The United Arab Emirates was largely unaffected by the Arab Spring. As noted in a 2011 issue of Time Magazine, the country’s extensive wealth has prevented it from the protests, which occurred throughout other areas of the MENA region. Although the majority of the citizens appear to be loyal to the monarchy, not everyone is currently satisfied with the ruling government. According to the BBC, in August of 2012, ninety-four citizens (including women, human rights lawyers, and students) were arrested with charged with attempting to overthrow the government. According to the UAE, these individuals have strong links to the Muslim Brotherhood as well as Al-Islah, which intends to replace the ruling families of the Emiratis with strict Islam rule. Earlier last week (on March 4), the trial of the ninety-four suspected “enemies of the state” began in Abu Dhabi. According to Salem Kobaish (the UAE Attorney General) the defendants, as well as certain foreign organizations, were determined to overthrow the ruling monarchy.
This trial is important because it proves that although a large percentage of the population is supportive of the current regime, there are many issues within the government. As noted in this case, the monarchy has no tolerance for opposition and appears to be rather paranoid of a popular revolt. For example, in July of 2012 Ahmed Abdul Khaleq (an online activist) was deported to Thailand after protesting for democratic reforms. The U.S. and the UAE have strong diplomatic and economic relations. Similar to other countries located on the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE supplies a large percentage of oil to the U.S. and has the seventh largest petroleum reserves in the world. The UAE has been a crucial ally to the U.S. throughout the War on Terror.
As U.S. citizens, we have been shielded from the reality that the UAE has been committing certain human rights violations against its own citizens. State authorized torture and imprisonment have frequently occurred within the UAE since the 2011 Arab Spring, but unlike other countries in the MENA region, the UAE has been able to closely monitor the population in order to prevent any future uprisings (approximately 86% of the population resides in urban areas).
Although it appears that the UAE’s wealth has kept the majority of the citizens complacent, it is important to remember that not ALL the citizens are satisfied with the current regime. Various NGOs, such as Transparency International, suggests that a higher degree of political openness will help reduce the moderate level of corruption. As educated students, we should observe these current trials and see how the UAE proceeds with them. It is important to note that even though the UAE was able to narrowly avoid the Arab Spring, certain reforms are still necessary within the government.