Protests have come to Abu Dhabi!
OK, it’s not what you’re thinking.
About 100 people gathered outside the Federal Supreme Court building — some got there as early as 6 a.m., apparently — in the capital today as a closed-door trial began against five Emirati activists arrested last April. They have been detained on charges of insulting members of the ruling families and posing a threat to state security. Those gathered outside today were protesting against the defendants and in defense of the U.A.E.’s rulers.
Since there isn’t any freedom of assembly here and free speech, in general, is more limited than what we have in the West, I was surprised the gathering took place at all. Local media covered it. The National quoted one protester saying: ” ‘We want to say we are different from those [activists]; we chose our presidents,’ said Abdulla al Ahbabi. ‘We love our leaders and we grow up knowing them as our fathers. You don’t find this in other Arab countries.'”
No word about the outcome of todays’s hearing. The article says the next day in court is July 18, during which witnesses would be called.
Christopher Davidson, a professor at Durham University who has written books on the development of the U.A.E., offered up his take on the matter last April. For Davidson, the detentions of these men is a worrisome turn of events. “The removal of all three UAE nationals from their homes is alarming and requires thorough investigation. If the media reports on Dr. Ghaith’s arrest are accurate then the Sorbonne, along with New York University and all other western universities establishing campuses in the country should probably begin reviewing their ties with the UAE government.”
But Thabet Al Qaissieh, an Emirati who I’ve just started following on Twitter, dismisses those arguments. “I say this to those who tend to look at the UAE through their own eyes, and blindly criticizing everything UAE does because it does not make sense from their point of view,” he wrote in a blog post today. “I would like to remind them that all five men were not in court today for their stances on reform, nor human rights issues. They were in court today for defaming the President and leaders of our country, and that to us the people, is not acceptable, and is, in fact, part of the constitution. It might be allowed else where, but we are not else where, we are UAE.”