The UAE's terror hit list
It is to say the least a curious list. The United Arab Emirates is at risk from 83 terrorist organisations, or so the government would have us believe, according to a list of proscribed organisations announced via state media on 15 November.
The list contains a number of usual suspects, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS). Neither of these, however, top the list. And there are some very curious entries.
Top spot goes to the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE.
|The language is vague enough and loose enough to drive a truck through.|
At number 2 is al-Islah, the conservative religious society from which dozens of members have been sentenced to lengthy jail terms for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the government. Their supporters, along with international human rights organisations, have decried a process they say involved confessions extracted under torture, the denial of fair legal representation and a court ruling never in doubt given the lack of an independent judicial system.
The government has consistently denied the allegations and insists that both the police and the courts have acted properly and impartially.
All the while, the arrests have continued, the most recent being 10 Libyans and 6 Emiratis seized and detained in places unknown in August and September of this year on terrorist charges.
This is happening in the shadow of new and draconian legislation announced in the summer at the instigation of the president of the UAE and Abu Dhabi’s ruler Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
“Whoever seeks or communicates with a foreign state, terrorist organisation or with anyone who works for their interests, to commit any terrorist act, shall be punished with imprisonment for life while the death penalty will be imposed if the terrorist act has been carried out,” the law says.
The language is, as my father used to say, vague enough and loose enough to drive a truck through.
So anyone, including Qataris in the UAE, who communicates with number 4 on the terror list, the Islamic Association of Italy or any other of dozens of similar organisations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) sitting at 59, faces life in jail.
Now I don’t know anything about the Islamic Association of Italy so I will just have to take the authorities’ word on that one. But I do know something about CAIR.
Right wing commentators in the United States have frequently claimed it to be a terror front organisation but the American government doesn’t believe it is nor do I. I have interviewed some of the CAIR people in Chicago and unless real evidence is provided to show otherwise, it is what it says it is, an organisation set up to encourage good relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
CAIR and other like-minded groups are astounded to find themselves on a list that includes IS, Boko Haram and al-Qaeda – all genuinely sinister and very nasty groups well deserving of the terrorist label.
But there is no place on the list for Hamas or al-Nusrah Front or Hizballah in Lebanon and Syria, all declared terrorist by the Americans. Could it be that these are groups the UAE is either directly or indirectly supporting?
It is manifestly the case that the UAE has not suddenly found itself under siege by a myriad of terror groups. It would be tough on their tourism and business trade if it were. Nor can it be said that in a state with as accomplished a police and security force as the UAE has is there any real and present danger of imminent attack. So what is going on here?
The clue lies in the number of Muslim Brotherhood associated groups named along with others that the UAE authorities seem to think share the beliefs and ideology of the brotherhood.
For the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the Muslim brothers represent the unacceptable face of political Islam. It is an organisation that by its very nature calls into question the legitimacy of the ruling elites and for that reason alone must be, if not entirely eliminated, at least thoroughly suppressed.
But this is not simply a further assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. It is another warning shot across Qatar’s bow.
Qatar has for many years seen itself as a place of refuge for those who have fallen out with their governments. And in the 1960s it gave sanctuary to the Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely seen as the spiritual guide for the Brotherhood, an organisation now declared terrorist by the Saudis and the Emiratis. Sheik Qaradawi remains a very influential figure in Doha.
And this has caused difficulties for the Qatari government.
In October of last year the then recently installed Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was summoned to Riyadh. In a meeting with King Abdullah it was made clear just how annoyed the Saudis were with its small neighbour’s foreign policy adventures in the region and particularly the support the Qataris had shown for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Tamim, it is said, promised to rein in his country’s enthusiasm for the brotherhood. But when he dragged his feet, the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain were recalled from Doha in March of this year.
The response to that action some months later was the expulsion from Qatar of senior brotherhood figures. The ambassadors have just now been reinstated. But for the Emiratis and the Saudis not enough has yet been done – the Bahrainis have their own grievances over the number of its subjects gaining citizenship in Qatar. So even with their ambassadors back in place, all three can be expected behind the scenes to keep the pressure up on the Qataris.
How Tamim reacts will tell us a lot about how, what is essentially a feud between the ruling families, plays itself out. In the meantime the Islamic Association in Italy, CAIR and many more seemingly harmless organisations find themselves tagged with the same label as IS at number 18 and Boko Haram at number 22 on the UAE’s extraordinary terror hit list.
Opinions experssed in this article remain the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.