DUBAI (Reuters) - Dubai's chief of police has warned of an "international plot" to overthrow the governments of Gulf Arab countries, saying the region needs to be prepared to counter any threat from Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers as well as Syria and Iran.
The comments from Dahi Khalfan, one of the most outspoken security officials in the United Arab Emirates, follow the detention in the UAE since April of at least 20 dissidents, according to relatives of the detainees and activists.
"There's an international plot against Gulf states in particular and Arab countries in general... This is pre-planned to take over our fortunes," Khalfan told reporters at a gathering late on Wednesday marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"The bigger our sovereign wealth funds and the more money we put in the banks of Western countries, the bigger the plot to take over our countries... The Brothers and their governments in Damascus and North Africa have to know that the Gulf is a red line, not only for Iran but also for the Brothers as well."
Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, dismissed the accusation, saying the remarks did not deserve a reaction. Ghozlan was involved in a row with the UAE earlier this year when Khalfan also accused the Brotherhood of trying to sow discord in the UAE.
"I promised myself to pay no attention to this man or to comment on everything he has to say," said Ghozlan, whose movement won Egypt's presidential election in June.
Most of the detainees since April are Islamists, targeted by an official clampdown amid concern they may be emboldened by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in other Arab countries such as Egypt.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates and a major oil exporter, allows no organised political opposition. It has avoided the political unrest that has toppled four Arab heads of state since last year thanks in part to its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
But it has also moved swiftly against dissidents, and last year stripped citizenship from Islamists whom it deemed a security threat and jailed activists who called for more power for a semi-elected advisory council.
Analysts say Islamists are aiming to tap into unease among the UAE's largely conservative citizens at having become a minority in their own country, most of whose 8 million people are foreign workers.
The economic boom in Abu Dhabi and Dubai has given the UAE an average per capita annual income of $48,000, but has also brought what some see as unwelcome Western influence.
Islamists in the UAE say they share similar ideology with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt but have no direct links with the group, seen as a mentor for Islamist groups in the region.
They say they want more civil rights and greater power for the Federal National Council, a quasi-parliamentary body that advises the government but has no legislative power.
UAE Interior Ministry officials have not been available to comment on the arrests. Last week, UAE officials announced that authorities were investigating a foreign-linked group planning "crimes against the security of the state".
"I had no idea that there is this large number of Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf states. We have to be alert and on guard because the wider these groups become, the higher probability there is for trouble," Khalfan said on Wednesday.
"We are aware that there are groups plotting to overthrow Gulf governments in the long term."
Reporting by Mirna Sleiman in Dubai and Tom Perry in Cairo; Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Louise Ireland