News / Middle East

UAE Detains 3 Activists for Online Pro-Reform Essays

Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks as the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson listens on, during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011
Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks as the director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, Sarah Leah Whitson listens on, during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011

Multimedia

Audio
Davin Hutchins

Three citizens in the United Arab Emirates were arrested this week after writing pro-reform essays on their blogs and other web sites.  The UAE - which is ruled by the monarchy of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan - makes many forms of dissent illegal.  Ahmed Mansour was taken by ten security officers from his apartment and his computers and passport were confiscated.  Nasser Ghaith, who had been calling for greater democracy on his blog, was arrested in a similar fashion.  A third, Fahad Al-Shehhy had apparently only been posting pro-democracy comments in an online forum.

Christopher Davidson teaches Middle East politics at the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University in the UK. He’s also a former resident of the UAE, writes frequently about politics there and was corresponding regularly with both Ahmed Mansour and Nasser Ghaith before their detention this week. VOA's Davin Hutchins spoke with Christopher Davidson about their arrest.

Hutchins: Chris, what exactly were Mansour and Ghaith writing about that might have been perceived as objectionable by the UAE authorities?

Davidson: Well, about two years ago Ahmed Mansour launched a web site in the United Arab Emirates called www.uaehewar.net, essentially translating his national dialogue site.  This is the only web site that allows free and fair discussion in the United Arab Emirates.  About a year ago it was closed down and since then a number of attempts were made to keep the web site alive, but essentially it’s remained blocked in the United Arab Emirates.  Most of his correspondence has been about the attempts by the authorities to harass the founders of the web site.

Hutchins: And how about in the case of Ghaith?

Davidson: In Ghaith’s case most of his writing has been on the economic developments of the United Arab Emirates, though more recently some of his articles that have appeared on blogs have taken on a more political tone.  In particular, he wrote a piece recently that questioned the leadership qualities of Gulf rulers especially in the wake of the Arab Spring and elsewhere in the region.

Hutchins: Do you think the UAE authorities are trying to send a signal to would-be dissenters by targeting and detaining three people in one week?

Davidson: Yes, I think so.  I think they’ve taken a cross-section of the UAE’s opposition, ranging from a prominent academic to a blogger to an Internet activist.  These three people have been arrested, detained without charge, yes, and it’s certainly sent a signal to the UAE national population that dissent has been made formally illegal.

Hutchins: Now would you say these writers, at least what they are writing, would be characterized as revolutionary or moderate?  I mean, were they advocating for wider political participation within the context of the present monarchy?

Davidson: Absolutely non-revolutionary and not radical at all.  These were attempts to get dialogues up and running, free and fair discussion to talk about having a properly elected parliament in the United Arab Emirates with some kind of universal suffrage.  Although there had been elections in the past in the UAE, they had been essentially mocked elections where only a few thousands of the national population has been eligible to vote.  Essentially these gentlemen have all been pressing for wider political participation, some kind of proper rule of law to be implemented in the country and also an effort to limit the power of the sheikhs and improve transparency across the board.

Hutchins:
Well, given this level of suppression of political speech and the signal that you’ve described the government trying to send, what do you think the odds are of seeing massive pro-democracy movements in the UAE?

Davidson: Well, I don’t think we’ll see a protest on the street in the same way we’ve seen in Bahrain, Oman or elsewhere in the Arab region.  I think the wealth distribution is too effective to actually lead [to] that ever happening.  I think what we might see a lot more of in the UAE is very intense further activism where petitions do get hoarded around, around thousands of people perhaps, where they do sign up perhaps anonymously at first.  But nonetheless the bubble of impossibility is broken and UAE nationals do start to see there is a way of actually having a voice against the status quo and government that currently rules them.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs