In a new propaganda move aimed at whitewashing the UAE's image and deflecting attention from human rights abuses, the government's Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) announced on January 4 the launch of the "UAE Thinkers" project.
The project was launched under the patronage of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of ECSSR. Although the nature and objectives of the project are unclear, the head of ECSSR, Dr. Sultan Al Nuaimi, said, "It aims to pave the way for creativity among the country's academic elite," stressing that "academics are prioritized above all else."
The irony is that Al-Nuaimi's speech comes at a time when the authorities are still holding dozens of Emirati intellectuals and academics in prisons under very poor conditions bordering on torture, and continue to mistreat them and their families by depriving them of their most basic rights.
While the "UAE Thinkers" project is launched, Dr. Nasser bin Ghaith, who is one of the most famous experts and economic thinkers in the Arab world, is still serving a 10-year prison sentence that began in 2015, due to tweets he wrote on Twitter about the "Rabaa massacre" that committed by Egyptian security forces in 2013.
Bin Ghaith is the first Emirati throughout history to lecture at the French (Sorbonne) University, Abu Dhabi branch. He is considered a pioneer in the field of economic blocs in the Arab world, due to the scarcity of this major, which combines four majors: law, economics, foreign policy and international relations.
He also made many achievements in the economy and financial fields, and was one of the first economists to predict the economic crisis in 2008. He warned against it in many of his writings in 2007 and indicated that its beginning was in 2006.
Among the most prominent intellectuals detained in Emirati prisons is also the pioneer of constitutional law, and the legal thinker Dr. Hadef Al Owais, who holds a PhD in law from Durham University in the UK for his thesis entitled "The role of the Supreme Court in the constitutional system of the United Arab Emirates - a comparative study" and was supervised by Professor Colin Warbrick, one of the best known professors of international law in the world and the recipient of numerous royal honors.
Prior to his arrest in 2013, Al Owais was the head of the Law Department at the College of Sharia and Law at the UAE University, and the dean of the College of Graduate Studies. He was also a member of the International Court of Arbitration, and a member of the International Association of Constitutional Law.
The list of detained legal thinkers goes on to include also one of the pillars of law, Dr. Muhammad Al-Mansoori, who holds a PhD in public international law, and due to his extensive legal experience, he previously held the position of legal advisor to the ruler and the government of Ras Al Khaimah.
Before his arrest in 2013, Al-Mansoori headed the Emirates Center for Studies and Media, and was the Vice-President of the Jurists Association. He is considered one of the most prominent experts in international law in the country, and was classified by Foreign Policy magazine as “one of Freedom’s Knights in the world”.
We can also not forget, Dr. Muhammad al-Roken, a professor of international law, who obtained a master's degree and a PhD in constitutional law from the University of Warwick in the UK, and was classified by Foreign Policy magazine as “one of Freedom’s Knights in the world”.
Dr. Al-Roken is a member of the International Bar Association, the former president of the Jurists Association in the UAE, and the laureate of several international awards, most notably the Alkarama Organization for Human Rights Award and the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2017, as well as a former advisor to the UAE government in legal affairs.
But like other detainees, al-Roken became a target of government harassment and intimidation, remained under official surveillance for years, was prevented from giving public lectures at the university and from writing in national newspapers, then he was arrested in 2013 and forcibly disappeared.
In the list of educational thinkers and academics who have been subjugated by the UAE authorities: Dr. Sultan bin Kayed Al Qasimi, one of the most prominent experts in educational curricula and educational administration in the UAE and maybe in the Arab world, who has chaired and served as a member of more than 30 scientific and educational committees inside and outside the country.
Al Qasimi obtained a master’s degree from George Washington University, with distinction, and a PhD in educational planning policies from the University of Manchester. He supervised the writing of the first national curricula in the history of the UAE, but the authorities arrested him in 2012 after he published an article criticizing the withdrawal of nationalities from 7 citizens, and he is still in prison till this day.
Among the educational thinkers and academics who were also affected by the security crackdown is Dr. Issa Al-Suwaidi, who holds a PhD in educational administration from Loughborough University, and has held several high positions, as director of the educational zone in Abu Dhabi for 7 years (1992-1998), then He moved to the private sector as CEO of the Arab Company for Education Development until 2007, until he headed the founding committee of Al Hosn University, and he also headed the Yas Foundation for Educational Consultations.
Dr. Saif Al-Ajla, one of the Emirati educational academics who are behind bars. He holds a PhD in Leadership Behavior of School Principals from the University of Wales. He was a member of the Educational Research Jury for the Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Award in Ajman, and he was the editor-in-chief of Al Muallem (The Teacher) magazine.
On the level of thinkers on the administrative side, the authorities are still arresting management expert, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Yassi, who holds a master’s degree in management and a PhD in administrative development from Cardiff University.
Al-Yasi has published 8 books in the field of management, and served as Secretary-General of the Executive Council of the Emirate of Ajman. He also supervised hundreds of training courses for employees of Dubai and Abu Dhabi police and federal and local government ministries, when he was director of the Rua Center for Educational Consultations and Training.
Among the thinkers and academics in the field of management and planning is Dr. Ali Al Hammadi, who holds a PhD in Business Administration from Swansea University, who has published more than 50 books in the field of planning and management, and he has been hosted in many countries as a trainer and lecturer.
Al Hammadi is one of the leaders of management and planning in the UAE, and due to his great experience, he headed the management of Hayatna (Our Life) channel and presented many programs such as Anta Al-Haya (You are the Life), Qessat Tamkeen (The Story of Empowerment), and Shumukh (Standing Tall), and many of his programs were shown on Iqraa, Al-Bedayah and Al-Aqsa channels, as he was a a regular guest in many local satellite channels (Abu Dhabi - Dubai - Sharjah - Ajman...).
This is just a simple list of academics and intellectuals who are arrested by the UAE authorities for exercising their right to freedom of expression, at a time when a project is being launched under the name of "UAE Thinkers" claiming to pave the way for academics to innovate! Well, they are in prisons, Dr. Sultan, so, is your priority to set them free within these projects?