The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
UAE: Enforcing repression at home and wrecking alliances abroad Open in fullscreen

Bill Law

UAE: Enforcing repression at home and wrecking alliances abroad

UAE once aspired to be the destination of choice for global business and tourism [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 June, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: The Emirati government may have crushed dissent on the home front, but the Yemen war drags on, and the GCC now risks being torn apart, writes Bill Law.

Qatar is not the only small Gulf state to use its vast hydrocarbon wealth to punch above its weight in foreign fields, though it is surely the first to have had its fingers so seriously burnt. 

The United Arab Emirates - an agglomeration of statelets that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi - is actively engaged in, among other places, Yemen and Libya and in the rapidly escalating diplomatic crisis with Qatar.

Where once the ambition was to make the UAE the destination of choice for global business and tourism, the Emiratis have shifted the goal posts significantly in the febrile atmosphere of a post Arab Spring Middle East.

In the south of Yemen the Emiratis have had military successes against both Islamic state (IS), and the Houthis allied with the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

For a long time the UAE has cast covetous eyes on the southern port city of Aden. They see it as a natural extension to the port facilities of Dubai and Fujairah, one that would give them easy access to the Indian Ocean and an alternative to the Strait of Hormuz which they and the other Gulf states share uneasily with Iran. So clear geopolitical gains emerge in that particular theatre of war, should the Emiratis prevail.

In Libya the picture is a lot less clear. The UAE is backing General Haftar and the government located in Tobruk, while supporting various other militias who claim to be opposed to Islamist jihadism.

The Emirati government may have succeeded on the home front in crushing any form of dissent but the Yemen war drags on at a great and terrible cost to the Yemeni people

But in a country utterly fractured along tribal lines, with not one but three governments claiming legitimacy, it is hard to see any win for the Emiratis either in the short or longer term.

And the row with Qatar? Well that is all of a weave with a tapestry that sees the Muslim Brotherhood as the ultimate enemy. The Qataris supported Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first fairly elected president and shored up his short-lived regime with billions of dollars. 

They use their network Al-Jazeera to promote what both the Saudis and the Emiratis view as a pro-brotherhood message. The Saudis and Emiratis also accused them of providing a refuge for causes they deem extremist including Hamas and the Taliban. 

 

After a pact, brokered by the Kuwaiti emir, was agreed between the Qataris and their GCC brethren in 2014, the situation on the surface appeared deceptively peaceful. The Qataris even joined in the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The row with Qatar looks set to break the GCC apart with the only obvious winners being Iran

But all was anything but calm and the Emiratis in particular were simmering at what they saw as Qatar's broken promises about clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile the UAE was busy with its own clampdown, having seized members of al Islah, an organisation with broadly the same charter as the brotherhood. Dozens were arrested and disappeared, only to reappear in court weeks and months later. They were then summarily convicted with confessions secured under duress and sentenced to long jail terms.

  Read more: 'Stop using journalists as political footballs,' international media union tells anti-Qatar Gulf states

Family members who complained were arrested. Lawyers who took up the cases of the jailed men were arrested. Human rights activists, most notably Ahmed Mansoor the 2015 winner of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, were arrested. Mansoor was seized in March of this year and now faces years in jail.

Underlining just how repressive a state it really is, the UAE announced on 7 June that anyone showing sympathy for Qatar in any form, be it spoken or written, online or anywhere else faces a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of $136,000.

Presumably the goal of all these efforts is to project the UAE as a staunch ally in the ongoing war against terror

Not to be outdone, Bahrain followed suit, though with lighter penalties - just five years in jail plus a fine.

Presumably the goal of all these efforts is to project the UAE as a staunch ally in the ongoing war against terror. The Emirati government may have succeeded on the home front in crushing any form of dissent but the Yemen war drags on at a great and terrible cost to the Yemeni people.

Libya is a chaotic mess that gets worse with every intervention. And the row with Qatar looks set to break the GCC apart with the only obvious winners being Iran. Money, it seems, can buy a lot of everything but common sense.

Bill Law is a former BBC Gulf analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @Billlaw49

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

Join the conversation by tweeting to us: @the_newarab
 

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More