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 reason after operating for four years as a hub for programs in other Gulf countries. "As far as we understand it now, our license will be cancelled," Campbell told National Journal. At least two other Western groups' UAE-based offices were shut. Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German think tank that promotes democracy with close ties to chancellor Angela Merkel that was also targeted for investigation in Egypt; and 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, 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 are possibly 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 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 sign off on aid to Egypt could enable other autocratic governments to shut down civil society groups and prosecute workers in their country. “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.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.