No soldiers carried out raids like in Egypt but this week the U.A.E. shut down the local office of the National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-based pro-democracy non-governmental organization.
Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, told me in a phone interview early Friday that officials are “talking with the U.A.E. government” to find out what prompted the decision. He said the NDI plays a “pivotal role” in the communities in which it works.
His remarks follow those of German leaders who on Thursday criticized the decision of leaders in the Persian Gulf emirate to shutter the Abu Dhabi office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), a German think tank that promotes democracy abroad and has close ties to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Also, the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a branch of the American poll and research firm, was shuttered Thursday. Its U.A.E.-based website is now blank and directs readers to its Muslim Studies department in Washington. Dahlia Mogahed, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi office, was in Washington this week.
These expulsions from the Gulf come after these groups and other human rights and pro-democracy organizations were shut down in Egypt last year. “After our experiences in Egypt, we not only regret this decision, but consider it an alarm signal if non-governmental organizations and political foundations are increasingly unwanted in the Arab world,” KAS chairman Hans-Gert Poettering said in a statement.
While the U.A.E. has not seen revolutionary protests or a change of government like other Arab countries since the beginning of last year’s Arab Spring, authorities here have clamped down on dissident activity.
Last November, after a six-month trial, five Emiratis were sentenced to three-year prison terms for insulting the U.A.E.’s rulers and threatening state security. The men were pardoned days later. Then, late last year, the government announced the revocation of the citizenship of seven Emiratis who are all members of Al Islah, or Reform, an Islamist group.
A year ago, the elected boards of several professional associations, including the Jurists Association, a 32-year-old influential group of lawyers, have been disbanded. Authorities last year also refused to renew the license of the Gulf Research Center, which conducted social science research and held conferences in the U.A.E. Having been based in Dubai for 10 years, the group now works from Geneva.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that Merkel herself said she regrets the closure of KAS but said that Germany would try to “continue close cooperation” with the U.A.E.
Officials at the Germany foundation began working in the U.A.E. on the basis of an invitation issued by the Emirates in 2008, and opened its office in Abu Dhabi in June 2009.
UAE officials could not be reached for comment late on Thursday evening, which marks the start of the weekend here.