Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates

Year of Origin:

1974

Place(s) of Operation:
United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates

The Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates is known as al-Islah, or the Association for Reform and Guidance. The group says it shares a similar ideology with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, though it denies direct links with the Islamist movement.“Gulf states must tackle Muslim Brotherhood threat: UAE,” Reuters, October 8, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-brotherhood-idUSBRE8970SD20121008. Al-Islah was founded as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in 1974, three years after the UAE’s independence from Britain. The group expanded throughout the 1980s as its members filled prominent positions in the government’s education and justice sectors.Lori Plotkin Boghardt, “The Muslim Brotherhood on Trial in the UAE,” Washington Institute, April 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-muslim-brotherhood-on-trial-in-the-uae. In 2012, reports emerged that the group had at one time received 10 million UAE Dirham ($2.7 million) from Brotherhood members in neighboring countries.“Brotherhood 'sought Islamist state in UAE',”National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae. Al-Islah’s leaders have reportedly promoted the implementation of stricter religious laws, particularly on students and women.Ola Salem, “Islah ‘does not represent UAE interests,’” National (Abu Dhabi), October 5, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/islah-does-not-represent-uae-interests.

According to Emirati academic and former al-Islah member Ali Rashid al-Noaimi, the group was never “home-grown,” instead modeling itself after the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood from its inception. Al-Islah’s members are reportedly told upon joining that they are part of the larger Muslim Brotherhood movement.Ali Rashid al-Noaimi, “Setting the Record Straight on Al-Islah in the UAE,” Al-Monitor, October 15, 2012, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/uae-setting-the-record-straight.html#.

Statements by individuals associated with the Egyptian Brotherhood support Noaimi’s claim. Former Egyptian Brotherhood member Tharwat Al Kherbawi has alleged that “Emirati members of the Muslim Brotherhood take a proxy allegiance oath, where these members swear allegiance before another veteran leader in the UAE, who in turn swears allegiance before the Supreme Guide in Cairo.”Samir Salama, “Rise and fall of Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE,” Gulf News Egypt, April 13, 2013, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/rise-and-fall-of-muslim-brotherhood-in-uae-1.1170002. Al Kherbawi, who has written numerous books on the Brotherhood movement, says al-Islah members are recruited for membership as early as high school and college.Samir Salama, “Rise and fall of Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE,” Gulf News Egypt, April 13, 2013, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/rise-and-fall-of-muslim-brotherhood-in-uae-1.1170002.

The UAE dissolved al-Islah in 1994 after the Egyptian government issued a complaint that the group had provided financial support to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad militant group.Lori Plotkin Boghardt, “The Muslim Brotherhood on Trial in the UAE,” Washington Institute, April 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-muslim-brotherhood-on-trial-in-the-uae; Samir Salama, “Rise and fall of Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE,” Gulf News Egypt, April 13, 2013, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/rise-and-fall-of-muslim-brotherhood-in-uae-1.1170002. Nearly a decade later, in 2003, UAE authorities met with al-Islah’s leadership and urged the group to either renounce its Islamist ideology, or to remain affiliated with the Brotherhood but cease its activities in the education sector. No agreement was reached.Lori Plotkin Boghardt, “The Muslim Brotherhood on Trial in the UAE,” Washington Institute, April 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-muslim-brotherhood-on-trial-in-the-uae.

In early 2012, UAE authorities reportedly became aware of al-Islah’s alleged financial, operational, and political relationships with international Muslim Brotherhood operatives. Members of the UAE government expressed concerns that al-Islah was inspired by the Brotherhood’s political success in Egypt, and similarly sought to foment dissent and seize power.Ali Rashid al-Noaimi, “Setting the Record Straight on Al-Islah in the UAE,” Al-Monitor, October 15, 2012, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2012/al-monitor/uae-setting-the-record-straight.html#. Between March and December of 2012, UAE authorities arrested 94 al-Islah leaders. The defendants were charged with violating article 180 of the penal code, which bans the establishment of a political organization that compromises state security. They were also charged with communicating with international entities in order to subvert the state, communicating with the international Muslim Brotherhood in order to seize power, and investing charitable funds in the establishment of commercial or real estate companies.“Brotherhood ‘sought Islamist state in UAE,” National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae; “61 individuals v. Republic of United Arab Emirates, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Opinion No. 60/2013, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/WGAD/2013/60 (2014),” University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, April 2, 2014, https://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/wgad/60-2013.html; “UAE coup plot trial begins in Abu Dhabi,” Al Jazeera, March 4 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/03/20133472546866175.html.

In September 2012, UAE authorities said that detained al-Islah members had confessed to forming a military wing in order to seize power. Authorities said that members had also admitted to receiving funding from Brotherhood associates in neighboring countries, at one time collecting more than 10 million UAE Dirham ($2.7 million).Brotherhood 'sought Islamist state in UAE',” National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae; UAE Islamist group denies reports it has an armed wing,” Reuters, September 23, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-islamists-idUSBRE88M05P20120923; Agence France-Presse, “UAE Islamists deny forming military wing,” Ahram Online, September 22, 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsPrint/53525.aspx. In October 2012, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan stated that al-Islah does “not believe in the nation state. It does not believe in the sovereignty of the state”.“Gulf states must tackle Muslim Brotherhood threat: UAE,” Reuters, October 8, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-brotherhood-idUSBRE8970SD20121008. Later that month, London’s Guardian newspaper published an opinion piece written by al-Islah leader Said Nasser al-Teniji, in which he wrote about the UAE’s crackdown on the Islamist group.Said Nasser al-Teniji, “The UAE’s descent into oppression,” Guardian (London), October 2, 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/02/uae-descent-oppression.

The UAE’s federal trial of 94 al-Islah members began in March 2013.“UAE coup plot trial begins in Abu Dhabi,” Al Jazeera, March 4 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/03/20133472546866175.html. In July of that year, the UAE’s Federal Supreme Court sentenced the majority of those individuals to between three and ten years in prison.Yara Bayoumy, “UAE court jails scores of Emiratis in coup plot trial: TV,” Reuters, July 2, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-trial-idUSBRE96105M20130702. Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have decried the UAE’s crackdown on al-Islah, claiming the government has “desperately [clung] to outdated, repressive tactics”.“UAE: Crackdown on Islamist Group Intensifies,” Human Rights Watch, July 18, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/18/uae-crackdown-islamist-group-intensifies.

The UAE designated al-Islah as a terrorist organization in November 2014.“UAE Cabinet approves list of designated terrorist organizations, groups,” WAM Emirates News Agency, November 15, 2014, https://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates-international/1395272478814.html. With most of its former leaders in prison, al-Islah is suspected to have little operational activity.

In June 2017, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in response to that country’s ongoing support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist and terrorist groups.Patrick Wintour, “Gulf Plunged into Diplomatic Crisis as Countries Cut Ties with Qatar,” Guardian (London), June 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/05/saudi-arabia-and-bahrain-break-diplomatic-ties-with-qatar-over-terrorism.

History

 

Violent Activities

In 2012, detained al-Islah members reportedly told UAE authorities that al-Islah had formed a military wing in order to seize power.“Brotherhood 'sought Islamist state in UAE',” National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae; “UAE Islamist group denies reports it has an armed wing,” Reuters, September 23, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-islamists-idUSBRE88M05P20120923; Agence France-Presse, “UAE Islamists deny forming military wing,” Ahram Online, September 22, 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsPrint/53525.aspx. According to reports, the members further revealed that the military wing had sought to recruit young Emiratis and retired military officers to its ranks.“Brotherhood 'sought Islamist state in UAE',” National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae. Al-Islah denied the accusations days later in an official statement, asking, “How is it possible that a group of civilians consisting of university professors, teachers, lawyers and businessmen turn into a military organization?”“UAE Islamist group denies reports it has an armed wing,” Reuters, September 23, 2012, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-islamists-idUSBRE88M05P20120923.

Al-Islah had been previously accused of financing foreign terrorist organizations. In the early- to mid-1990s, Egypt’s government accused al-Islah of providing financial support to Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a jihadist group responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The assertion led the UAE government to officially disband al-Islah in 1994.Lori Plotkin Boghardt, “The Muslim Brotherhood on Trial in the UAE,” Washington Institute, April 12, 2013, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-muslim-brotherhood-on-trial-in-the-uae; Samir Salama Rise and fall of Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE, Gulf News Egypt, April 13, 2013, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/egypt/rise-and-fall-of-muslim-brotherhood-in-uae-1.1170002; “Brotherhood 'sought Islamist state in UAE',” National (Abu Dhabi), September 21, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/brotherhood-sought-islamist-state-in-uae; Holly Fletcher, “Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” Council on Foreign Relations, March 30, 2008, http://www.cfr.org/egypt/egyptian-islamic-jihad/p16376.

Designations by Governments and Organizations

  • United Arab Emirates

    November 15, 2014

    The United Arab Emirates designated al-Islah as a terrorist organization under Federal Law No. 7, issued by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, November 15, 2014.“UAE Cabinet approves list of designated terrorist organizations, groups,” WAM Emirates News Agency, November 15, 2014, https://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates-international/1395272478814.html.


For a complete list of countries and organizations that have designated the Muslim Brotherhood, please see the Muslim Brotherhood's full report

In Their Own Words