Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Deteriorating relations

The detention of 11 Egyptians in the UAE is a further blow to the already tense relationship between Abu Dhabi and Cairo, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Official efforts to release 11 Egyptians now detained in the UAE ended in failure this week, with some asking “why there is such a great uproar about these Egyptians detained in the UAE, while there are many others who have been detained there and in the other Gulf states for years with hardly any official reaction,” as one microbus driver angrily put it.

Sherine Farid, spokesperson for the Association of Families of Egyptian Detainees in Saudi Arabia, a pressure group, said that the way the Egyptian authorities had handled the case was a clear act of discrimination.

“The authorities sent a high-ranking official delegation to follow up the case of the Egyptians detained in the UAE just because they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why was the same step not taken with regard to the Egyptians detained in Saudi Arabia,” Farid asked.

Dozens of Egyptians have been detained in Saudi Arabia, some for more than seven years, and the Egyptian authorities have been accused of failing to listen to voices calling for their release.

A top-level political delegation was dispatched to the UAE late last week in an attempt to negotiate the release of 11 Egyptians detained for suspected links to Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood.

However, the delegation, which included top presidential adviser Essam Haddad and General Intelligence chief Mohamed Shehata, failed to secure the release of the detainees.

“We have a strong court system and justice will take its course,” UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashed Al-Maktoum told the Egyptian delegation.

Bahieddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Centre for Human Rights, a NGO, said that the official reaction had been positive because it had represented a quick and top-level official move to support Egyptian citizens abroad.

However, Hassan said the move could be considered to be less positive if one remembered that there were hundreds of other Egyptians detained in other states, including the UAE, who had not been given similar treatment.

“Unfortunately, this incident adds to other incidents that have taken place over the last six months and emphasises that the president may be running the country in the narrow interests of the Brotherhood,” Hassan said.

It also explains the widespread anger and the recent attacks on the families of the detainees who have been protesting in front of the UAE embassy in Cairo. During their sit-in, the protesters were attacked by so-called thugs.

Last week, protests were also organised by the freedom committee of the Doctors Syndicate in Cairo, as three of those in custody are doctors. The syndicate asked President Mohamed Morsi, the Arab League, the National Council for Human Rights, the Foreign Ministry and the Shura Council to intervene to secure the release of the detained doctors.

Their detention has been another blow to already deteriorating relations between the two countries. However, there are also other factors at play, according to a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

The Gulf monarchies, including the UAE, have been wary of the rise of the Islamists to power in Egypt and other states in the wake of the Arab Spring for fear of stirring up dissent in their own countries, he said.

Some Gulf monarchies also have a tumultuous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the case of the UAE, these tense relations were exacerbated by the presence of the previous Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik on its territory, he added.

“The Emirati officials could be exaggerating the danger of the Islamists in order to intimidate people and nip any attempt at political opposition in the bud. One cannot entirely rule out the idea that the Islamists are trying to extend their influence to the Gulf states, but I assume they are more keen on consolidating their power in Egypt first before moving outside it,” he said.

According to the UAE government, the 11 Egyptians arrested in late December have been accused of leading an expatriate Brotherhood cell in the country that had gathered sensitive military information and plotted against national security.

Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said that the organisation did not interfere in other countries’ affairs, describing the detention as an “unfair campaign” against Egyptians in the UAE.

Tensions between the two states were sparked when prominent Islamic scholar Youssef Al-Qaradawi, an influential member of the Brotherhood, criticised the UAE’s deportation of Syrian activists and their families from the Gulf state. He made the comments on his TV programme on the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.

In reaction, Dubai police chief Dahi Khalfan threatened to issue an international warrant to arrest the scholar. Ghozlan then stepped into the controversy by warning Khalfan that any attempt to arrest Al-Qaradawi would arouse anger in the whole Islamic world against the UAE.

Ghozlan’s comments generated an angry reaction from Emirati officials, who demanded an official explanation. The situation was contained when the Brotherhood issued a statement saying that the comments attributed to Ghozlan had been “fabricated and exaggerated” in order to create tensions.

However, there had been previous tensions when, after the election of Morsi as Egyptian president last June, Khalfan wrote on his twitter account that if the Brotherhood tried to shake the security of the Gulf, “it would be up to its knees in blood.” The election of Morsi was “an unfortunate choice”, he wrote.

Although Khalfan said that his comments were personal rather than official, they aroused anger among Egyptians and prompted Egypt’s Foreign Ministry to summon the UAE ambassador to request “clarification… about statements that do not go along with the nature of the special relationship between the two countries.”

Two months later, Khalfan launched another attack on the Brotherhood, warning of what he called an “international plot” to overthrow the governments of the Arab Gulf countries and adding that the region needed to be prepared to counter any threats from Brotherhood sympathisers, as well as from Syria and Iran.

In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions, Abu Dhabi launched a clampdown on those suspected of having links with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Last year, it arrested at least 60 Islamists who it claimed were plotting against state security.

Most of the detained are believed to be linked to Al-Islah, an outlawed Islamist group in the UAE that apparently shares goals with the Muslim Brotherhood but is not specifically linked to it.

The detained 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.

Last month, the UAE also said that it had dismantled a cell of Saudi and Emirati Brotherhood members alleged to have been plotting “terrorist attacks” in the two countries and other states and intimating that they were linked to Al-Qaeda.

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