Blaming the Muslim Brotherhood

"Individuals and organisations in London with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood are behind a series of media attacks on the UAE," the Emirati newspaper, The National, reported on Wednesday.

The paper certainly went to town on the story, with a news report, a 3,000-word investigative piece and a graphic, plus an editorial comment a day later.

This obviously delighted the UAE government, since the official news agency re-published The National's investigative report on its website – as did UAEinteract, a website "supported by the UAE National Media Council".

The main thrust of the investigation, as the paper's editorial explained, was that the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking "to turn the public opinion of a crucial ally [i.e. Britain] against us [the UAE]", and is hiding behind front organisations in its effort to do so. "The UAE conducts its domestic and foreign policy openly, not in secret," the editorial said. "The least we should expect is that our critics are similarly open about their motivations, sympathies and sources of funding."

The National itself, incidentally, was not quite as transparent as it would like the Brotherhood to be, since it did not say who wrote the articles. However, it seems that Jonathan Gornall, a British journalist, had a hand in them because he posted several tweets in connection with the research (herehere and here). 

That aside, possible use of front organisations by the Muslim Brotherhood is a matter of public interest and a perfectly legitimate question for a newspaper to investigate. If the issue were purely one of transparency there would be no problem, but it also – rather too conveniently – feeds the Emirati government's own propaganda narrative.

Demonising the Brotherhood and its Emirati offshoot, al-Islah, is a central plank in the government's effort to resist political change. The Emirati public are not much enamoured with the Brotherhood, so if criticisms of the government can be attributed to the Brotherhood, people are likely to dismiss them as nothing more than smears (which is what The National did in its editorial).

In the long run, though, brushing off criticisms in this way serves no useful purpose because the longer the authorities continue refusing to acknowledge or address them, the worse it will be in the end. The fact is that many of the Brotherhood's complaints are justified and there are plenty of others complaining besides the Brotherhood..

When Gabriela Knaul, a Brazilian judge, went to the UAE to investigate its justice system in February, she was not fronting for the Muslim Brotherhood. She had been sent there by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur.

Nevertheless, the authorities put her under surveillance and prevented her from visiting prisons or meeting certain detainees. When she issued her report, the foreign ministry responded in customary fashion by accusing her of political bias:

“We regret that some comments of the Special Rapporteur were based on information from undisclosed sources and were consistent with the politically motivated campaign of certain groups to tarnish the reputation of the UAE, making it difficult to evaluate the credibility and impartiality of this information and hence the validity of the issues raised.” 

The US State Department, we can be reasonably certain, is not a front for the Muslim Brotherhood either. Yet its most recent annual report on the UAE said:

"The emirates are under patriarchal rule with political allegiance defined by loyalty to tribal leaders, leaders of the individual emirates, and leaders of the federation. There are limited democratically elected institutions, but no political parties ...

"The three most significant human rights problems [during 2013] were citizens’ inability to change their government; limitations on citizens’ civil liberties (including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and internet use); and arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and lengthy pretrial detentions."

Similarly, Human Rights Watch, in its latest World Report, said:

"The United Arab Emirates continues to crack down on freedom of expression and association. The authorities are arbitrarily detaining scores of individuals they suspect of links to domestic and international Islamist groups. A court convicted 69 dissidents in July after a manifestly unfair trial, in which evidence emerged of systematic torture at state security facilities. 

"The UAE made no reforms to a system that facilitates the forced labor of migrant workers. Plans to ameliorate conditions for female domestic workers fall short of the standards outlined in the convention on domestic workers that the International Labour Organisation adopted in 2012."

Suspected Islamists, of course, are not the only ones who get unjustly detained in the UAE. Shezanne Cassim, a 29-year-old American, spent nine months behind bars in a top security prison in the Emirates after posting a comedy video on YouTube. Marte Dalelv, a 24-year-old Norwegian woman, convicted of having extramarital sex and sentenced to 16 months in jail after complaining to police in Dubai that she had been raped. Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, later "forgave" her for her "crime". Earlier, Alicia Gali, an Australian woman, had served eight months in prison for having extramarital sex after complaining she had been raped in the neighbouring emirate of Fujairah. 
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Saturday, 21 June 2014