On Nov. 25, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Cabinet issued a list of 85 organizations and institutions it labeled as “terrorist.” Human rights and Islamic organizations as well as relief bodies that are legally operating in Western countries have found themselves on the same list as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and Boko Haram. The listed organizations operating in Europe include the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) — which is the largest group of Islamic institutions in Europe and consists of 28 central institutions spread across Europe — the Islamic Society of Germany, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and many others.
Interestingly, the European institutions listed as “terrorist” by the UAE are licensed to operate in Europe, and they are doing so in collaboration with civil society organizations such as the FIOE, the federation’s secretary-general, Samir Faleh, told Al-Monitor. Some of these institutions’ presidents even have good ties with high-level political officials in Europe, including European Parliament members such as Abdirizak Waberi, a Swedish parliamentarian from the moderate right. The former vice president of the FIOE, Waberi was the chairman of the Muslim Association in Sweden, one of the European institutions classified as “terrorist.” The Swedish government has responded that it does not recognize the UAE classification, and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Radio Sweden Arabic that the institutions are subject only to the EU's standards, which do not consider the Muslim Brotherhood or the Muslim Association of Sweden to be terror organizations.
The Norwegian government has also requested through its Foreign Ministry that the UAE explain the inclusion of the Islamic Council of Norway on the list. Norway's Secretary of State Bard Pedersen told the National Norwegian TV Channel Nov. 16 that he sees no reason to include the Islamic Council of Norway on the list.
The other so-called terrorist institutions have demanded that their governments follow the lead of their Norwegian and Swedish counterparts. The MAB said in a press conference, “We will be also writing to the British government, the Foreign Office, to ask them to intervene as well, as a government which represents us as British citizens, and to really follow in the footsteps of countries like Norway, where there has been an official move from the Norwegian government to ask the Emirates … about the reason for taking such step.”
Asked about the way European countries have handled the UAE's list, Hossam Shaker, an expert in European affairs, told Al-Monitor, “The European security services are governed by specific rules and regulations, based on which they can differentiate between serious and unserious information and accusations.” Speaking from Brussels, Shaker said, “European countries and services have gotten used to the accusations leveled by some third world countries against bodies and figures in Europe. These accusations are seen as a type of incitement and defamation for nonobjective political calculations.”
The relationships between some Islamic institutions included in the list and European governments are subject to local circumstances and conditions and are not influenced by the standards and classifications of others. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Faleh, whose organization was included in the UAE list, said, “The FIOE has communicated with the [European] Parliament on previous occasions, but this communication lacks stability and continuity.” He added, “There are governments that tend to be cautious when dealing with the Islamic presence in general and [Muslim] institutions in particular, which deprives both parties from having enriching relationships.”
Some institutions have expressed their concern about the impact of the UAE classification on them. Omar al-Hamdoun, president of the MAB, warned that this move “opens the floodgates for an increase in Islamophobia.”
Ties between Islamic institutions and European civil society are on the right path. Faleh told Al-Monitor that the relationship with civil society organizations is good, and there have been preparations for some movements to be announced in due course.
The UAE is launching a campaign against “political Islam” within its territory and in the Arab region. It is supporting the Egyptian regime in its actions against the Muslim Brotherhood, and classified the latter as “terrorist.” The main UAE objective is to reduce the influence of Islamists in the Arab region. The UAE considers the European institutions it has labeled as “terrorist” to be allies and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. On Nov. 17, the Akhbar al-Saa bulletin, which is issued by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, which has ties to the ruling regime in the UAE, confirmed that these organizations “hide behind the cloak of religion,” and are politicizing it to achieve suspicious foreign agendas and objectives, as well as narrow personal commercial interests.
In its issue dated Nov. 17, the UAE national daily Al Ittihad reported that the list “has unmasked many groups hidden in the West” and that the objective behind including Islamic organizations based in the West is to “uproot extremism.”
Faleh responded to these accusations by saying that the FIOE adopts a moderate Islam that calls for coexistence, cooperation and understanding. Yet, the response of Omar Mustafa, head of the Muslim Association of Sweden, was more severe, and he considered the UAE’s accusations of terrorism “ridiculous.”
In an interview conducted by the official Saudi news channel in 2012 with Mustafa, it was remarkable that the UAE’s main ally in its battle against political Islam had been the Muslim Association of Sweden, as “the most important and prominent institution operating on the Swedish arena. It includes dozens of institutions, associations and Islamic centers spread across the country, which are concerned with advocacy and serving the Muslim community.” Mustafa said in the interview that in 2011, Saudi Arabia provided the association with funding to build a mosque in Westbury.
Some Islamic institutions in Europe have tried to contact the UAE's embassies, asking the reasons behind labeling them as “terrorist.” Most of these institutions have confirmed to Al-Monitor that the responses indicated the UAE diplomats were not provided with that information.
It does not seem that the Islamic institutions in Europe will be affected by the UAE classification, and that the European governments will not take the list seriously if the UAE does not provide convincing and clear explanations. It is not in European interests to move the tension between some Arab regimes and Islamists to Europe.