UAE minister Gargash hits out in Times column
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs writes in response to criticism of human rights and democratic reform
The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Gargash, has defended the UAE’s human rights values and hit out at recent criticism by the UK press in a column published in the UK’s Times newspaper.
“The United Arab Emirates and the UK are good friends and like all good friends we don’t have to see eye to eye on every issue,” he wrote in the opinion section.
His column follows a comment piece in The Guardian last month entitled “United Arab Emirates and Britain: best friends”, which criticised the UAE’s human rights record and its democratic reform.
“Both our nations’ laws and institutions are underpinned by values and beliefs - intangible, unquantifiable but critical for stability and progress,” Dr Gargash wrote in The Times on Wednesday.
"Most important of all is a respect for people’s freedom to live life as they wish: in short, tolerance. Cultures that defend tolerance have a strong sense of what should not be tolerated: namely, those who preach that people should be persecuted because of their beliefs," he went on.
Dr Gargash directly addressed accusations that the UAE government has been targeting what The Guardian referred to as “human rights activists”.
“In the UAE this tolerance is under threat from a group calling itself Al Islah, who shelter under the Muslim Brotherhood’s umbrella. In English, Al Islah argues for democracy; in Arabic it reveals its true agenda - driving religious minorities from the Arabian Peninsula, shutting churches and temples, reversing women’s rights and introducing its own interpretation of Islamic law. Far from defending human rights, it wants to trample all over them.
"Such intolerance does not merely grate with Emirati culture; it threatens to undermine it. More than seven million expatriates live in the UAE (including more than 100,000 Britons). Christians, Hindus and other religions practice freely here. The UAE is first among all Arab states in the UN Human Development Index. Seventy per cent of our graduates are women, as are four government ministers," the minister pointed out.
"Such policies make us a target for extremists, a threat we take seriously. For ten years our troops have been fighting alongside British forces in Afghanistan; our air force helped Nato to enforce the no-fly zone in Libya; and we work with other nations to defeat terrorists who bomb and maim, besmirching the name of Islam. The UAE helped bring Malala, the brave girl shot by the Taliban, for medical care in Birmingham because we laud every girl’s right to education."
Dr Gargash concluded by discussing democratic reform in the UAE.
"The UAE does not have a multiparty system like the UK, yet the electorate for our Federal National Council was greatly enlarged last year, with more than one third of adults having the right to vote. We are committed to developing this further. However, our pace must be gradual. When we look around our region, or consider challenges created by the Arab Spring, we struggle to identify a political model that does not create societies divided by tribe, clan and sectarian group,” he added.
"In challenging times, we must stand shoulder to shoulder against the shrill voices of violent extremists and ensure openness and tolerance prevails. Our political institutions may be different but many of our deepest values are truly shared, and we need to defend them together.”