Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Tensions with the UAE

Doaa El-Bey looks at the implications of another attack by the UAE on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood

This year has already seen a number of negative statements from the UAE against the Muslim Brotherhood, giving rise to tensions in the country's relationship with Egypt.

A new statement last week has fed these tensions, with UAE Foreign Minister Abdallah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan denouncing the Brotherhood as an organisation that "encroaches upon the sovereignty and integrity of other nations" and calling on the Gulf states to cooperate in taking action against the group.

Saber Abul-Fotouh, a leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, described Al-Nahyan's remarks as a direct and unconcealed attack on the group.

He said that the attack stemmed from fears in Abu Dhabi that the Arab Spring, starting in Tunisia and Egypt, could bring wider political change to the region. However, Abul-Fotouh added that the UAE attacks would not affect either the Brotherhood or the Arab Spring revolutions.

Ever since the eruption of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011, there has been nervousness about further changes across the Middle East, said a diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity.

"However, the fact that the UAE is displaying these feelings in a rather conspicuous way reflects a feeling among some officials that their people want change," he added.

Unlike other attacks in the past, the most recent one prompted few reactions. Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the Egyptian foreign ministry to summon the UAE ambassador to ask for an apology for the remarks. However, the ministry did not comment on the attack and did not summon the ambassador.

Similar attacks earlier this year included that made by the Dubai chief of police, Dahi Khalfan, who warned of what he called an "international plot" to overthrow the governments of the Arab Gulf countries.

Khalfan said on his twitter account that the region needed to be prepared to counter any threats from Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers as well as from Syria and Iran.

Similar comments were made by Khalfan after the election of Mohamed Morsi as Egyptian president, Khalfan writing on his twitter account that Morsi would "kiss the hands of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques [the king of Saudi Arabia], just as [Brotherhood founder] Hassan Al-Banna did with king Abdel-Aziz."

The tweet, which caused wide anger in Egypt, was later removed from Khalfan's account, though he also described Morsi's election as "an unfortunate choice" for Egypt.

The Foreign Ministry summoned the UAE ambassador to Egypt, Mohamed bin Nakhira, after the incident to demand an explanation.

Although Khalfan had said that he was making his comments as an ordinary citizen and not as an official, the diplomat commented, they reflected the UAE regime's fear of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and of possible change as a result.

They also showed that people were adamant about change and that this would eventually come. The diplomat did not rule out that the coming months would witness more attacks of the same kind against the Muslim Brotherhood and the government in Egypt.

Khalfan has had a history of clashing with the group since March, when he said he would order the arrest of Youssef Al-Qaradawi, head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, should he attempt to enter the UAE.

The statement followed Al-Qaradawi's criticisms of the UAE government for deporting Syrians who had protested against the regime in Damascus in front of the Syrian embassy in Abu Dhabi.

The Brotherhood reacted angrily to this comment when the group's spokesman Mohamed Ghozlan said that the UAE would "face the anger of the entire Arab and Muslim world" if Al-Qaradawi were arrested.

Khalfan's comments, followed by the reactions of the Brotherhood, have raised concerns among Egyptians living in the Gulf, and especially in the UAE, since some have already been facing difficulties renewing work permits and visas.

According to Moataz, an Egyptian accountant who lives in Dubai, Egyptians living in the UAE generally do not have problems with the authorities there and the recent statements have not affected them.

However, he said that getting residency or tourist visas had become more difficult for Egyptians since 2011, because of the revolution in Egypt and for security reasons.

Ahmed, who has worked in the field of construction for more than five years, said the statements' impact could be temporary. "I am not sure that they will have a real and permanent impact," he said, though he agreed that obtaining a visa had become more difficult.

Al-Nahyan and Khalfan's attacks on the Brotherhood were prompted by the UAE authorities' accusation that the local Islah (reform) Movement has been attempting to "sabotage" the country.

Islah is an outlawed Islamist group that shares goals with the Muslim Brotherhood but is not specifically linked to it.

In a recent crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, the UAE authorities arrested 60 activists, some of them linked to Islah. These were accused of plotting to stage a coup and create their own armed forces in the country.

Emirati media have reported that the activists have confessed to forming a secret organisation aimed at destabilising the country's political system.

Islah has denied these claims and says any confessions must have been made under torture.

The detained men had been calling for greater civil rights and more power to be given to the UAE's Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body that advises the government but has no legislative power.

Meanwhile, there have been efforts to contain the tension between Egypt and the UAE, with president Morsi planning to visit the UAE soon to boost the relationship between Egypt and the UAE.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat Al-Shater also travelled to the UAE last week to try to ease tensions between the two countries.

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