UAE detains another democracy activist, academic

Published April 10, 2011

| Associated Press

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have detained two more activists advocating democratic reforms in the oil-rich Gulf nation where most political activity is banned, a lawyer said Sunday.

The pair includes one of the country's most outspoken academics, Nasser bin Ghaith, who is a financial analyst and an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne university. He was detained Sunday in Dubai, said Mohammed al-Mansouri, the lawyer and a fellow activist.

He has frequently criticized the Gulf region's ruling sheiks for refusing to consider all but the most limited of political reforms and for failing to provide a legal framework for the staggering economic development of the past decade.

The other activist, Fahad Salem al-Shehhy, was detained late Saturday in Ajman, another of the federation's emirates north of Dubai, al-Mansouri said. Al-Shehhy has been participating in an online forum calling for free elections and other democratic reforms in the UAE, an alliance of seven sheikdoms run by ruling families.

The forum had been led by Ahmed Mansour, a blogger and human rights activist, who himself was arrested on Friday in Dubai after he signed a petition in favor of an elected parliament.

Police and government officials have not responded to calls for comment, and representatives of Sorbonne Abu Dhabi could not immediately be reached.

Dubai's police chief confirmed Mansour's detention Sunday in a state-run newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, the capital. In a brief statement to The National's online edition, Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim said Mansour was arrested in Dubai on a request from the UAE attorney general "in connection with a criminal case." Tamim did not elaborate.

Political activity is severely restricted in the Emirates. There are no official opposition groups and political parties are banned.

The oil-rich federation has not seen the kind of pro-reform unrest spreading elsewhere around the Middle East and no protests have taken place since the uprisings against autocratic rulers started in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.

There has, however, been an increase in online discussions about the need for political reform.

Last month, 130 people signed a petition demanding constitutional and parliamentary changes in the Emirates, free elections for all citizens and more of a share of the country's oil wealth. A similar petition was also sent a few days ago.

Activists have complained of increased harassment and monitoring of blogs and social media in the past year even as the federation — where Dubai and Abu Dhabi pride themselves on their Western outlook — showcases itself as an economic and cultural powerhouse.

Mansour told The Associated Press on Thursday that he's been getting threats for signing the petitions calling for an elected parliament.

The Emirates' current parliament, based in Abu Dhabi, serves as an advisory body. Its 40 members are either directly appointed by the ruling sheiks or elected by citizens hand-picked by the rulers to vote.

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