United Arab Emirates: Growing Susceptibilities towards the Muslim Brotherhood and NGOs

By Fadi Assaf.

Emirati authorities must now manage two new fronts, both with internal and external dimensions. Separately but simultaneously, the Muslim Brotherhood and the American NGO National Democratic Institute are increasing their pressure on Emirati authorities. Both are in the same camp, somehow, facing authorities. But what about Qatar, France and the United States?

The Muslim Brotherhood has stepped in to provide assistance to members of the Syrian opposition residing in the UAE, who did not hesitate to violate local laws to voice their opposition to the Assad regime, encouraged by Doha-based Egyptian preacher Al-Qaradawi and supported by al-Jazeera. Though Paris openly supports opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, the French government did not hesitate to prohibit the visit of Qaradawi himself to France ahead of  the elections. In fact, Qaradawi’s sermons had ignited the French suburbs, and his political sponsor, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, pursues his economic and financial progress in France. Paris still does not seem to fear the arrival in Syria of the same Muslim Brotherhood which now controls Egypt, or even the Salafis who control the rest of “Arab Spring” countries. Yet, Paris is in agreement with the Abu Dhabi and Dubai leadership to curb the excesses and overruns of Qaradawi. With different perceptions, Paris and Abu Dhabi share the same fear, when estimating the weight of external interference in politics and domestic stability, the Islamists’ and the Muslim Brotherhood’s in this case. Paris, Doha and Abu Dhabi do not always appear on the same wavelength, even if all three have formed during “Operation Libya”, an Arab-Western bridgehead against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, supported by Mirage and Rafale fighters… Abu Dhabi cannot make any concessions related to internal stability, especially as the Muslim Brotherhood is not – or is rather far from – the sociopolitical model hoped for post-Arab Spring Emirates. Paris, which might limit its reservations towards Islamists after the presidential election, will not be able to reopen its suburbs to the Qaradawi-version of the Muslim Brotherhood, given the bells Mohammad Merah and Forsan al-Izza ring. Concessions ought to be asked from Qatar, a minority but ambitious “shareholder” of France, in order to preserve the Franco-Emirati-Qatari axis for several regional bilateral and multilateral issues… The firm position of Abu Dhabi (and Dubai) and Paris toward Qaradawi and what he represents seems to be working for the time being, while Qatar has been able to sit on the fence…

The National Democratic Institute has come to support UAE dispossessed minorities and discriminated women. More importantly, the American NGO came to fuel still-shy democratic demands among nationals and residents. The authorities have again shown firmness towards this external party, accused of interfering in UAE internal affairs, by closing the offices of the organization and expelling members. The Muslim Brotherhood have behind them a structured and well-established organization in several countries in the region, including Egypt, and enjoy the direct support of the Wahabi regime in Qatar, despite notable differences in their interpretations of the exercise of political power. The National Democratic Institute is, to some extent, backed by the United States, “the free world”, and the defenders of democracy. In the end, the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Institute voice a similar demand: more freedom of expression in the UAE…

The Muslim Brotherhood expresses this demand in the name of Islamic solidarity and a regional political project, in favor of the Syrian Sunni and Islamist opposition struggling to express itself freely in the UAE… The National Democratic Institute calls for more freedom to all components of UAE civil society, including “political opponents” of all stripes.

However, the UAE, despite not being a model of freedom or democracy, rank much higher than Qatar and Saudi Arabia for example in this regard. All three countries are yet unprepared to manage their “spring”, and immediately reacted with utmost virulence to these external “Islamist” or “democratic” interferences in their internal affairs… While Qatar is not willing to jeopardize its ties with the UAE and is able to divert Qaradawi to other more promising scenes, the United States seem also reluctant to risk their relationship with Abu Dhabi, in the name of a few hasty and miscalculated claims of a still-unlikely democracy in the UAE … The firm position of UAE leaders has then reaped double the results!

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