The 51 Islamists arrested on charges of threatening the United Arab Emirates’ security were inspired by foreign elements, the U.A.E.’s authorities said.
The government said the detainees were conspiring against the state and had links to “external elements,” the state-run news agency WAM reported, citing a Cabinet statement, without elaborating. The men had worked in an “organized” manner and were causing harm to the country and spreading false information to incite others, according to yesterday’s statement.
The oil-rich Gulf federation has avoided most of the Arab Spring protests that swept through the Middle East and toppled dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The U.A.E. is considered as a safe haven for investments by foreigners and multinationals in areas such as energy, finance, industry and trade.
“The attack on the principle of loyalty to our nation, our rulers and our institutions is still going on as part of an organized offensive campaign, and that offense on the country from abroad is against the call for dialogue,” Anwar Gargash, the U.A.E.’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Twitter on Aug. 11. “Those people have wrongly read the Arab Spring and miscalculated the public mood.”
Most of the detainees arrested in recent weeks belong to a domestic Islamic group known as al-Islah, a nonviolent political association that advocates adherence to Islamic principles and change. Some of the men hail from the less-developed northern sheikdoms such as Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman and Sharjah. Several lawyers defending them in previous court cases were also arrested.
“The detainees are being held solely for expressing views critical of the U.A.E. government or being associated with a peaceful opposition group,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report on Aug. 1. The whereabouts of 37 of the detainees are unknown, Ahmed Mansour, a U.A.E. activist and blogger, said by phone today.
The group wants the government to give full authority and independence to the national assembly, known as the Federal National Council, Mansour said. They have demanded that all the council’s members be elected instead of the current system, where half are appointed. Al-Islah also called on state security to stop interfering in political and civilian life.
Last month, Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan urged Gulf countries to counter threats from dissident groups and referred to an international plot by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow governments in the region. Activists say they want to work within the current system and have never endorsed the overthrow of the ruling families of the seven emirates.
“We were clearly saying we are loyal to the sheiks and were working from within the current system, but apparently some at the state security weren’t convinced or they have their own agendas,” Mansour said.
The arrests follow the June 16 deportation of Ahmed Abdelkhaleq, one of an estimated 100,000 stateless people in the U.A.E., to Thailand. Abdelkhaleq said by phone on the day of his deportation that he was peacefully advocating the rights of stateless people, known as bidun, who have lived in the country for generations, with some residing there before the seven emirates united in 1971, without having any citizenship rights. Abdelkhaleq was held without charge since May 22 and was given the choice of deportation or indefinite detention.
Emirati lawyers known for defending activists Mohamed al-Roken and Mohamed al-Mansoori were among the men arrested in the recent crackdown. Another attorney, Salim Hamdoon al-Shehhi, who sought to represent his colleagues, was also detained.
The unprecedented wave of arrests has focused on al-Islah members. The government stripped six group members of their U.A.E. citizenship in December and began arresting al-Islah members on March 26. The authorities detained Ahmed al-Zaabi and Ahmed Ghaith al-Suwaidi together at a Dubai gas station that day, Human Rights Watch said.