UAE: Banning and Barring the Intelligentsia

The United Arab Emirates have once again proved that they are still ruled through an authoritarian regime that cannot tolerate differing thoughts and opinions at all. This case was reestablished when recently an academic was denied a visa. This should be seen in the aftermath of Arab Spring where many academics were barred or expelled from the UAE.

Professor of New York University was Denied the Visa on Sectarian Basis

It has been exactly 10 years when New York University (NYU) decided to open a portal campus in the capital of UAE. The decision was seen as an ambitious one because the standards of academic and creative freedom at campuses of American universities don’t converge well with the authoritarian and monarchical governing system of the UAE.

This stark contrast was highlighted recently when the visa application of Mohammad Bazzi , an American citizen and a tenured professor at NYU’s main campus was rejected by the UAE government. Bazzi was told by the university administration that he failed to get the security clearance from the UAE. Security clearance is a prerequisite for any foreign national teaching there to get a work visa. Usually, American citizens easily get a work visa for the UAE but in the given case, Bazzi didn’t get the clearance because he is a Shiite Muslim. Such is the sectarian discrimination that persists in the UAE. Even though the university appealed against the visa status, but the UAE’s security officials rejected the appeal.

The Previous Decade was Better

Before the uprising of the Arab Spring, things were not that bad. The petroleum revenue was abundantly pouring into the country and the monarchy was not facing any real or imagined threat from any side. At that time, the UAE even started to portray itself as a progressive nation. Mohammad bin Zayed, the then de facto ruler, wore the cloak of social and cultural enthusiasts. To show it to the world, the UAE organized and setup different literary events and prizes. The rulers also donated to universities, museums and other avenues of cultural interest.

The Arab Spring Exposed Them

This forgery couldn’t last for long because the Arab Spring happened, and for the first time, all monarchies in the region faced a real threat to their existence. The rulers in the UAE were also dejected by the situation. All of a sudden, they started to doubt their own ability to stay in power and the bigoted face of the UAE emerged in the name of strict security measures against the backdrop of liberal and cultural programs.

During 2011, when this popular revolt was building its momentum, the whole region was experiencing the turmoil. Around 100 activists in the UAE signed a petition, demanding reforms for the country’s powerless parliament and calling for direct elections. Many signatories of the petition were prosecuted by the government. Many of them got their citizenships renounced and subsequently faced deportation.

Next, academics came under their assault because many of them couldn’t suppress their conscience. Matt Duffy, from the Georgia State University who taught journalism at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, censured the government’s restrictions on the media and was subsequently fired and forced to leave the country.

Andrew Ross, an NYU. professor who specializes in labor issues, was barred from traveling to the UAE for ‘unspecified security reasons’. He was very vocal about the abuse and plight of migrant low-wage laborers in the UAE. He was traveling during his spring break to conduct research on the prevalent labor conditions in the country.

Monachical fears of educated individuals within their borders, whether nationals or expats is not uncommon. Histroy has pointed out many times how a country's regime leaders will crack down on these individuals, even if they've done nothing wrong. The Great Purge of the Joseph Stalin is one example.

Western Intelligentsia and Cultural Institutes Find it Difficult to Conform to the New Reality

Institutions, museums and other cultural establishments opened during the boom of the petro economy of the country found it difficult to embrace the new realities of the region. For instance, the renowned historical museums, Louvre and Guggenheim, agreed to open their branches in the country, but are now hesitant due to the presence of the tyrannical regime. All these famous cultural entities that carry the long-lived legacy of freedom of thought and expression of the Western world are now wary of operating in a repressive environment.