A senior Islamist in the United Arab Emirates has been detained in an apparent escalation of the Gulf state’s campaign against political Islam.
Sheikh Sultan bin Kayed al-Qassimi, chairman of Islamist group Al-Islah, was taken from his home by armed men on Friday night, according to his son, Abdullah bin Sultan al-Qassimi.
He has since been held in solitary confinement in a palace belonging to his cousin, the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, one of the poorer emirates of the oil-rich federation.
No reason for his detention has been given, his son said.
The UAE government declined to comment, but a person close to government thinking has suggested that the matter was being handled internally by the ruling family of Ras al-Khaimah.
Sheikh Sultan had been asked to sign some papers presented by the UAE’s state security force, though he refused to read the documents, his son added.
His detention comes after Sheikh Sultan was told by fellow members of the ruling family two weeks ago that security forces in Abu Dhabi wanted to arrest him.
The ruling family is now seeking a solution to the deadlock, said his son, who is being allowed to see his father regularly.
The detention of Sheikh Sultan appears to be an escalation of the government’s clampdown on Al-Islah, not only marking a move against a senior member of the Islamist group, but also a member of one of the UAE’s seven ruling families.
Analysts say the UAE is concerned that the rise of Islamist movements in north Africa could fan domestic dissent.
Dubai’s outspoken police chief, Dhahi Khalfan, has warned of the threat to Gulf states from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the region’s most powerful Islamist group.
The authorities have claimed there are ties between the Brotherhood and some of its domestic critics in Al-Islah, an Islamist association which claims to have 20,000 supporters.
With Mr Qassimi’s detention, 11 Islamists are now being held, according to activists.
Many members of Al-Islah were signatories to a petition last year calling for the UAE’s consultative parliament to be a fully elected body with legislative powers.
Seven Islamists last year had their nationality documents removed for unspecified security reasons. Sheikh Sultan recently published an essay criticising the authorities for their decision to strip the seven of their nationality.
“The removal of their nationality does not only harm the seven nationals, but also the structure of the state and societal cohesion as a whole,” he wrote.
Five pro-democracy activists were also sentenced to prison and then pardoned for insulting the leadership last year.
The seven Islamists were detained last month, with at least six of them held for refusing to sign undertakings that they would apply for a new nationality.
Islamists say the government is seeking to undermine the group’s influence over professional associations.
Earlier this month, several Al-Islah members raised objections to last-minute elections for the board of the teachers’ association.
Al-Islah said the elections for a temporary board imposed last year had been called at the last minute, without due publicity, reducing their ability to oppose the new board, which they say is effectively made up of government appointees.
At the meeting, government officials said the election was carried out properly.
The teachers’ and jurists’ associations have long served as bastions of Islamist influence in the UAE but have faced a clampdown from the authorities in recent years.
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