NJ: Possibly Emboldened by Egypt’s Crackdown on NGOs, UAE Shuts Down Democracy Group

Washington Worried NDI Office Shutdown in UAE Sparked by Egypt’s Crackdown
National Journal
By Sara Sorcher

Possibly emboldened by Washington’s recent decision to approve military aid to Egypt without conditions on improving human rights, the government of the United Arab Emirates shut down the Dubai office of a prominent U.S.-funded democracy group.

The State Department, which recently waived conditions linking the funds to human rights, said it was in contact with the UAE authorities over its decision to shutter the National Democratic Institute office on Wednesday.

“We’ve made clear that allowing NGOs to operate openly and freely is important to support political and economic development,” a State Department official, not authorized to speak on the record, told National Journal.

Les Campbell, NDI’s Middle East and North Africa director, said the Dubai office was raided and closed without explanation after operating for four years as a hub for programs in other Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman. “As far as we understand it now, our license will be cancelled,” Campbell told National Journal.

At least two other Western groups’ UAE offices were shut down. They include Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a think tank with close ties to Chancellor Angela Merkel that promotes democracy and was also targeted for investigation in Egypt; and the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, a branch of the American poll and research firm.

The closures come as the Egyptian government continues its broad-based campaign against civil-society efforts, with some 400 local and international groups reportedly under investigation for illegally operating pro-democracy programs and stirring unrest. Egypt’s interim government still plans to prosecute 43 nongovernmental workers — including 16 Americans from NDI and other U.S.-funded organizations like the International Republican Institute and Freedom House, whose Cairo offices were raided in late December. The Americans were allowed to leave the country on March 1.

Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, worries the UAE closures may be the first signs of regional ripple effects from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent decision to sign off on the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt despite human-rights concerns. Citing national-security interests, Clinton waived new congressional restrictions that would have required her to certify Cairo supporting the transition to a democratic government and implementing policies to protect due process of law and freedom of expression, association, and religion.

Calling the action taken by the UAE “alarming,” McInerney said the U.S. decision to approve aid to Egypt could enable other autocratic governments to launch crackdowns and prosecute workers in their country and believe they can “get away with it.”

“For governments around the world to see that Egypt can remain the second- largest recipient of U.S. military aid while it’s cracking down blatantly on international organizations — including American organizations that are trying to support democracy — is very likely to embolden other governments to follow suit,” McInerney said.

Campbell said the U.S.-funded group was not given a reason for the decision to close the office. “I guess I would have my suspicions that it has some relationship to Egypt. The circumstances would lead to me to believe that,” Campbell said. “It’s obviously disturbing to us, but it’s early days yet.”

Lars Haensel, director of Konrad Adenauer’s Washington office, affirmed  this worry. “The only reason we could think of, is that … the authorities in the Emirates watched what’s going on in Egypt with our office as well.”

As National Journal reported in January, the momentum of the Arab Spring stopped in the Persian Gulf region, where wealthy, unelected rulers seem as entrenched as ever. The UAE government  does not have the same history of repressing civil society as former president Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt, and has allowed groups to work “rather quietly” on building civil society and engagement which is “extremely limited” in the UAE, McInerney said.

“This seems to be a dramatic step and significant escalation by the UAE government that could be signs of a really troubling trend in this direction across the region,” McInerney said.

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