MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on the United Arab Emirates

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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