ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – The United Arab Emirates detained five activists, who all signed a pro-democracy petition last month, on accusations of "opposing the government," the Emirati state news agency said Monday.
The activists are being questioned for "perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security" and insulting the rulers of Abu Dhabi, including the crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is to meet President Barack Obama Tuesday.
Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states allied to the U.S., each ruled by a hereditary sheik. There are no official opposition groups and political parties are banned.
The oil-rich federation has not seen the pro-reform unrest spreading elsewhere around the Middle East that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year.
Last month, however, in an unprecedented move for the politically quiescent country, 130 people signed a petition demanding constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.
The detained activists include blogger Ahmed Mansour and economic professor Nasser bin Ghaith, who were both arrested in Dubai in early April. It was not immediately clear when the other three activists mentioned in the WAM report were detained.
Mansour led an online political forum, popular with Emiratis, who represent only 10 percent of the country's 8 million inhabitants. The other arrested activists were participating in the discussions as well, until authorities blocked the forum's site last year.
Bin Ghaith is a financial analyst and a frequent guest lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne university. He has often criticized the Gulf region's ruling sheiks for failing to provide a legal framework for the staggering economic development of the past decade.
WAM's report does not say if any of the five activists in custody have been charged with any crime.
Abu Dhabi is the largest and richest emirate in the Gulf union. It is controlled by the Al Nahyan dynasty that also wields considerable power over the smaller sheikdoms, including the regional commercial hub of Dubai.
The current federal parliament serves as an advisory body. Its 40 members are either directly appointed by the ruling sheiks or chosen by group citizens hand-picked by the rulers to vote.