DUBAI (Reuters) – Three Emirati Islamists including a prominent lawyer were arrested in the UAE on Tuesday as part of a widening clampdown on Islamist dissidents, relatives and activists said.
The arrests brought the number of detained Emirati dissidents, most of them Islamists, to 10 since Sunday, when the Gulf Arab state said it was investigating a foreign-linked group planning “crimes against the security of the state”.
Interior Ministry officials were not available for comment on Tuesday.
The UAE, a major oil exporter, allows no organized political opposition. It has avoided the political unrest that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
But it has also moved swiftly against dissidents, and last year stripped citizenship from Islamists whom it deemed a security threat and jailed activists who called for more power for a semi-elected advisory council.
Lawyer Mohammed al-Roken, his son and son-in-law were detained on Tuesday, activists and family members said. All are linked to the local Islamist group al-Islah (Reform), which has been the target of a crackdown in the UAE. Roken represented seven Islamists stripped of citizenship last year.
“He (Roken) was taken by security officials at 2am in the morning when he was out with the driver looking for his son and son-in-law who were also arrested,” a relative told Reuters.
UAE authorities have expressed concern that the growing influence of Islamists in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia could embolden Islamist groups at home.
Islamists in the UAE say they share similar ideology with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but have no direct links with the group, seen as a mentor for Islamist groups in the region.
They say they want more civil rights and greater power for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body that advises the government but has no legislative power.
The men detained over the past days mostly come from the more religiously conservative emirates such as Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, which are also less affluent than the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi and trade hub Dubai.
Authorities have also closed the office of the Arabian Gulf Center for Educational Consultations in the northern Ajman emirate, said the owner of the center, who has links to Islah.
Ahmed al-Shiba, a brother of one of the men arrested on Monday, told Reuters by telephone from the United Kingdom that the center, which has been open since 2003, was shut down by UAE officials on Tuesday.
“In the past year there has been a defamatory campaign against the center where some were calling it ikhwanji (affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood),” he said.
On Sunday, the state news agency WAM said prosecutors had ordered the arrest of a group that aimed to commit crimes against state security and challenge the constitution. It said the group was “subordinate to foreign organizations and agendas”.
An activist who had campaigned for the rights of stateless people in the UAE said on Monday he was deported to Thailand after spending nearly two months in detention over his advocacy.