It has been a bad year for the UAE. First, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, records a video detailing horrific abuse she and her sister suffered at his hands; then she tries to escape the country. The UAE and India illegally raid the American-registered yacht that was ferrying her to safety, and kidnap all those onboard; all in the name of enforcing Islamic Law in international waters. The UAE is facing a United Nations enquiry into the incident, as well as an ongoing FBI investigation, and both civil and criminal legal action on behalf of the victims.
Recently, there have been several high profile cases that exposed the dangers of visiting the UAE, such as the case in which an Emirates Airlines passenger was charged with drinking a complimentary glass of wine provided by the carrier. The United Kingdom updated its travel warnings for tourists to highlight the risks of traveling to the UAE. It appears tourism is slowing, housing prices are plummeting, and several major airlines, including Virgin, & Qantas announced cancellation of their Dubai routes.
And in May, the UAE detained British PhD student and researcher, Matthew Hedges who was in the country to research his doctoral thesis. The Emirates appear to allege that Matthew’s academic project, a study of the UAE’s security policies, constituted a breach of national security, and he has been held in solitary confinement, incommunicado, for the last four months.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and leading international legal expert on the UAE, says, “We are seeing a very ominous intensification of the UAE’s hostility to free speech, defiance of the rule of law, disdain for due process, and disregard for international opinion. Increasingly, private investors, tourists, and major companies are opting for safer destinations, but the UAE remains intransigent.”
Durham University, where Matthew is pursuing his PhD, has subsequently cancelled all academic research cooperation with the UAE, and other universities are likely to follow.
Stirling tweeted today, “The detention of Matthew Hedges should be a stern warning to anyone in the academic community who focuses on the Middle East. If works have been previously published, researchers are at risk of arrest.”
“Emirati students are studying in the US and Europe, and there is considerable academic cooperation between Western educational institutions and the UAE; many top universities have branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.” Stirling says, “But with the detention and outlandish allegations against Matthew Hedges, there needs to be an urgent re-think. Researchers, academics, writers, human rights lawyers and activists, cannot really feel secure visiting the country. The UAE’s well documented abuses and endemic corruption within the legal system, have prompted the UK to basically bar extradition to the Emirates, for fear of torture and unfair trials. There is a growing consensus that the UAE is not a country that can be regarded as friendly to Westerners.”
Stirling continues, “In the past year, Detained in Dubai has dealt with numerous cases in which foreign investors have been defrauded, extorted, and strong-armed into giving up their shares; they have been framed on false charges and convicted on fabricated evidence, in case after case; in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Ras Al Khaimah. The international business community is becoming less tolerant of these kinds of practices, and, when you add to this, the frequency of high profile cases of human rights violations; investors are deciding that the cost of doing business in countries like the UAE is just too high.”
Richard Branson, for instance, has removed himself from two of his franchises in Saudi Arabia, a major UAE ally, over that country’s egregious human rights record. “We would encourage Richard Branson, and all other major figures in the business community, to reassess their presence in the UAE,” says Stirling, “It is not a safe place for tourists, it is not a safe place for business, it is not a safe place for academics. The UAE has ignored an ongoing United Nations enquiry, and in the meantime, continues to falsely accuse, detain, and unfairly prosecute innocent American and European citizens. It is imperative that we in the West demonstrate this is not acceptable, and that we downgrade our relations with the UAE until they can comply with internationally accepted norms of behaviour.”