President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan warned on Sunday against undermining UAE’s security as he promised to widen the decision-making process in the nation where some 60 Islamists have been detained this year.
“This country’s security is sacred and any attempt to undermine its foundations is a red line,” warned Sheikh Khalifa in statements marking the 41st anniversary of the union of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
“We are gradually moving towards expanding popular participation in decision-making, to reach a political system that would reflect reality and suit the nature of the society,” said Khalifa in remarks published by local media.
Last year, Emirati activists signed a petition calling for political reforms, including direct elections and broadening the powers of the toothless UAE legislature, the Federal National Council.
Some of the activists were arrested but later released.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates led by oil-rich Abu Dhabi, has not seen any of the widespread protests calling for reform that have swept other Arab countries, including fellow Gulf states Bahrain and Oman.
But authorities have stepped up a crackdown on voices of dissent and calls for democratic reforms.
Khalifa affirmed his country’s “support to the choices of the people” in Arab Spring countries, while “rejecting any intervention in their internal affairs.”
On July 15, the UAE announced it had dismantled a group it said was plotting against state security and challenging the constitution of the Gulf state.
Dubai police chief General Dahi Khalfan had repeatedly accused the Muslim Brotherhood — which came to power after the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia — of plotting against Gulf monarchies, claiming the 61 Islamists detained were linked to the group.
The detainees had condemned “false accusations” of challenging the political system and renewed allegiance to the leadership of the federation of seven hereditary sheikhdoms.
Last month, the Gulf country issued a new law toughening penalties for cyber crimes to include jail terms for anyone who calls for regime change or mocks its rulers.
Separately, Khalifa renewed his country’s calls for Iran to settle a territorial dispute over three strategic Gulf islands by ‘dialogue and accept international arbitration to resolve this issue.”
Iran and the UAE are at loggerheads over the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, which lie in the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf.
Iran took control of them in 1971 when colonial-era Britain withdrew from that part of the Gulf.
The Islamic republic says the islands are a historic part of its territory, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in April visited them to reassert that position.
However, the UAE claims ownership in line with an agreement signed with Britain, and it has won support from other Arab states in the Gulf and its ally the United States.