MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on the United Arab Emirates

October 6, 2017

HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum    
Prime Minister’s Office 
PO Box: 212000           
Dubai, United Arab Emirates              
Fax: +971 4 330 404 
info@primeminister.ae

HE Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Interior    
Zayed Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Shaikh Zayed Mosque
PO Box: 398, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
moi@moi.gov.ae

HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Al Bateen, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Fax +971 02 444 7766
info@mofa.gov.ae

Your Excellencies,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our deep dismay at reports that at least two tenured faculty – and possibly more – of New York University (NYU) have been denied security clearance to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi. While we acknowledge the sovereign right of the United Arab Emirates to regulate entry and issue visas, we are profoundly concerned at the multiple cases in which students and academics have been denied access to the UAE in recent years. We hold such incidents to be inconsistent with the principles of academic integrity that underpin the higher education initiatives that the UAE has so publicly supported, both within the country and overseas.

MESA was founded in 1966 to support scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

In two documented cases, tenured faculty members at NYU have been denied the security clearance necessary to secure a visa to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi. Mohamad Bazzi, an Associate Professor of Journalism, and Arang Keshavarzian, an Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, had been invited to teach at NYU Abu Dhabi during the current academic year. In both cases, their visas were denied for reasons unknown. A third tenured member of the NYU faculty, Professor Andrew Ross, was prevented from boarding a flight from New York to Abu Dhabi in March 2015 after his passport was flagged by UAE state security. These are apparently not isolated incidents: NYU records indicate that at least ten of their faculty members have been denied entry to the UAE along with a larger number of students, staff, and academic support personnel.

We are further aware of at least two instances where the UAE appears to have placed scholars – Kristina Bogos, at the time a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at Rice University – on a GCC-wide blacklist, hindering severely their ability to travel to the region and conduct research. There are strong grounds for believing that all these scholars were placed on the security list either due to discrimination against their religious affiliations or because their work was deemed critical of the UAE. Either way, these incidents make a mockery of the commitment to the principle of academic freedom and the unrestricted ability to teach and conduct research at NYU Abu Dhabi and other institutes of higher education in the UAE. Moreover, the inclusion of scholars on a GCC-wide blacklist represents an unacceptable use of a mechanism established in 2015 with the stated objective of unifying anti-terrorism policies and is likely to have a chilling effect on faculty and students who work on Gulf issues yet wish to retain access to the region.

The inconvenience caused to foreign scholars, however, pales in comparison with the ill-treatment of leading Emirati academics who fall foul of UAE state security. Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent and highly-regarded professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University, was detained for eleven days in January 2017, ostensibly due to social media activity judged critical of Egyptian President Abdel Fatteh El-Sisi. Although Professor Abdulla was not mistreated and was released, the Emirati authorities did not provide a reason for his detention or information on his whereabouts while in custody. This failure to meet international standards of due process has been replicated, with more severe consequences, in the case of Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment in March 2017 for “posting false information” about UAE leaders and policies on Twitter. We have written repeatedly to you about the irregularities in Dr. bin Ghaith’s trial and conviction, his mistreatment in custody, and the attempt in Emirati media outlets to defame his character by linking him to “violent global jihad.”

It is our view that the unlawful detention of Dr. bin Ghaith and many others – including the internationally-acclaimed human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, about whom we have also written to you – is part of a broader campaign to close down spaces for freedom of speech and thought in the UAE and persecute those who hold dissenting views of government policy. Reports from universities in the UAE indicate that ever greater restrictions are being placed on issues that can be discussed, whether within the classroom or at academic events. We find these reports troubling as the UAE has invested heavily in higher education, both domestically and internationally, over the past decade, and has supported academic programs and institutions worldwide. While these initiatives have been central to the UAE’s efforts to brand itself as a regional innovation and knowledge hub, we are troubled by the lack of commitment to the values that underpin such endeavors.

Your Excellencies, we call on the UAE Government to respect and uphold the principles of academic freedom and free speech, and to end the practice of targeting academics and others on the basis of their religious affiliation or on the grounds that they question or criticize aspects of UAE policy. We urge the UAE to grant the security clearance necessary to issue entry visas to Professor Bazzi and Professor Keshavarzian and to uphold the commitment to academic freedom made when NYU Abu Dhabi was launched. We repeat our call for the UAE to overturn the conviction of Nasser bin Ghaith and end the unlawful detention of Ahmed Mansoor. Finally, we demand that UAE authorities provide greater transparency on the use or misuse of security blacklists and acknowledge that it is not acceptable to equate academic inquiry with acts of terrorism.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Beth Baron
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director

cc:

HE Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States

April 5, 2017

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates 
Fax: +971 2 668 6622

HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum    
Vice President and Prime Minister  
Fax: +971 4 330 404 
info@primeminister.ae

HE Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of the Interior    
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
moi@moi.gov.ae

Your Highnesses, Your Excellency,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to vehemently protest the decision of the United Arab Emirates Federal Appeal Court to impose a ten-year prison sentence on economist, academic and prominent human rights defender, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith. We have written to you on several occasions (21 August 2015, 22 August 2016, 4 January 2017, and 31 January 2017) to express our concern over the unlawful arrest, harassment, and detention of Dr. bin Ghaith. We have also expressed worry about his declining health and maltreatment while in detention. Dr. bin Ghaith’s sentence comes on the heels of other arrests and detentions of members of the “UAE 5”. This sentence is a clear violation of the right to free expression and   of the human rights of one of the UAE’s most prominent scholars and human rights defenders. We urge you to intervene promptly and personally to reverse the Court’s decision.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The decision by the Federal Appeals Court to sentence Dr. bin Ghaith on the basis of his public statements and tweets is both troubling and unlawful. As Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Office publicly stated earlier this week, the sentencing of Dr. bin Ghaith to ten years in prison is “yet another devastating blow for freedom of expression in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). By imposing this ludicrous sentence in response to his peaceful tweets, the authorities have left no room for doubt: those who dare to speak their minds freely in the UAE today risk grave punishment.” We wholeheartedly agree. Dr. bin Ghaith should not be subject to this harsh sentencing for exercising his right to free expression.

We have written repeatedly to you to protest both the detention of Dr. bin Ghaith and the deeply troubling and unlawful conditions under which he is being held. After an eight-month-long detention, during which he was held without access to any communication or legal representation, he appeared in court on numerous occasions to face false charges. Not only was Dr. bin Ghaith held incommunicado, he was also denied his medications, and his health declined steadily as a result. Furthermore, he was subjected to character assassination in an op-ed published in The National in February 2017 that portrayed him, most inappropriately, as “part of an alliance of militant extremists who seek the overthrow of legitimate governments.” To then receive a sentence of ten years' incarceration for the peaceful expression of opinion via tweets is a gross miscarriage of justice.

We are extremely concerned that this decision by the UAE Federal Court of Appeals sends a chilling message that threatens the fundamental right of free and peaceful expression in the country, especially the expression of dissenting opinions or calls to uphold human rights.

Your Excellencies, on the grounds of protecting  freedom of speech as well as observing international laws pertaining to unlawful imprisonment and false charges, we appeal to you to rescind the sentence enacted by the Federal Court of Appeals and release Dr. bin Ghaith. We further call upon you to affirm that international norms of due process will henceforth be adhered to in the UAE.

We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                                
MESA President                                                                        
Professor, City University of New York                                 

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:

HE Yousef Al Otaiba
Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States
Fax: 1 202 243 2432 
info@uaeembassy-usa.org

March 29, 2017

HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum    
Prime Minister’s Office 
PO Box: 212000           
Dubai, United Arab Emirates              
Fax: +971 4 330 404 
info@primeminister.ae

HE Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Interior    
Zayed Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Shaikh Zayed Mosque
PO Box: 398, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
moi@moi.gov.ae

HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Al Bateen, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Fax +971 02 444 7766
info@mofa.gov.ae

Your Excellencies,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our deep concern about the arrest of Ahmed Mansoor, an international award-winning human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. Ahmed Mansoor was detained by twelve members of state security at his home in Ajman on March 19, 2017, and taken to an undisclosed location while his computer and cell phones were confiscated without warrant. Mr. Mansoor was the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders; he is one of the few remaining activists in the UAE who has raised publicly the issue of persistent human rights violations in your country. Mr. Mansoor’s arrest and disappearance are consistent with an ongoing campaign to silence dissenting voices and suppress all forms of political opposition in the UAE.

MESA was founded in 1966 to support scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Ahmed Mansoor has long spoken in favor of human rights and freedom of speech in the UAE. He founded the www.uaehewar.net website in August 2009 as a platform for the discussion of politics, development, and society in the Emirates. Mr. Mansoor also was one of the 133 signatories of a petition for moderate political reforms that was presented to H.E. President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in March 2011.  Mr. Mansoor subsequently was targeted in an online smear campaign on social media and was one of the “UAE 5” arrested in April 2011 on charges of “perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system, and insulting the President.” In November 2011, the “UAE 5” were convicted of insulting the rulers of the UAE following a trial criticized by international human rights organizations. Although Mr. Mansoor and the other members of the “UAE 5” were pardoned by President Sheikh Khalifa the day after their conviction, their convictions remained on file and meant they could not secure the Certificate of Good Conduct needed to work in the UAE or travel internationally. Mr. Mansoor lost his job as an engineer in a telecommunications firm and was unable to travel to Geneva in 2015 to accept in person the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

The Emirati news agency WAM on March 21, 2017 quoted the Public Prosecutor as stating that Mr. Mansoor is accused of using social media “to publish false information and rumors” in posts that “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation.” We are concerned that the nature of these charges and Mr. Mansoor’s detention at an undisclosed location place him at risk of ill-treatment at the hands of the security services. We note that the UAE amended its 2006 Cyber Crimes Law in 2012 and that the new decree (Federal Legal Decree No. 5 for 2012) issued by President Sheikh Khalifa included a sweeping declaration stipulating “penalties of imprisonment” for any act intended to “damage the reputation or the stature of the state or any of its institutions, its President, the Vice President, any of the Rulers of the emirates, their Crown Princes, the Deputy Rulers, the national flag, the national anthem, the emblem of the state or any of its symbols.”

There are numerous examples of individuals arbitrarily being detained and imprisoned for speech-related offences in the UAE since 2015. Most pertinent to the case of Mr. Mansoor is that of Professor Nasser bin Ghaith who, a member of the “UAE 5” like Mr. Mansoor, was detained, convicted, and pardoned in 2011 and about whom we have written to you on multiple occasions (see our letters dated January 31, 2017, August 22, 2016, August 21, 2015, and June 8, 2011). Professor bin Ghaith was re-arrested by State Security in Abu Dhabi on August 18, 2015, and charged with various breaches of the UAE penal code, including violations of the 2012 Cyber Crimes Law and the 2014 Terrorism Law. Similar to the account provided by Mr. Mansoor’s family of his arrest on March 19, 2017, Professor bin Ghaith’s home was thoroughly searched by police prior to his detention and items were taken away for investigation. Professor bin Ghaith’s trial has been postponed repeatedly, his health is failing amid reports he has been denied access to medication, and he has been subjected to character assassination in an op-ed published in The National in February 2017 that portrayed him as “part of an alliance of militant extremists who seek the overthrow of legitimate governments.”

Ahmed Mansoor has been held incommunicado since his detention. Others in his position have been held without access to legal representation or any public disclosure of their whereabouts for months before they have been brought to trial. Under international law, a state violates the prohibition against enforced disappearance when it takes a person into custody and then either denies it is detaining the person, or fails to disclose the person’s whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are also at high risk of torture, and many prisoners have made allegations about the lack of due process and their mistreatment while in secret custody pending trial. An October 2013 investigation by Reprieve into reports of torture at Dubai Central Jail suggested that more than 75 percent of prisoners had been physically abused at some point after their arrest while 96 percent had been subjected to questioning without ever having seen a lawyer and 95 percent were interviewed by prosecutors without a lawyer present.

We urge the UAE authorities to respect internationally recognized standards of free speech and due process, and to release Mr. Mansour and other prisoners of conscience whose only “crime” has been to express their opinions in a non-violent manner. Such actions on the part of the state violate the commitment to opening minds and fostering intellectual creativity that the UAE professes in its global branding efforts and its partnerships with leading international universities. We look forward to your timely response to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                                
MESA President                                                                        
Professor, City University of New York                                 

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:

HE Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States
Fax: 1 202 243 2432 
info@uaeembassy-usa.org

January 31, 2017

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 668 6622

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum
Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates
info@primeminister.ae
fax: +971 4 330 404

HE Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates
moi@moi.gov.ae
fax: +971 2 4022762; 971 2 4415780

Your Highnesses, Your Excellency,

We write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern about what appears to be an increasingly hostile climate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with regards to academic freedom. Although Prof. Abdelkhaleq Abdallah has been released, we are dismayed that over the past several months, scholars and students have been detained for innocuous tweets, placed on blacklists (shared with other GCC members) and/or denied entry to the country, while other scholars, such as Prof. Nasser bin Ghaith, remain in detention for months with repeated trial postponements. The recent crackdown launched by the Emirati authorities on scholars and students violates the rights of freedom of opinion and freedom of conscience of these individuals.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The cases of Nasser bin Ghaith and Kristina Bogos, about whom we have written to you before – see our letters dated August 21, 2015, August 22, 2016, January 4, 2017 -- as well as the most recent detention of Abdelkhaleq Abdallah reflect a trend in the UAE that seeks to silence academics and public intellectuals. Indeed, scholars working in and on the UAE have found their ability to express themselves and conduct their research significantly constrained.

We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing detention of Nasser bin Ghaith. Following an eight-month-long incarceration incommunicado, he has, since June 2016, appeared in Supreme Court on numerous occasions; his most recent appearance – on January 18, 2017 – before the Abu Dhabi Appeal Court, resulted in yet another postponement of his trial. We are troubled not only by the unacceptable conditions of his continued incarceration, but also by news of Professor bin Ghaith’s declining health. We understand that he does not have consistent access to his blood pressure medication, and has had dental problems and other medical issues that have gone untreated for long periods. Professor bin Ghaith continues to be held simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

As for Abdelkhaleq Abdallah, eminent professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University and long-time advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, we are pleased that he was released on January 26, after 11 days in detention. However, we object to his having been arrested – apparently on account of his activity on social media and criticism of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi – as well as to the conditions of his detention: he was held without any indication of his whereabouts and without a clear explanation of the reasons for his arrest.

In addition to Emirati scholars’ facing severe constraints, a number of foreign scholars wishing to conduct research in and about the UAE have been prevented from doing so. Professor Andrew Ross of New York University was denied entry to Abu Dhabi in spring 2015 (see our letter of March 25, 2015), and Kristina Bogos, a Masters candidate at Georgetown’s Doha campus, was denied a student visa from the Qatari authorities apparently at the recommendation of the UAE which had placed her on a ‘blacklist’. Both individuals work on labor issues in the Gulf. These, however, are not isolated cases. Numerous academics who work on the UAE report canceling research and speaking trips to the Emirates out of fear of arrest or deportation.

On grounds of protecting the freedom of speech as well as international law pertaining to the movement of persons and rights to expression, we appeal to you to consider the deteriorating climate for scholarship and free expression in your country. We urge you to uphold international norms of due process and affirm your commitment to respecting academic freedom.

We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:

HE Yussef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States (fax 202-243-2432)

January 4, 2017

HH Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani
Emir of Qatar
c/o Her Excellency Sheikha Alya Bint Ahmed Bin Saif Al Thani
Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations
qatar@un.int 
fax 212-758-4952

HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates
fax +971 2 668 6622

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum    
Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates info@primeminister.ae
fax +971 4 330 404 

HE Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani
Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of Qatar  
info@moi.gov.qa
fax +971 4 323 339

HE Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of the Interior in the United Arab Emirates
moi@moi.gov.ae
fax +971 2 4022762; 971 2 4415780

Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to strongly protest the decision of the Qatari Ministry of Interior, apparently on the basis of information provided by the government of the United Arab Emirates, to deny a student visa to Kristina Bogos and place her on a GCC-wide blacklist. Ms. Bogos is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and formerly an undergraduate student at New York University (NYU), who had spent a semesterat NYU Abu Dhabi. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Ms. Bogos studies labor and migration, with a special focus on the treatment of migrant workers in states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. She had planned to conduct research in Qatar for her Master’s thesis during the fall 2016 semester, while based at Georgetown University’s Doha campus as an official matriculated student. When she arrived at the Doha airport in June 2016, she was initially denied entry but was eventually granted a 30-day tourist visa. In August, however, her application for a student visa was denied.  There appears to be good reason to suspect that Ms. Bogos was placed on a GCC blacklist because of her proposed research topic and because, while studying abroad as an undergraduate student at NYU Abu Dhabi in fall 2013 and winter 2014, she had voiced criticism of the conditions to which workers involved in building that institution’s new campus on Saadiyat Island were being subjected. Furthermore, Ms. Bogos’ personal email account was hacked in April 2016, after which she received unsigned email messages informing her that UAE authorities had “warned” the Qatari authorities about her. As Ms. Bogos put it in an op-ed piece published in the New York Times on December 15, 2016, “Qatari immigration officers informed me that my name appeared on a ‘blacklist’ maintained by member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council because I had ‘made trouble’ in the U.A.E. Later, Emirati officials told the State Department that they had placed me on the blacklist for unspecified ‘security-related reasons.’”

Refusal to provide Ms. Bogos a student visa, apparently on the grounds of her research topic and/or positions she has taken regarding labor and migration in the Gulf, is a clear violation of academic freedom. Furthermore, that this decision was taken on the basis of information provided by the United Arab Emirates suggests that there is regional coordination to blacklist certain individuals from pursuing their scholarship on and in GCC states.  We regard such refusals to grant visas to scholars and students, and the compilation and use of blacklists apparently shared among the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as blatant violations of the principles of academic freedom.  Equally troubling are practices such as regional coordination to follow individuals and/or enforce denial of entry to certain individuals, as well as cyberspying and bullying.

Moreover, this is, unfortunately, not the first time that an infringement upon the academic freedom of a foreign scholar pursuing research in the GCC has been reported. Indeed, we wrote to the UAE Minister of the Interior (March 25, 2015) when Professor Andrew Ross of New York University was denied entry into Abu Dhabi.

We are, therefore, extremely concerned that these actions on the part of the Qatari and Emirati governments relative to Ms. Kristina Bogos, following upon the earlier treatment by the UAE authorities of Professor Andrew Ross, suggest a new, and dangerous pattern -- one that threatens not only the universal human right to freedom of movement as stated in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also academic freedom. Academic institutions are built on a foundation upholding academic freedom and protecting scholarly inquiry. To attack this foundation is to threaten the entire enterprise of universities in the Gulf. We are worried about the future of research in Qatar and the UAE that may be deemed critical or controversial.

In order to protect the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech, and to uphold international law pertaining to the movement of persons and freedom of mobility, we appeal to you to rescind the Interior Ministry’s decision to deny a visa to Kristina Bogos and lift the ban on her visits to and work in Qatar. We further call upon you to desist -- both independently and collectively -- from creating blacklists of students and scholars who are to be denied entry to Qatar, the UAE (and presumably other GCC states) for political reasons. More broadly, we urge you to affirm your commitment to academic freedom and the freedom of students and scholars to pursue their scholarship in your countries without impediments or harassment of any type. 

We look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

cc:

HE Mohammed bin Jaham Al-Kuwari, Ambassador of Qatar to the United States (washington@mofa.gov.qa; fax 202 237 0682)

HE Yussef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States (fax 202-243-2432)

August 22, 2016

HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum   
Prime Minister’s Office
PO Box: 212000          
Dubai, United Arab Emirates             
Fax: +971 4 330 404
info@primeminister.ae

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Interior   
Zayed Sport City, Arab Gulf Street, Near to Shaikh Zayed Mosque
PO Box: 398, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
Fax: +971 2 402 2762 / +971 2 441 5780
moi@moi.gov.ae

Your Excellencies:

We write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to underscore, for the second time, our profound concern regarding the ongoing detention of the prominent Emirati economist and rights activist, Professor Nasser bin Ghaith, and to protest the unlawful conditions of his incarceration. From the time of his arrest by Emirati security officers on August 18, 2015 until his first appearance in front of a judge in Abu Dhabi on April 4, 2016, Dr. bin Ghaith was held incommunicado in secret detention, without any contact with his family or lawyer. It was only in June that he was removed from the undisclosed location and transferred to al-Sadr prison in Abu Dhabi. Throughout the eight months of his ‘disappearance,’ not only did his family not know where or why he was being held, but the government did not even acknowledge that he was in its custody. Moreover, Dr. bin Ghaith informed the court, at his first and second hearings, that he had been beaten and tortured, including being deprived of sleep for up to one week. We vehemently object to such treatment and call upon the Emirati authorities to ensure that Dr. bin Ghaith receives a fair trial – now scheduled for Sept. 26, 2016 – and the ability to defend himself against the alleged charges, in full consultation with his lawyer.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching of the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since his first appearance at the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi on April 4, 2016, Dr. bin Ghaith has been brought before a judge three more times: on May 2, May 23, and June 20. Various charges were brought against him at these hearings including: 1) “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” in reference to statements he made on Twitter criticizing Egyptian authorities on the anniversary of the massacre on the Rabe’a al-Addawe’ya esplanade; 2) “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions,” relating to other statements he made on Twitter claiming that he had not been granted a fair trial in 2011 as part of the “UAE5” case; 3)   “communicating and cooperating with members of the banned Al Islah organization,” referring to  meetings, in December 2011, between Dr. bin Ghaith, Dr Mohammed al-Roken, one of the “UAE 94”, and Amnesty International’s Secretary General; 4) “communicating and cooperating with members of the banned Emirates Ummah Party, referring either to a presentation he was invited to make on the Islamic economy by a member of the Ummah party, in his capacity as a professor of economics, or to an email sent to Dr. bin Ghaith in 2012 by Hassan al-Doqqi, the Secretary General of the Emirates Ummah party, asking him for advice prior to establishing the party, but to which bin Ghaith had not responded. From the above charges, it appears obvious that he is being detained for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. It is particularly egregious that at least until June 20,, he was denied the right to meet with his lawyer between court hearings and that his allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment have not been addressed.

We wrote to you on August 21, 2015, three days after Dr. bin Ghaith’s most recent arrest, to protest his ‘disappearance’ and record our grave concerns for his wellbeing. We assumed, then, that the UAE Government was aiming to silence Prof. bin Ghaith and his pro-democracy activism via its new cyber-crime, anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination laws, but we repeated insistently what we had written to the Emirati authorities in our letter four years earlier (June 8, 2011), when Dr. bin Ghaith was being charged as one of the so-called UAE 5.: release Nasser bin Ghaith promptly and restore to him his right to self-expression without conditions or limitations. In anticipation of his upcoming trial on September 26, this, and the dismissal of the spurious charges against him, remain our most urgent requests. If, however, the charges remain in place and the trial goes forward, we insist that he should have regular access to a lawyer of his choice and whatever other resources he requires to prepare a robust defense. The Emirati authorities must ensure that his case proceeds in a manner consistent with the UAE’s obligations under international law, in particular internationally recognized standards of due process and fair trial. Additionally, we join international human rights organizations in calling on you to order a full and independent investigation into Nasser bin Ghaith’s claims of enforced disappearance, torture and mistreatment.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this crucial matter. We await the honor of your response.

Sincerely,

Beth Baron                                                                               
MESA President                                                                      
Professor, City University of New York

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director
Associate Professor, University of Arizona

 

cc:

HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
Fax: +971 2 668 6622

His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States
Fax: 1 202 243 2432 
info@uaeembassy-usa.org

August 21, 2015

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates
via fax +971 2 668 6622

Your Highness:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our profound concern regarding the re-arrest of Emirati scholar and rights activist, Professor Nasser bin Ghaith. We have learned that Dr. bin Ghaith was detained by the UAE authorities in Abu Dhabi on 18 August 2015 and taken to an undisclosed location. He has not been heard from since and no information has been provided by the authorities about his arrest or whereabouts. We call upon the Abu Dhabi Government to release Dr. bin Ghaith with no further delay. If the authorities suspect him of criminal behavior, they must clarify immediately the charges against him and allow him to defend himself.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching of the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Dr. bin Ghaith is a respected scholar who teaches economics at Abu Dhabi’s branch of the French University, La Sorbonne.  He is one of the five Emirati pro-democracy campaigners – the so-called UAE 5 – who were detained by Emirati authorities in April 2011 and incarcerated until their pardon and release in November 28, 2011. The UAE 5 were recognised by Amnesty International as prisoners of conscience. At the time of his arrest in 2011, the Committee on Academic Freedom of MESA wrote to the Government of the UAE to protest Dr. bin Ghaith’s detention (see our letter of  8 June 2011). In addition to demanding his release, we urged the authorities to lift all restrictions on free speech and respect academic freedom, in part because this would facilitate achieving the purported goals of the Government for social development and increased global competitiveness.  

Despite the Government’s silence on Dr. bin Ghaith’s most recent arrest, we understand that before he was taken away at 8:00 p.m. on August 18, his office in Abu Dhabi and his home in Dubai were searched by police, and some articles were confiscated. As for the Government’s motive, there are suggestions that comments Dr. bin Ghaith has made on his Twitter account about political developments in Egypt may be used as a pretext to punish him for protesting the clampdown on pro-democracy movements in the region and expressing criticism of some Arab leaders. Indeed, the UAE Government’s passing, in July 2015, of Law No. 2 – referred to as the anti-discrimination law, combined with the cyber-crime and anti-terrorism laws already in place, can be selectively implemented to systematically suppress – and criminalize -- free and peaceful expression by Emirati nationals. We assume that the UAE Government aims to silence Dr. bin Ghaith through the selective interpretation and application of one or the other of these laws. Furthermore, given the unknowns about his detention, we fear for his health and safety.       

We emphatically reiterate what we expressed to the Emirati authorities in our letter of four years ago: release Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith promptly and restore to him his right to self-expression without conditions or limitations. Pending his earliest release, provide information about his whereabouts, guarantee his well-being, and allow him regular access to family and legal representation.

Thank you for your attention. We await your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Nathan J. Brown
MESA President
Professor, George Washington University

cc:

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Co-Chair of the Higher National Security Council via fax +971 04 353 1974

His Excellency Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Interior
via fax +971 04 398 1119

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research
via fax +971 02 631 3778+971 02 631 3778-Abu Dhabi
via fax +971 04 299 4535+971 04 299 4535-Dubai


Prof Barthélémy Jobert
Chancellor, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi & President of Paris-Sorbonne
barthelemy.jobert@paris-sorbonne.fr

Prof. Eric Fouache
Vice Chancellor, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi
eric.fouache@psuad.ac.ae

March 25, 2015

His Excellency Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of the Interior, United Arab Emirates
via fax 971-2-4022762 and 971-2-4415780

His Excellency Yussef Al Otaiba
Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States
202-243-2432

Dr. John Sexton
President of New York University
john.sexton@nyu.edu

Dr. Al Bloom
Vice-Chancellor of NYU-Abu Dhabi
nyuad@nyu.edu

Your Excellencies Minister Al Nahyan and Ambassador Al Otaiba, President Sexton, Vice-Chancellor Bloom:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) in order to express our grave concern about the decision of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to deny entry to Professor Andrew Ross, a member of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (NYU). Professor Ross, a prominent scholar and president of the NYU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, was denied entry to the UAE when seeking to board an Etihad Airways flight to Abu Dhabi on March 16, 2015. Refusal to allow Professor Ross to enter the UAE for unspecified “security reasons” is a clear violation of the principles of academic freedom. We call on you to take immediate action in order to secure the reversal of this arbitrary and unjustified decision and to ensure that such incidents do not recur.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Ross has conducted valuable research on the treatment of migrant workers in the UAE, and there is good reason to suspect that it was this research, and his vocal criticism of certain UAE policies and practices with regard to migrant labor, that led to the decision to prevent his entry. We note that the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in the UAE – including some of those involved in the construction of the NYU-Abu Dhabi campus – have been thoroughly documented not only by Professor Ross but also by journalists and by nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch.

The decision on the part of the UAE authorities to deny entry to a prominent academic on the basis of his past research constitutes a clear violation both of academic freedom and of the fundamental right to movement and mobility guaranteed by of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also raises troubling questions about NYU’s commitment to the implementation of fair labor standards for workers involved in the construction and operation of its Abu Dhabi campus. Without independent investigation and monitoring, including research in the UAE by NYU faculty like Professor Ross, it is impossible to determine whether NYU is actually living up to its repeated public commitments with regard to labor standards.

At the same time, the denial of entry to Professor Ross puts into question NYU’s ability, and perhaps willingness, to protect the academic freedom rights of its faculty and students at various components of what NYU calls the “Global Network University,” and of visiting NYU faculty in the countries in which it operates. In this connection we note the statement issued by NYU spokesman John Beckman in response to the denial of entry to Professor Ross. Mr. Beckman stated that while NYU “supports the free movement of people and ideas…it is the government that controls visa and immigration policy, and not the university.” We find this assertion both disingenuous and alarming because NYU has long insisted that faculty and students at NYU-Abu Dhabi and its other global sites would enjoy the same academic freedom rights they would enjoy in New York. The denial of entry to Professor Ross undermines this claim.

We call on the UAE authorities to promptly reverse their decision and permit Professor Ross to enter the UAE in order to pursue his research. We also call on President Sexton and Vice-Chancellor Bloom to protest the decision of the UAE authorities to deny entry to Professor Ross, to reaffirm their commitment to academic freedom, and to do all they can to ensure that scholars and students, whether or not affiliated with NYU, can fulfill their scholarly and educational missions without harassment, in the UAE and wherever else NYU operates.

We look forward to your timely response.

Yours sincerely,
Nathan J. Brown

President, Middle East Studies Association and Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University

 


February 28, 2013

His Excellency Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs
United Arab Emirates
via fax +971 02 444 7766

Your Excellency,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to register shock and deep dismay at the denial of entry into the United Arab Emirates of Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen. Dr. Coates Ulrichsen is Co-Director of the Kuwait Research Programme at the London School of Economics (LSE) and an internationally recognized scholar of Gulf Arab politics. On February 22, he was on his way to a scholarly conference at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) that was jointly organized with the Middle East Centre at the LSE. The theme of the meeting was “The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World.” His paper was entitled “Bahrain’s Uprising: Domestic Implications and Regional International Perspectives.” Immigration officials at the Dubai Airport detained him for 45 minutes while they scrutinized his passport in detail. He was then informed that he was “blacklisted.” A representative of Emirates Air told him that he was denied entry and being sent back to London.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On February 25, the official news agency of the UAE confirmed that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen had been denied entry because of views he has espoused in the course of his scholarly and educational work. An official statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted which acknowledged that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen was denied entry because he had “consistently propagated views de-legitimizing the Bahraini monarchy.” Further, the Ministry explained, “The UAE took the view that at this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC state.”

Subsequently, on February 26, the police chief of Dubai, Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, told the al-Riyadh newspaper: “Kristian is not welcome here. We blocked him from entering the country to protect its security and stability from his evil ideas.” With comments such as these, the United Arab Emirates is on record as condoning the flagrant violation of basic principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The provost of the AUS informed the LSE on February 21 that he had received orders from the ruler’s office that no discussion of Bahrain was permissible at the upcoming meeting. The LSE issued a statement on February 22 that announced it was calling off its participation in the meeting that it helped to organize due to “restrictions imposed on the intellectual content of the event that threatened academic freedom.” Many of the participants, including Dr. Coates Ulrichsen, were already in transit as the academic conference collapsed.

The implications of this incident are serious and far-reaching. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “This decision [to bar the scholar’s entry] in no way reflects the strong ties with both the AUS and LSE and their academic excellence.” Academic freedom is integral to—indeed, inseparable from—academic excellence. State intervention to silence scholarly interchange is anathema to academic freedom and, in the long run, corrosive of the overall environment for education at universities.

We ask that Dr. Coates Ulrichsen be removed from the “black list” and for assurances that he will be able to travel to the UAE free from restrictions based on the content of his scholarship. We request that you disavow the incendiary remarks of the Dubai police chief as well as the defamatory comments that are being repeated in numerous state-run outlets. We further call upon you to allow all academic conferences to proceed unhindered, whatever their topic or theme. Finally, we encourage you to pledge that no further state interference in scholarly discussion and debate will be tolerated at any university in the United Arab Emirates. These steps are necessary to quell the growing doubts in the international scholarly community about the integrity of the UAE’s numerous partnerships with foreign academic institutions to promote higher education in the Gulf.

Sincerely,


Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

cc:
 His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Co-Chair of the Higher National Security Council (fax +971 04 353 1974)

 His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (fax +971 02 631 3778-Abu Dhabi; +971 04 299 4535-Dubai)

 His Excellency Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior (fax +971 04 398 1119)

 His Excellency Humaid Mohammed Obeid al Qattami, Minister of Education (fax +971 03 7611198)

 His Excellency Abdulrahman Ghanem Almutaiwee, Ambassador of the UAE to the UK (Fax +44 207 581 9616)
 Ambassador Dominic Jermey, Ambassador of the UK to the UAE (fax in Dubai Consul +971 4 309 4301; phone in Abu Dhabi Embassy +971 2 610 100)
 Dr. Peter Heath, Chancellor, American University of Sharjah (pheath@aus.edu)
 Dr. Mark Rush, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, American University of Sharjah (mrush@aus.edu)
 Dr. Craig Calhoun, Director, London School of Economics (c.calhoun@lse.ac.uk)
 Dr. George Gaskell, Pro-Director, Resources and Planning, London School of Economics (g.gaskell@lse.ac.uk)
 Dr. Fawaz Gerges, Director Middle East Center, London School of Economics (f.gerges@lse.ac.uk)
 His Excellency Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain (phone +973 1722 7555)
 Ursula Lindsey, Middle East Correspondent, Chronicle of Higher Education (ulindsey@mac.com)

June 08, 2011

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates

Dear Sheikh Al Nahyan,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our deep concern over the arrest of Professor Nasser bin Ghaith. According to published reports, state security forces removed Dr. bin Ghaith from his home in Dubai on April 10, 2011 and seized his computer. Dr. bin Ghaith is a highly regarded lecturer on economics at the Abu Dhabi branch of France's Sorbonne University. He was an active participant in the 2010 Doha Debates, a respected forum for dialogue, and has participated in symposiums sponsored by the Dubai School of Government, a research and teaching institution that focuses on public policy in the Arab world. He has also been affiliated with the UAE Armed Forces Staff College.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching of the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Your Embassy in the United States explains on its website that the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) is “committed to developing a well-educated citizenry, promoting [the] country’s economic development, contributing to the UAE’s global competitiveness and enhancing [the] UAE’s quality of life." Its vision is “...to evolve a well-educated society that can cope with development.” These are precisely the goals to which Professor bin Ghaith has been committed and which he has long expressed in his academic work.

Thus, his arrest raises deep concern about its motivation. It also raises serious questions about the restrictions upon free speech in the Emirates in general and about respect for academic freedom in particular. Pending his earliest release, we ask that you disclose his whereabouts, ensure his well-being, and provide him regular access to medical treatment and to his family. We would like to urge that he be released promptly, accorded his full right to self-expression, and allowed to resume his professional responsibilities without conditions or limitations on his academic freedom and without professional sanction or penalty.

We look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies
University of California Davis

 

cc:
His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister, and Co-Chair of the Higher National Security Council (fax +971 04 353 1974)
His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research (fax +971 02 631 3778-Abu Dhabi; +971 04 299 4535-Dubai)
His Excellency Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Interior (fax +971 04 398 1119)
His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahya, Minister of Foreign Affairs (fax +971 02 444 7766)
His Excellency Humaid Mohammed Obeid al Qattami, Minister of Education (fax +971 03 7611198)
His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba, Ambassador of the UAE in the US (fax 202 243 2432)
His Excellency Mohammed Mir Abdullah Al Raeesi, Ambassador of the UAE in France (fax +01 47 55 61 04)

January 16, 2007

Prime Minister Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum
c/o United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington, DC
Fax: 202-243-2432

Dear Prime Minister Shaikh Maktoum:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom. We wish to convey to you our great concern regarding the October arrest and questioning of an American scholar, Assistant Professor Syed Ali, and his subsequent expulsion from Dubai. Given that a growing number of US universities have branches or programs in Dubai, Professor Ali’s case, as detailed below, raises serious concerns about the ability of other faculty to pursue their research without harassment or fear of expulsion.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Syed Ali teaches in the Department of Sociology at Long Island University, and was the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright fellowship, a grant which provided the funding enabling him and his family to travel to the UAE so that he could conduct his research. On 22 October 2006, five men in dishdashas who refused to identify themselves, and one woman identified as a member of the police force, presented Professor Syed Ali with a court order to search-and-confiscate. The six came to the home of the professor’s friend, where he had been for only three days awaiting the arrival of his wife and son in Dubai. This was also only one day before the professor and his family were scheduled to take a flight to India.

The five men searched the apartment thoroughly and confiscated the professor’s laptop computer and also his iPod, backup CDs, hand-written notes, and computer printouts. Then they told him that he had to go with them. His wife, Eli, who had arrived a few hours earlier, said that she and their son Sami wanted to accompany him, but the six would not allow this. Nor did they allow her to retain her husband’s mobile phone, even though she had no telephone of her own and knew no one in Dubai. They then took Professor Ali to the police headquarters in Deira, where they made him put his head down so that his face would not be visible through the window, before they took him into the compound through a side gate.

Once inside, Professor Ali was interrogated for approximately thirteen hours by two men, one of whom claimed that he had studied in Russia. The professor asked whether the US consulate had been informed about his arrest. The men answered “yes.” The questioning concentrated on the professor’s background: where he was born; when he came to the United States; his educational history; and his employment history. Interspersed with these questions were sudden interjections: Why did you come to Dubai? Who is funding you? Why are you asking so many questions about locals? Who gave you permission to come? Professor Ali has told us that he answered all their questions but they did not accept his answers, asking him the same things over and over again. He also says that at no time were the questioners violent; they did not even raise their voices.

Meanwhile, the professor’s wife had gone to a hotel near the friend’s apartment to call the US consulate. As a Fulbright fellow, Ali and his family were traveling under the sponsorship of the US Department of State. Contrary to the assurances given him by the interrogators, neither the ambassador nor the consul general had been informed about his arrest. They were able to locate him after more than nine hours of attempts, and managed to arrange for his release. Comparing notes afterward, it seems that the interrogators halted the questioning at about the same time that the US consulate received word that Ali would be released. They departed, leaving him alone in the interrogation room for about two hours. Then a superior officer appeared. Professor Ali asked if he was being charged. The officer replied that he could be held for 48 hours without charge. The officer also stated that he had been asking too many questions about Emirates and expatriates, and since Professor Ali had not answered satisfactorily, they would be keeping his files, although they would return his laptop after they had taken the data from it. Then he would have to leave on the next available flight. When he asked to be able to take his scheduled flight to India, the officer agreed, but told Professor Ali that when he returned to the United States, he would be forbidden to transit through Dubai. He would be arrested if he attempted to enter Dubai again.

The next day, Professor Ali was informed by telephone that his belongings would be returned; concerned because the caller did not identify himself, the professor arranged to meet him at a mall. There he met two men, neither of whom showed any identification. When asked, one said that he did not have to show his identification. Professor Ali was instructed to write a receipt stating that his electronic equipment had been returned in “best operating condition” even though the iPod he was given was not his own, and his computer was missing both its hard drive and operating system. Soon after that, an embassy car took the professor his wife and son to the airport to board their scheduled flight to India.

Professor Ali has no idea why he was arrested and his property confiscated and destroyed. He had been in the UAE for only a short time when these events transpired and no charges were filed against him. In addition to frightening the professor and his family, these men, apparently agents of the UAE government also destroyed his equipment and confiscated his notes and printouts. Moreover, the apparent decision to ban Professor Ali from returning to Dubai will impede his ability to complete the field work for his book, thus delaying or obstructing the publication of work necessary for him to retain his university position.

We ask that you investigate these events and request that the agents responsible return his notes and printouts and compensate Professor Syed Ali for the cost of replacing his computer. We also ask that you consider inviting him back to the UAE under your protection so that he can complete his research.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
MESA President

CC: Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali, Ministry of Education, (+971-3-7611198)
Dr. Kamal Nasser, Vice-Chancellor al-Ain University (+971-3-7611198)
Dr. Larry Wilson, Provost and Deputy Vice President Zayed University 
Bldg. E, Lelvel 1, PO Box 19282, Dubai, UAE
Dr. Lance de Masi, President, American University in Dubai, ldemasi@aud.edu
Dr. Elias Bou Saab, Executive Vice President, American University in Dubai, ebousaab@aud.edu 
Dr. Jihad Nader, Provost/Chief Academic Officer, American University in Dubai
jnader@aud.edu
Dr. Winfred L. Thompson, Chancellor, American University in Sharjah, wthompson@aus.edu
Dr. John Mosbo, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, American University in Sharjah, jmosbo@aus.edu
Ms. Hilary Olsin-Windecker, Public Affairs Officer, Fulbright Program in UAE, 
(+971-2-414-2603)
Mr. Gary Garrison, Asian/Middle East Program, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, (202-362-3442)
Mr. Paul Sutphin, US Consulate General in Dubai, Dubai World Trade Center, PO Box 9343, Dubai, UAE


March 11, 2006

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
The Minister of Education
Ministry of Education
PO Box 295
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
VIA FACSIMILE (Abu Dhabi) +971 02 6313778; (Dubai) +971 04 2994535

Your Excellency: 
I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America. We wish to express our concern regarding the firing in early February of Claudia Kiburz, a teacher in the English Language Center of Zayed University. We view her dismissal as a violation of academic freedom and the right to freedom of expression, and urge you to reinstate Ms. Kiburz to her position.

The Middle East Studies Association of North American (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to information provided to our committee, you ordered Ms. Kiburz’s dismissal on February 7, 2006, several days after she had initiated a discussion in her class regarding the controversial and insulting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that had appeared months earlier in a Danish newspaper and were later republished elsewhere. During this discussion Ms. Kiburz reportedly also displayed to the students some of the caricatures in question. A number of students complained to the university administration, and a text-message campaign against Ms. Kiburz apparently ensued.  As far as we can determine, your decision to dismiss Ms. Kiburz was issued in a summary fashion, without any regard to procedural safeguards and processes that faculty should have to protect their rights and to contest administrative actions taken against them.

According to news reports, Andrew Hirst, the head of the English Language Center, was also dismissed. He was reinstated to his position the following week, but we understand that he has been told that his contract will not be renewed.  We believe that any university decisions regarding Mr. Hirst’s contract should not be taken for punitive purposes as a result of this incident. 
In a statement about this case to media in the United Arab Emirates, you wrote: “Despite the freedom of expression and tolerance that we have in our country and all academic institutions, the professor of English at Zayed University has no right to behave like this.”

We respectfully disagree. We recognize that many Muslims have taken offense at these caricatures of the Prophet, and we share your revulsion to the anti-Muslim prejudices that some of them manifestly embody. However, the right to academic freedom in the classroom, if it is to have any meaning, must extend to materials that some might find offensive or objectionable, and with which they strongly disagree. From the information we have been able to obtain, it appears that in this case the teacher was attempting to discuss issues related to freedom of expression, using the caricatures as a case in point. There has been no suggestion from any quarter that she was attempting to incite hatred of Muslims or any persons or group.

Ms. Kiburz’s classroom initiative in this instance falls well within the realm of protected speech, and her dismissal constitutes a clear infringement of her academic freedom as well as that of the community of Zayed University. We therefore urge you to rescind her dismissal without delay and extend to her an offer of unconditional reinstatement. We also reiterate our concern that no punitive measures be taken against Mr. Hirst in connection with this matter.

We look forward to your positive response in this important matter.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole


November 13, 2002

H.H. Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research
Chancellor of the UAE University
Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research
P.O. Box 45253
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your Excellency:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We are contacting you to express our concern regarding the case of Dr. Hassan Hamdan Al Alkim, who was until June 2000 a professor of political science at the UAE University in Al Ain.

[MESA is...]

According to our information, Professor Al Alkim was forced to take early retirement from the university in June 2000 as a result of a plagiarism charge raised against him by a student. Professor Al Alkim has contended that his forced retirement was a consequence of positions he has taken in the past that were critical of the University administration.

On November 26, 2001 the civil section of the Abu Dhabi court in the Federal system of courts of first instance found in favor of Professor Al Alkim in his suit against the student who raised the plagiarism charge. This finding was upheld on March 19, 2002 by the civil section of the Abu Dhabi court of appeals in the Federal system of courts. It is our understanding that the student has appealed this decision to the Federal Supreme Court, but no date has been set for a hearing. 

Given the fact that two levels of the UAE federal court system have found in favor of Professor Al Alkim, rejecting the charge of plagiarism against him, we urge the university administration to consider favorably Professor Al Alkim’s request for reinstatement to the faculty. 
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director



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