Tensions flare between UAE and Muslim Brotherhood

Tension is mounting between the United Arab Emirates and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, exacerbated by the UAE's arrest of several Egyptians linked to the Brotherhood's leaders. France24.com takes a closer look.


Tensions between the United Arab Emirates and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist movement, do not appear to be easing in the new year.

On January 1, Emirati newspaper Al Khaleej reported that authorities in the Gulf state had arrested 10 members of an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood cell. “The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has conducted many courses and lectures for the members of the secret organisation regarding the election and the ways of changing regimes in Arab countries,” the paper said.

The suspects are accused of holding “secret meetings” in the Emirates, recruiting “Egyptian expats in the UAE to join their ranks”, and raising “large amounts of money which they sent illegally to the mother organisation in Egypt”. The article also alleged that the suspects collected classified information regarding matters of UAE defence.

Two days later, the Egyptian Senate reacted by establishing a commission to investigate the matter, with the aim of working “towards the release of Egyptian doctors in the Emirates and investigate the circumstances of [their] arrest”.

An Egyptian emissary on Wednesday was sent to Dubai to meet Emirati leaders and deliver a letter to the nation’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmud Ghozlan told Agence France Presse that the arrests were part of “an unjust campaign” against Egyptian expatriates in the UAE, saying that the accusations against them were unfounded.

Fears of a ‘domino effect’

Experts in the politics of the region are hardly surprised by the diplomatic flare-up. “With the exception of Qatar, the Gulf monarchies have a tumultuous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood,” explained political scientist Karim Sader, who specialises in the Gulf nations.

Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood has for the past several decades wielded a certain influence among Qatari royals, who have financed the group.

“Though they subscribe to the puritanical Islam promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood, Emirati officials hate and fear their political activism, a practice which is forbidden in the Gulf monarchies and perceived as a threat to their power,” Sader said.

Walid Kazziha, a professor of political science at the American University of Cairo, was interviewed about the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Emirati authorities in the online edition of Egyptian daily al-Ahram: “[The United Arab Emirates] are worried about a domino effect, even if they, without a doubt, prefer having the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt than a more democratic force,” he assessed.

‘Demonising’ potential opposition

Nevertheless, a popular uprising orchestrated under the table by the Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates seems highly unlikely. “While it’s possible that certain figures in the Muslim Brotherhood have the ambition of gaining influence in the Gulf, riding the wave of the Arab Spring, their priority remains consolidating their still-fragile power in Egypt,” Sader said.

The Egyptian economy is largely dependent on financial aid from outside of Egypt, particularly the Gulf states. According to al-Ahram’s online edition, nearly 250,000 Egyptians reside in the United Arab Emirates, while 500 Emirati businesses operate in Egypt

“On the other hand, even if these Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood cells do exist in the UAE, the danger is doubtless not as great as the Emiratis have said,” Sader noted. “It is in the Emiratis’ interests to exaggerate the danger, in order to demonise any political opposition from the inside – certainly a plausible risk – by associating it with the Islamist threat and a foreign conspiracy.”

Last March, Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfane openly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of plotting to overthrow the Gulf monarchies. “The Muslim Brotherhood is planning on taking hold of the Kuwaiti government in 2013, with the objective of seizing power in all the Gulf states by 2016,” Khalfane told the press.

In early October, the United Arab Emirates’ foreign affairs minister accused the Muslim Brotherhood of “not recognising the sovereignty” of the Gulf states.

“By using police-like language when talking about the Muslim Brotherhood, or describing them as terrorists like Dhahi Khalfane did, Emirati officials are sending strong warnings to people, both inside and outside the country, who might be tempted to engage in social or political agitation within the Emirates,” Sader concluded.

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