A conference in the United Arab Emirates on the Arab Spring organized by British and U.S. universities was canceled amid complaints about restrictions imposed by the authorities.
The event, organized by the London School of Economics and the American University of Sharjah, on “The Middle East: Transition in the Arab World,” was due to take place yesterday. Academics from around the world were set to present papers and debate the causes of the 2011 uprisings, according to a press release issued by the American University earlier this month.
The decision to cancel the conference “was made in response to restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom,” the LSE said in an e-mailed statement today.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, an associate fellow of the London-based Chatham House who was due to present a paper on Bahrain at the conference, was stopped by U.A.E. officials at the airport and sent back to London. The official WAM news agency said Ulrichsen was denied entry because he “has consistently propagated” views against Bahrain’s government, citing a statement by the by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bahrain cracked down on protests led by the Shiite community in 2011 as they called for greater democracy and more rights in the Persian Gulf island nation. The protests left dozens dead and the economy growing at the slowest pace in 17 years. The Bahrain government has accused members of the Shiite Muslim majority of resorting to violence and says they receive encouragement from co-religionists in Iran. They deny this.
The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council have backed Bahrain’s monarch in response to the protests. Saudi Arabia and other members of the GCC sent troops to neighboring Bahrain in March 2011 to help crush a mainly Shiite-led uprising.
“At this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC state,” WAM said, citing the statement.
Academic freedom is not formally restricted in Bahrain but teachers and professors have tended to avoid sensitive issues and scholars who criticize the government are subject to dismissal, according to Freedom House, a research organization which monitors democracy.