion to be used as a political tool or allow for groups that are responsive to politico-religious guidance from abroad “or seek to promote allegiance to external authority, whether religious or otherwise,” he added. 

However, as noted, some of those targeted were not Islamists like Ahmed Abdul Khaleq — one of the UAE5. Abdul Khaleq, a stateless resident or bidoon, was stripped of his right to reside in the UAE and deported to Thailand in mid-July. The chairman of al-Islah, Sultan bin Kayed al-Qassemi, who is also the cousin of the ruler of the northern emirate Ras al Khaimah, is among those held. His case may be more complicated as his detention may also have been at the request of other tribe or family members who felt he was engaging in activities that could cause dishonor. It is possible that al Qassemi was taken into “protective custody” by the head of the tribe, in this case the Ruler, because he did not adhere to the family’s wishes. 

Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qassemi the Ruler of Sharjah recently said, “We have a duty to protect this country through advice, and when a son commits a mistake, you advise him… If the state has taken measures, it is out of interest to protect those sons. Even those who are in jail, they are dear to us… We are not causing him harm but we are dealing with the matter because the person committed a mistake. And hopefully they will become good people in the future.” [More on Sheikh Sultan’s speech here.]

On Sunday, al-Islah issued a statement on its website urging for the release of the prisoners, adding that the party “has sought to support (the UAE) since its foundation… then we see that they incorrectly accuse Islah figures of harming state security!?” The activists were all “known for being patriotic,” al Islah added.

But in the UAE, patriotism may not be up for interpretation. 

In Translation: the UAE-MB war of words

Over the past couple weeks, a major issue discussed by the Arab (and especially the Egyptian and Gulf) press is the public spat between the leaders of the UAE and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The UAE has been nervous about the MB (it has a small domestic version) for a long time, as last year's stripping of nationality of the UAE 7 (alleged members of the group) showed. These tensions mounted to the surface after the UAE rescinded the residency visas of Syrians who held a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Abu Dhabi. This was condemned by UAE Islamists (some of the Syrians are believed to be Syrian MB) and by Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi in Qatar, promoting the UAE authorities to threaten him with arrest for attacking the country should he visit. This incensed Qaradawy's followers in the global MB movement, and Egyptian MB spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan (one of a handful of MB leaders who really matter) countered by threatening (unspecified) action against the UAE should anything happen to Qaradawy. A story in this week's Economist provides more detail:

Yet the action against Syrian protesters, despite strong public sympathy with their plight, points to a broader intolerance for political activism of any kind, including internal dissent. This is particularly so if it is perceived to involve the Muslim Brotherhood. Over the past year, dozens of teachers believed to have Islamist tendencies have been removed from their posts, and activists said to have ties to the Brotherhood have been harassed, arrested and even stripped of their Emirati nationality.

In early March outrage over the treatment of the Syrian protesters led to the arrest of a sympathetic Emirati, as well as to a full-blown diplomatic spat between the UAE and Egypt. After Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi, the Qatar-based Egyptian preacher revered by the Brotherhood, made a critical statement against the Emirates, police in Dubai, the emirates’ commercial hub, threatened him with arrest if he visited the country. This prompted a Brotherhood spokesman in Egypt to threaten retaliation “from the entire Muslim world”. The affair has now subsided, but not before Dubai’s flamboyant police chief warned on his Twitter account that “since the Muslim Brotherhood has become a state, anyone advocating its cause should be considered a foreign agent.”

The Brotherhood has since toned down its rhetoric, although it stopped short of contrition. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which the Emiratis complained, is washing its hands of the whole affair, saying it is not responsible for the statements of the MB. The government is of course worried about getting UAE financial support (none of which has been delivered yet, perhaps in part because the UAE only wants to give it in kind for specific projects, not as general budget support). And the Emiratis are not over it at all, as the endless attacks on the MB in their papers show. For them, it's not just a question of national pride — it's a real worry about the regional MB block becoming a powerhouse and the Egyptian mothership boosting similar movements elsewhere. The Emirati MB may be small and operating in a society that is largely ruled according to tribal traditions and oil power, but it represents the seed of something that seems to really scare the Emirati establishment. The article below, from the Emirati paper al-Ittihadi, is typical in its defensiveness. 

As always, the translation is provided by the amazingly talented folks at Industry Arabic. Don't get your translations anywhere else.

The Muslim Brotherhood… and the Exploitation of Turmoil

Dr. Abdullah al-Awadi, al-Ittihad, 16 March 2012

No country in the world – least of all a country the size of Egypt – allows a political party, even if it prevails in “democratic” elections, to control its destiny or jeopardize its higher interests. When the party of the Muslim Brotherhood wages a battle in the name of the Egyptian state to defend a “cleric” who interfered in a sovereign matter in the Emirates, how could any state stand on the sidelines and watch while its back is exposed to the MB’s attacks — as if they had won the whole world, and not just the “Mother of the World”?

It seems that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has forgotten they are living in the Arab country of Egypt, and not in the country of a “political party” that is drunk with victory, even though it has not yet done anything of note for Egypt.

The revolution that swept political Islam into parliament still has not yet determined the form of Egypt’s government. Rather, a cloak of chaos is what has emerged from the likes of the MB’s official spokesman to violate the most basic diplomatic norms, which do not allow anyone whosoever in any country whatsoever to violate the sovereignty of any country, whether it is a sister country or a friendly one. Not to mention that there are no issues between Emirates and a country as great as Egypt to upset their continual friendship. Furthermore, however much some people may try to elevate partisan interests above the greater good of the Arab nation, it is not desirable now, especially at this stage, to impose agendas steeped in extremism to stoke tension that is not in the interest of the two countries or peoples.

The Emirates have not once taken sides in the situation in Egypt, which still has not stabilized. However, this also does not mean that it has become possible to meddle in other countries under any pretext.

Both the leadership and the people of the Emirates stand shoulder to shoulder in professing loyalty to one side. They have been such since the country was founded, and they will not allow anyone from anywhere to disrupt this solid structure.

The Emirati people is aware of a danger that targets their security framework. This security is fortified by insightful, discerning leaders who are at the helm of a society that has not experienced one day of divided or splintered loyalty, or even two opposing camps.

Those who are riding high off the ballot boxes must all realize that the people of the Emirates hold a warm place in their hearts for their faithful leadership. This cannot be replaced by ballot boxes stuffed with ideas that disrupt security and stability in societies that have nothing to do with the ferment taking place in some countries, and which some people are using as a tool to gain influence over others.

Whoever does not possess troubled ground under his feet has no right to meddle with a country that engages the world from the shelter of security, peace and stability – not just regionally, but also globally. The Emirates has hints and indications that testify to this, which we saw in Bosnia in the 1990s, and which we see today in every spot that is looking for a drop of security from the Emirates’ outreached tap.

The ones who are exploiting the troubled situation in some Arab countries to export their extravagant ideas to the countries in the Arab world that enjoy security and safety should not be given the least chance to achieve their agendas, which transgress all the red lines of nations and societies without exception.