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I write from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, where headlines today report "94 Emiratis charged with compromising UAE security."
The defendants were arrested months ago and it was not until now clear what these cases were about. I was among those who asked UAE authorities how they could defend the dozens of detentions without charges, and was told that the men would indeed be charged and trials held. It’s now clear that these cases are the government’s reaction to Muslim Brotherhood activities in the UAE, which it views as subversive--literally meant to seize the state in the long run:
Prosecutors allege that the organisation infiltrated societies, schools, universities, ministries and families under the pretence of doing social work to conceal their actions and "divert their loyalty to the organisation and its leadership after preparing a general climate in society to accept this by turning public opinion against all the authorities of the state."
Most of the 94 accused are members of Al Islah, an organisation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. They have been in the custody of the Public Prosecution in Abu Dhabi since arrests began last summer.
They were charged with violating Article 180 of the Penal Code, which bans the formation of any political organisation or any organisation that compromises the security of the state, and with having connections with foreign bodies to harm the political leadership. Several of the detainees confessed to setting up a secret organisation with an armed wing with the aim of seizing power and establishing an Islamist state in the UAE, a security source said last year.
[The Attorney General] said yesterday the organisation’s members had invested funds raised from their subscriptions, alms money, zakat and contributions in commercial and property companies, and bought and sold residential and industrial properties and agriculture land with the aim of hiding funds from the authorities.
The importance of the case lies not so much in the details, which remain to be proved, as in its exposure of the attitude here toward the Muslim Brotherhood. It is viewed as a sinister organization acting secretly to build an invisible human and financial network, not as a group of devout individuals just trying to improve society. As to any suggestion that the Brothers merely seek democracy rather than the system of governance in place here, officials--and many outside the government--scoff at this as Western naivete. People should look at Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, I am told, before they argue that the Brothers’ real goal is democracy or even that they can be transformed into democrats. In fact there is considerable surprise that the United States appears to be buying the Brothers’ line about themselves, when the evidence continues to mount where the Brotherhood rules--from the arrests of journalists and editors, to the arrests of individuals for "insulting the president," to outrageous and primitive statements about Jews, to efforts at writing constitutions that limit full religious freedom--that it does not fit pollyanish Western descriptions of its goals and methods.
The government here has a firm intention to prevent the Brotherhood from implanting itself any further and rejects complaints that these prosecutions violate human rights. Of course the trials must be fair and the evidence must be clear, but for officials here the critical point is to show what the Brotherhood is up to, and show that its activities are about seizing power rather than building respect for human rights or promoting democracy.