“The UAE jailed a Jordanian activist in February, with a 10-year sentence, for criticising the government of Jordan over an increasingly iron-fisted crackdown on free speech and human rights in the country. Just over a month later, Jordan placed Prince Hamza bin Hussein (half-brother of the king) under house arrest for the same reason. While the ex-wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, herself a Jordanian princess, continues to pursue divorce and child custody hearings against the Dubai Ruler, fraught relations between the UAE and Jordan appear to be healing over a common interest in supporting regional authoritarianism. It seems in the Middle East, blood is not thicker than dictatorship
“Despite the ongoing family disputes between the royal families of Dubai and Jordan, Abu Dhabi’s imprisonment of 46-year-old Ahmed Etoum can only be interpreted as a gesture by the UAE government that zero tolerance will be extended to critics of any member of the Saudi Arabia and Emirates-led coalition of authoritarianism in the Middle East formed originally as an alliance against Qatar. Jordan had been seen as a somewhat noncommittal member of that group, continuing to solicit and receive financial assistance from Doha during the blockade, and the awkward row between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya bint Hussein threatened to further weaken Jordan’s relationship with the UAE. However, Jordan’s use of the Covid-19 pandemic to broaden its security and intelligence controls, and to curtail civil liberties in the country demonstrated to the UAE that King Abdullah of Jordan remains, as the Clinton Administration said of Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1995, their “kind of guy.”
“The house arrest of Prince Hamza, the former heir to the throne, reveals just how insecure the regime of King Abdullah has become, and the UAE government can surely relate. Recent years of high profile controversies in the Emirates; the escape, abduction and continued detention of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter Princess Latifa, Princess Haya fleeing the country, the instability of Ras Al Khaimah Ruler Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi, and case after case of legal abuse scorching the UAE in the international media, not to mention the economic depression caused by the pandemic; have all made the UAE hyper-sensitive to criticism and inclined to double-down on support for like-minded tyrannies in the region.
“We have consistently warned that the UAE has been cultivating an authoritarian nexus for years; whether that is by using weapons of finance to strong-arm foreign governments, or by abusing Interpol to expand the Emirates’ de facto jurisdiction through the issuance of Red Notices. The UAE is committed to building a network of authoritarian power in the Middle East and North Africa, and the conviction of Ahmed Etoum is a further reassertion of that commitment.
If this conviction is not overturned by means of international intervention, we are likely to see similar cases in other members of the KSA-UAE coalition. Journalists may be jailed in Egypt for criticising Abu Dhabi; human rights activists in India may be convicted for speaking out against crackdowns in Saudi Arabia, and so on. This is an enormously dangerous development, and democratic governments around the world need to pay heed before entire regions fall under the control of a dictatorial alliance led by the UAE.”