The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was established in 1971 from the union between 7 emirates. The constitution stipulates that the UAE is a federation, without providing for a specific form of government. The ruling families of Dubai and Abu Dhabi almost exclusively share control of the small Gulf state with the richest emirate Abu Dhabi as the centre of political power. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the population of the UAE was estimated to be around 9.3 million in 2013, of those only 950,000 are Emiratis.
Despite all the economic and social advances, the break from most customs and traditions, and the modernisation witnessed in architecture, food and clothing, political life and human rights have lagged behind. The decision-making process has largely excluded the great majority of citizens and remains limited to the ruling elite who exercise total control over the country’s wealth, judiciary and local and foreign policies.
The popular movements that swept through the Arab world in 2011 saw a few UAE citizens and activities make humble moves to create a rupture in the static political life by criticising the way the country has been run. These efforts on social media were met with harsh measures from the authorities. Many activists were arrested and faced trials for allegedly being a threat to national security. Some activists went as far as sign a petition to urge the government to reform the Federal National Council. The petition was presented to the president of the country on the 3rd of March 2011. UAE authorities responded by dissolving the institutions managed by some of the signatories and stripped seven of them of their citizenships. Authorities also arrested many others and charged them with belonging to a ‘terrorist organisation’.
Repressive measures also extended to non-Emiratis who had been living in the country for years and members of certain nationalities whose countries had overthrown their regimes even if they were only in the Emirates for a few hours on transit to other countries. These actions reflected clearly the sense of hostility and panic by authorities vis-à-vis any country which had witnessed political reforms.
In addition to cracking down on freedoms of expression, imposing greater restrictions on social media, revoking citizenships, arrests and deportations, the UAE security apparatuses committed other crimes against detainees such as forceful disappearances and torture as will become evident in the course of this report.