New York Times: US Response to UAE Kicking Out Democracy Groups Muted

Emirates Detain Pair From U.S.-Backed Group
The New York Times: International
By Steven Lee Myers

New York Times: US Response to UAE Kicking Out Democracy Groups Muted

WASHINGTON — The United Arab Emirates detained two employees of an American-financed pro-democracy organization and barred one of them from leaving the country on Thursday, worsening a diplomatic confrontation with the United States that has embarrassed and puzzled administration officials.

The United Arab Emirates, one of the closest American allies in the Persian Gulf, last week ordered the closing of the organization, the National Democratic Institute, and then detained its two employees as they prepared to leave the country late Wednesday, administration officials and others briefed on the detentions said.

The institute’s local director, Patricia Davis, an American, was ultimately allowed to leave. Her deputy, Slobodan Milic, a Serb, was released on Thursday after being detained overnight and questioned, but was not allowed to leave the country, they said. The detentions appeared to be part of a broader crackdown on nongovernmental organizations in the country, which also shut down a German advocacy group, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has close ties to the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a statement to the state-run news agency on Thursday, the assistant foreign minister for legal affairs of the Emirates, Abdul Rahim al-Awadhi, said that the authorities ordered the closings because the organizations violated regulations governing their work in the country. He did not elaborate or identify the organizations involved. “Some foreign institutions that were operating in the U.A.E. have violated the terms of the license,” Mr. Awadhi said. “Some have been operating without a license.”

It was the first public explanation of the closings, which occurred on the eve of a highly trumpeted security summit meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and leaders of the six Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the Emirates.

The National Democratic Institute declined to discuss the detentions, which were first reported on the Web site of Foreign Policy magazine. The organization had worked in Dubai for four years with a license as a training consultancy that was renewed each year, one official said. Most of the work involved women’s rights and municipal governance.

An administration official said the State Department did not understand the motivations behind the recent crackdown, particularly since the institute’s office in Dubai was an administrative hub that handled programs in the region, including in Qatar and Kuwait, but not in the Emirates. “It’s not clear why they’re seized on this,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a diplomatic dispute.

Mrs. Clinton, traveling in neighboring Saudi Arabia on Saturday, expressed regret over the closings and said she raised the matter with the Emirates’ foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. The American response since then has been muted compared with the furor of the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and other groups operating in that country.

After the United States threatened to cut off $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt under a new law, an Egyptian court ultimately allowed American and foreign employees of the groups to leave the country after paying nearly $5 million in bail. At the time, leaders of the groups expressed concern that Egypt’s crackdown on the groups — which promote democracy and basic political rights in line with stated American policy — could have reverberations through the region at a time of popular protests and political upheaval.

Last month, Mrs. Clinton waived new Congressional restrictions on military assistance to Egypt, even though the criminal case against the organizations continues, with the next court date set for next week for defendants still in Egypt. It remains unclear whether Egypt will summon the six Americans who paid the bail and left the country when the proceedings resume.

While the administration has strongly backed the work of groups like the National Democratic Institute, advocating political pluralism, rule of law and civil society is often viewed with suspicion in countries with authoritarian leaders and closed political systems.

A State Department spokesman, Mark C. Toner, said little on Thursday about the closing of the organizations or the detention of the two employees except that the administration was in close contact with officials in the Emirates “to find a resolution to this.”

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